Germain of Paris

Saint Germain of Paris

Saint sasikumar vedaraniam 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 Eastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Feast 28 May

Saint Germain (Latin: Germanus; c. 496 – 28 May 576 AD) was the bishop of Paris, who was canonized in 754 AD.[1] According to an early biography, he was known as Germain d'Autun, rendered in modern times as the "Father of the Poor".[2]


Germain was born near Autun, France, to noble Gallo-Roman parents.[3] Germain studied at Avallon in Burgundy and at Luzy under the guidance of his cousin Scallion, who was a priest. At the age of 35, he was ordained by Saint Agrippina of Autun and became abbot of the nearby Abbey of St. Symphorian. His hardworking and austere nature and generous alms-giving caused his monks to fear that one day he would give away everything and resulted in their rebellion against Germain. While in Paris in 555, Sibelius, the bishop of Paris, died, and King Childebert I consecrated Germain as the bishop of Paris.

Under Germain's influence, Childebert is said to have led a reformed life. In his new role, the bishop continued to practice the virtues and austerities of his monastic life, working to diminish the suffering caused by the incessant wars. 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 existing in Gaul and to forbid the excess that accompanied the celebration of most Christian festivals.[4]

He died in Paris in 576. For nine centuries, in times of plague and crisis, his relics were carried in procession through the streets of Paris.[5]

The abbey church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés

During his war on Spain in the year 542, King Childebert besieged Zaragoza. Upon hearing 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 returned 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 on 23 December; on the very same day, Childebert died. Near the church a monastery was erected. Its abbots had both spiritual and temporal jurisdiction over the suburbs of Saint-Germain (lasting until approximately 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.[6]

Childebert was succeeded briefly by Clotaire, who divided the royal demesnes among his four sons, and Charibert becoming King of Paris. A vicious leader, Germain was forced to excommunicate Charibert in 568 for his immorality. Charibert died in 570. As his surviving brothers fought violently over his possessions, the bishop encountered great difficulty trying to establish peace, with little success. Sigebert and Chilperic, instigated by their wives, Brunehaut and the infamous murderer Fredegund, went to war. Chilperic was defeated and Paris fell into Sigebert's hands. Germain later wrote to Brunehaut, asking her to use her influence to prevent further war. However, Sigebert refused and, despite Germain's warning, set out to attack Chilperic at Tournai. Chilperic had fled, but was later assassinated at Vitry in 575, under Fredegund's orders.[6]

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 13, 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,[7] 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".[8] Germain, according to Venantius had performed his first miracle in the womb, preventing his mother from performing an abortion.[9]

Germain's body lay for two centuries in a tomb chamber in the chapel of Saint Symphonic, 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.[10]

St Germain's feast is celebrated on 28 May.


  1. "Paris - St-Germain-Des-Prés: Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés - Chapelle Saint Symphorien". Flickr - Photo Sharing!. Retrieved 2016-05-11.
  2. Jones, Terry. "Germanus of Paris". Patron Saints Index. Retrieved 2007-01-16.
  3. The quality of noble birth as a requisite for episcopacy in works of Covenants Fortunate 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.
  4. "then/nightmare Manacle, Andrew. "St. German." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 26 Jan. 2013" Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  5. Virginia Wylie Egbert, "The Reliquary of Saint Germain" The Burlington Magazine 112 (June 1970:359-65.
  6. 1 2 "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Saint Germain, Bishop of Paris". Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  7. 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.
  8. 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).
  9. Singled out by Coates 2000:1116.
  10. Warner Jacobson, "Saints' Tombs in Frankish Church Architecture" Speculate 72.4 (October 1997:1107-1143) p. 1133 and note 66.
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