Germain, Saint, Bishop of Paris; b. near Autun, Saone-et-Loire, c. 496; d. at Paris, May 28, 576. He was the son of Eleutherius and Eusebia. He studied at Avalon and also at Luzy under the guidance of his cousin Scapilion, a priest. At the age of thirty-four he was ordained by St. Agrippinus of Autun and became Abbot of Saint-Symphorien near that town. His characteristic virtue, love for the poor, manifested itself so strongly in his almsgiving, that his monks, fearing he would give away everything, rebelled. As he happened to be in Paris, in 555, when Bishop Eusebius died, Childebert kept him, and with the unanimous consent of the clergy and people he was consecrated to the vacant see. Under his influence the king, who had been very worldly was reformed and led a Christian life. In his new state the bishop continued to practice the virtues and austerities of his monastic life and labored 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. Shortly after 540 Childebert making war in Spain, besieged Saragossa. The inhabitants had placed themselves under the protection of St. Vincent, martyr. Childebert learning this, spared the city and in return the bishop presented him with the saint’s stole. When he came back to Paris, the king caused a church to be erected in the suburbs in honor of the martyr to receive the relic. Childebert fell dangerously ill about this time, at his palace of Celles, but was miraculously healed by Germain, as is attested in the king’s letters-patent bestowing the lands of Celles on the church of Paris, in return for the favor he had received. In 588 St. Vincent’s church was completed and dedicated by Germain, December 23, the very day Childebert died. Close by the church a monastery was erected. Its abbots had both spiritual and temporal jurisdiction over the suburbs of St. Germain 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.
Childebert was succeeded by Clotaire, whose reign was short. At his death (561) the monarchy was divided among his four sons, Charibert becoming King of Paris. He was a vicious, worthless creature, and Germain was forced to excommunicate him in 568 for his immorality. Charibert died in 570. As his brothers quarrelled over his possessions the bishop encountered great difficulties. He labored to establish peace, but with little success. Sigebert and Chilperic, instigated by their wives, Brunehaut and the infamous murderess Fredegunde, 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 Fredegunde caused him to be assassinated on the way at Vitri in 575. 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 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. From that time the church became known as that of St. Germain-des-Pres. In addition to the letter mentioned above we have a treatise on the ancient Gallican liturgy, attributed to Germain, which has been published by Martene in his “Thesauruis Novus Anecdotorum”. St. Germain’s feast is kept on May 28.
A. A. MACERLEAN