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Germain of Paris

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Germain of Paris

Saint Germain of Paris
Saint Germain of Paris from a Book of Hours illuminated by Jean le Tavernier, c. 1450-1460.
Bishop of Paris, "Father of the Poor"
Born c. 496
near Autun, France
Died 28 May 576(576-05-28)
Paris, France
Canonized 754 by Pope Stephen II
Feast 28 May

Saint Germain (also called Germanus) (c. 496 – 28 May 576) was a bishop of Paris, who was canonized in 754. He is known in his early vita as pater et pastor populi, rendered in modern times as the "Father of the Poor".[1]

Biography

Born near Autun to noble Gallo-Roman parents,[2] he studied at Avallon in Burgundy and also at Luzy under the guidance of his cousin Scapilion, a priest. At the age of 34, he was ordained by St. Agrippinus of Autun and became abbot of Saint-Symphorien near that town. He was hard-working and austere, and his alms-giving was so generous that his monks, fearing he would give away everything, rebelled. As he happened to be in Paris, in 555, when Eusebius, bishop of Paris, died, King Childebert detained him and he was consecrated bishop of Paris.

Under his influence Childebert is said to have led a reformed life. In his new state the bishop continued to practise the virtues and austerities of his monastic life and laboured hard to diminish the evils caused by the incessant wars and the licence of the nobles. He attended the Third and Fourth Councils of Paris (557, 573) and also the Second Council of Tours (566). He persuaded the king to stamp out the pagan practices still existing in Gaul and to forbid the excess that accompanied the celebration of most Christian festivals.[3]

He died at Paris in 576. For nine centuries, in times of plague and crisis, his relics were carried in procession through the streets of Paris.[4]

The abbey church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés

In 542, the king Childebert, while making war in Spain, besieged Zaragoza, but when he heard that the inhabitants had placed themselves under the protection of the martyr St. Vincent of Saragossa, Childebert raised his siege and spared the city. In gratitude the bishop of Zaragoza presented him with the saint's stole. When Childebert came back to Paris, he caused a church to be erected to receive the relic where he could see it across the fields from the palace on the Île de la Cité. In 558 St. Vincent's church was completed and dedicated by Germain, 23 December; on the very same day, Childebert died. Close by the church a monastery was erected. Its abbots had both spiritual and temporal jurisdiction over the suburbs of Saint-Germain (lasting till about the year 1670). The church was frequently plundered and set on fire by the Normans in the ninth century. It was rebuilt in 1014 and dedicated in 1163 by Pope Alexander III.[3]

Childebert was succeeded briefly by Clotaire, who divided the royal demesnes among his four sons, Charibert becoming King of Paris. He was a vicious creature, and Germain was forced to excommunicate him in 568 for his immorality. Charibert died in 570. As his surviving brothers fell to violent strife over his possessions, the bishop encountered great difficulties. He laboured to establish peace, but with little success. Sigebert and Chilperic, instigated by their wives, Brunehaut and the infamous murderess Fredegund, went to war, and Chilperic being defeated, Paris fell into Sigebert's hands. Germain wrote to Brunehaut (his letter is preserved) asking her to use her influence to prevent further war. Sigebert was obdurate. Despite Germain's warning he set out to attack Chilperic at Tournai, whither he had fled, but Fredegund caused him to be assassinated on the way at Vitry in 575.[3]

Germain himself died the following year before peace was restored. His remains were interred in St. Symphorien's chapel in the vestibule of St. Vincent's church, but in 754, when he was canonized, his relics were solemnly removed into the body of the church, in the presence of Pepin and his son, Charlemagne, then a child of seven, and the church was reconsecrated as Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

In addition to the letter mentioned above there is a treatise on the ancient Gallican liturgy that has traditionally been attributed to Germain. The poet Venantius Fortunatus, from whom Germain commissioned a Vita Sancti Marcelli,[5] wrote a eulogy of his life, that has been described by a disappointed historian, for Fortunatus had visited Germain in Paris, as "nothing but a string of miracles".[6] Germain, according to Venantius had performed his first miracle in the womb, preventing his mother from performing an abortion.[7]

Germain's body lay for two centuries in a tomb chamber in the chapel of Saint Symphorien, in the atrium or forecourt of the church of Saint Vincent outside the walls of Paris. The translation of his relics to a more prominent and typically Frankish position within the main church, retro altare, was effected in 756 and was justified by his vision to a pious woman.[8]

St Germain's feast is kept on 28 May.

Notes

  1. ^
  2. ^ The quality of noble birth as a requisite for episcopacy in works of Venantius Fortunatus is discussed by Simon Coates, "Venantius Fortunatus and the image of episcopal authority in Late Antique and early Merovingian Gaul" The English Historical Review 115 (November 2000:1109-1137) esp. p. 1115ff.
  3. ^ a b c MacErlean, Andrew. "St. Germain." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 26 Jan. 2013
  4. ^ Virginia Wylie Egbert, "The Reliquary of Saint Germain" The Burlington Magazine 112 (June 1970:359-65.
  5. ^ Simon Coates, "Venantius Fortunatus and the Image of Episcopal Authority in Late Antique and Early Merovingian Gaul" The English Historical Review 115 (November 2000:1109-1137) p. 1113.
  6. ^ E. W. Brooks, reviewing the volume of Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Passiones Vitaeque Sanctorum Aevi Merovingici, B. Krusch and W. Levison, eds. (1919) that contains Fortunatus' vita, in The English Historical Review, 35 No. 139 (July 1920:438-440).
  7. ^ Singled out by Coates 2000:1116.
  8. ^ Werner Jacobsen, "Saints' Tombs in Frankish Church Architecture" Speculum 72.4 (October 1997:1107-1143) p. 1133 and note 66.
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