Saint Germanus: Here’s to You!

Saint Germanus of Auxerre was the Bishop of Auxerre in Gaul, born in that same city, in 380. He died at Ravenna in 448 while on a mission in Italy. The story of his conversion is peculiar indeed.

Born into a noble Catholic family, he studied in Lyons, Arles, and then studied civil law in Rome, where he married Eustacia a woman of the imperial court. The emperor sent him back to rule six Gallic provinces as duke. Here he encountered Saint Amator, Bishop of Auxerre. Germanus was living a life of luxury in Auxerre, addicted to the hunt. Despite warnings from his bishop, he indulged his habit of hanging his trophies on a tree once revered by pagan worshipers. While Germanus was away the bishop had the tree cut down.

This is where the account, as given in the Catholic Encyclopedia, provides some “peculiar” information. Saint Amator, fearing the wrath of Germanus, fled the city. Feeling that his own life was coming to an end Amator returned and summoned the duke to his church. When Germanus entered the church, the bishop barred the doors, and a stunned Germanus forcibly received a tonsure. If that were not enough, the bishop had the perplexed duke kneel down at the altar and then and there he was ordained a deacon. The account by the biographer Constantius (at least as given in the Catholic Encyclopedia summary) does not tell us whether or not he received this first “Order” under duress, although we can surmise that the duke was acquiescent enough because, right after giving him a tonsure, Amator admonished him to live worthily as he was to soon succeed him.

And so it came to be. Germanus was overcome by grace and gave his life to God and the Church and his property to the poor. Of course, Eustacia must have given her consent. With the death of Saint Amator, the renewed man, who had been a worldly  duke, was elected to succeed Amator as the bishop of the diocese. He was consecrated in 418. Bishop Germanus led henceforth a very austere life, retiring at times to a monastery he had built in honor of Saints Cosmas and Damian.

In 428, the bishops of Britain sent an appeal to the pope for help in their fight against the Pelagian heresy, which was rampant on the island. Germanus and Lupus of Troyes were deputed for the mission. It was either in Auxerre or on his way across Gaul that Germanus met Saint Patrick. One early account of the patron of Ireland has it that Patrick (a name given to him later by Pope Celestine in 432) spent time in Gaul as a disciple of Germanus.

In Britain, the saint from Auxerre confounded the well-dressed (duly noted in the biography) heretics whom he confronted at St. Albans. Germanus did much during his stay in Britain to restore the Faith and expose the errors of Pelagius’ supporters, the heretic himself having died sometime earlier.

Germanus then returned to Gaul and his diocese. Some years later, however, he returned to Britain to continue his work there, and also in Wales, where he is much venerated. There is one story of him leading an army of Britons against the pagan Picts and Saxons. According to one account he had all the soldiers shout “Alleluia” before engaging the enemy in battle and the pagans, by a miracle, fled from the field without any blood being shed. Returning to Gaul he used his diplomatic skills to intecede for the Armorican rebels in Brittany even going to Ravenna in Italy where he won leniency for them due to the intercession of the emperor’s mother. Here, too, he befriended Saint Peter Chrysologus who was the bishop of Ravenna. He died on this mission, in Ravenna, on July 31, 448. His body was returned to Auxerre for burial at the monastery of Saint Maurice, which he had also built. Today it is the Benedictine monastery of Saint Germaine.

Hilaire Belloc gives tribute to Saint Germanus in his “hilarious” (pun intended) anti-Pelagian drinking poem:

Pelagius lived at Kardanoel

And taught a doctrine there

How whether you found eternal joy

Or sank forever to burn

It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy

But was your own concern


Oh, he didn’t believe

In Adam and Eve

He put no faith therein!

His doubts began

With the Fall of Man

And he laughed at Original Sin.

With my row-ti-tow


He laughed at original sin.


Whereat the bishop of old Auxerre

Germanus was his name

He tore great handfuls out of his hair

And he called Pelagius shame.

And with his stout Episcopal staff

So thoroughly whacked and banged

The heretics all, both short and tall —

They rather had been hanged.


No he whacked them hard, and he banged them long

Upon each and all occasions

Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong

Their orthodox persuasions.

With my row-ti-tow


Their orthodox persuasions.


Now the faith is old and the Devil bold

Exceedingly bold indeed.

And the masses of doubt that are floating about

Would smother a mortal creed.

But we that sit in a sturdy youth

And still can drink strong ale

Let us put it away to infallible truth

That always shall prevail.


And thank the Lord

For the temporal sword

And howling heretics too.

And all good things

Our Christendom brings

But especially barley brew!

With my row-ti-tow


Especially barley brew!