Germain of Auxerre

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This is not the 6th century bishop of Paris, canonized as Saint Germain of Paris, who founded an abbey in the fields near Paris, now the church of Saint-Germain-des-Pres.

Germanus of Auxerre, known in France and elsewhere as Germain of Auxerre (c. AD 378 - 31 July,448), was a former Roman general who became bishop of Auxerre in Gaul. Prior to this he had also practised law and held a post of provincial governor. He visited Britain in 429 in response to the growth of Pelagianism there and the records of his visit provide valuable information on the state of post-Roman British society. He is a saint in both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, commemorated on July 31.

A British bishop's son named Agricola was leading the native Christians away from orthodox Christianity towards the Pelagian heresy. A Gaulish assembly of bishops chose Germanus and Lupus, Bishop of Troyes to visit the island to combat the threat and satisfy the Pope that the British church would not break away from the Augustinian teachings of divine grace.

The principal hagiography is by Constantius of Lyons, ca 480. Constantius was friend of Lupus providing him with a close link to Germanus.

Germanus and Lupus confronted the Pelagians at a public meeting before a huge crowd. The Pelagians were described as being 'conspicuous for riches, brilliant in dress and surrounded by a fawning multitude' indicating that the post-Roman ruling ruling classes had not been entirely wiped out and still had wealth and influence. Alternatively, this may be embellishment by Constantius who wished to magnify the achievements of his subject. The bishops debated and despite having no popular support, Germanus was able to defeat the Pelagians using his superior rhetoric.

Following the meeting, Germanus and Lupus visited the shrine of Saint Alban, placing the site of the debate at Verulamium, or perhaps London. This was presumably to the dismay of the Pelagians who disapproved of the worship of martyrs. Constantius also tells of a miraculous healing of the son of 'a man with tribunician power'. As well as indicating that urban population centres still existed at this time, this use of the word tribune may imply some form of post-Roman government system existing. Tribune was a loosely-used term during the period however and may refer to the leader of a town militia rather than anyone holding an official mandate. Overall it may be that Britons in the period were attempting to perpetuate Roman offices but with reduced means.

Germanus led the native Britons to an Alleluia victory against a Pictish and Saxon army, at a mountainous site near a river. Mold in North Wales is the traditional location. After baptising his troops (notably, they were not Christians) he ordered them all to cry 'Alleluia!'. The sound apparently so terrified the invaders that they fled before battle could be brought. That Germanus took command may mean that the ruling Pelagian classes had been discredited after losing the debate at Verulamium or even that they themselves had enlisted the Saxons and Picts. The contemporary British warlord Vortigern certainly made use of Saxon mercenaries and the political aspects of Pelagianism have been much discussed. It has been suggested by Peter Salway that the battle was fought to ensure that Britain remained sympathetic to Aetius and support his bid for control of the western Roman empire.

Germanus made a second visit to Britain in the 440s, joined by Severus, Bishop of Trier and meeting Elafius, described by Bede as 'a chief of that region'. Germanus cured Elafius' enfeebled son and this miracle served to persuade the population again that Gaulish Catholicism rather than Pelagianism was the true faith.

He died in Ravenna while petitioning the Roman government for leniency for the citizens of Armorica, against whom Aetius had dispatched a punitive expedition. Scholars have argued, based on the scanty evidence, that his death should be dated to 445, 446, 447 or 448.

Welsh tradition records a number of details and church dedications to a Saint Germanus who may not be the same von Auxerre


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