The Life of St. Germanus (Vita sancti Germani) was written by Constantius of Lyon around 480, based in part on the reminiscences of Bishop Lupus of Troyes who had been a companion to the St. Germanus of Auxerre and who had accompanied Germanus on Germanus’ first journey to Britain.
About the BookEdit
Chapters 12 to 18, and chapters 25 to 27, tell of Germanus’ two voyages to Britain which are the reasons why this saint life is of some interest to Arthurian scholars. These chapters are duplicated with few changes in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History.
The First British JourneyEdit
A deputation from Britain comes to Gaul for aid in confuting the Pelagian heresy which has grown strong in Britain. At a synod of bishops, Bishop Germanus of Auxerre and Bishop Lupus of Troyes are chosen for the mission. In crossing the channel they encounter a storm, said to be caused by demons who oppose their mission. Germanus sprinkles the ocean with drops of oil in the name of the Trinity and leads the sailors and passengers in prayer. The storm subsides, and they reach land.
In Britain, Germanus and Lupus and their followers preach in churches, at crossroads, in the fields, and in the lanes. Many are won back from Pelagians. Finally, the opponents ask for a meeting in which the points can be debated. In this meeting the Pelagians speak first, but then Germanus and Lupus refute them so that they have no answer and the crowds turn violently against the Pelagians. A man of tribune rank puts his 10-year old, blind daughter into Germanus’ arms and Germanus heals her.
Germanus and his followers then visit the shine of St. Alban to thank God, but on their return, a demon causes an accident in which Germanus injures his foot. He is thus forced to stay in one place to be healed, but one day a fire breaks out. Germanus refuses all help, although there are flames all around him and is miraculously not harmed. In the following days, Germanus would allow no remedies for his wound, but one night he sees in his sleep a figure clad in white who raises him up and tells him to stand. Upon waking, he is now so whole that he resumes his journeys.
The Saxons and Picts are raiding Britain. Some troops send to Germanus for God’s aid. It is near the end of Lent, Germanus peaches every day, and many soldiers are baptized. A temporary church made of leafy boughs is built. But the Saxons and Picts are aware of what is going on in camp and think to win an easy victory.
On Easter day, Germanus says that he will be their battle leader, and stations the troops in a valley enclosed by steep mountains where he thinks the Saxons will soon appear. The Saxons arrive not expecting any opposition, but Germanus has ordered the troops to repeat in unison the word he will call out as their battle cry. The word is “Alleluia”. The sound rang and echoed and re-echoed in the mountains, and the Saxons threw down their weapons and fled in terror, many drowning in a river they had just crossed. So was victory obtained by the British without bloodshed.
Germanus and his party, having vanquished both Pelagians and Saxons, return to Gaul attributing their calm voyage back to St. Alban.
The Second British JourneyEdit
Some time later, news comes that Britain is again plagued by Pelagians. Germanus set off again, this time accompanied by Bishop Severus of Trier. They have an easy passage.
Elafius, one of the leading men in the country, comes to meet the holy men bringing with him his crippled son who had a withered leg. Germanus ran his hands over the leg and it was miraculously healed. This greatly strengthened the faith of the people.
Germanus and his people then preached against Pelagian belief until those who preached this doctrine were by common consent banished from the island. The bishops took them to the continent.
- Constantius of Lyon: The Life of St. Germanus of Auxerre, eds. Thomas Noble and Thomas Head, translators, in: Soldiers of Christ: Saints’ Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), pp. 75-106.
- Partial translation: Robert Vermaat, The text of the Vita sancti Germani (exerpts), Vortigernstudies