Germanus the Governor
W HEN, at the end of the fourth century after Christ, the boy Germanus was growing into a young man, his parents, the noble Rusticus and Germanilla, thought it was time he should go to Rome to finish his education, just as in these days he would have been sent to Oxford or Cambridge. Like the sons of other rich parents, he had been well taught, and we may be quite sure that very few Roman fathers allowed their children to play when they should have been doing their lessons. For though Rusticus lived with his family in Auxerre, a little Gaulish town on the river Yonne, he counted himself none the less a Roman and the subject of Gratian, Emperor of the West, when Germanus was born.
By that time there were two emperors, one reigning in Constantinople and the other in Rome; and both empires were, in name, Christian, though many districts of country in either were really as much heathen as ever. Auxerre, however, was like other places in Gaul a Christian city, and had a bishop; and Rusticus had seen that Germanus was duly baptised, and had learned something about his religion, as well as grammar, astronomy, geometry, and literature. Still, Rusticus had no intention of making the boy a priest; Germanus was to be a lawyer, and as he was not only fond of arguing, but quick to see what was to be done in matters of daily life, his father hoped he might become a great man some day. And so he did.
It was a long way from Auxerre to Rome, but that made it all the more exciting for a boy of fifteen or sixteen. We are not told exactly how he travelled, but most likely he was put under the charge of some merchant or priest returning to the Holy City, who would ride with him and two or three servants as far as the river Rhone, and there they would take a boat, which would carry them down to Marseilles. At Marseilles they would find plenty of ships sailing for Italy, one of which would undertake to land them at Ostia, the port of Rome, at the mouth of the Tiber. Once he was in Rome, Rusticus had no further anxiety about his son, for the students were as carefully looked after as they are in one of our own Universities. They were obliged to bring a written declaration of the date of their births, the names of their parents, and a statement of the profession they had chosen. These particulars were all set down in a book, and then they were sent, under the charge of an inspector, to the rooms allotted to them. From time to time the inspector visited them to see that they were going on well, and attending their classes and lectures. But in no case did the law permit the strangers to stay in Rome after they were twenty, as it was considered that by that age their education ought to be finished, and if they remained longer it was only to idle and get into mischief.
Germanus made the most of his years in Rome, and then, when they were over, returned to Auxerre and began to plead in the law courts. He loved his work, and threw himself heart and soul into it. He spoke well and easily, and gained many cases for his clients and much money for himself. Soon his fame reached the ears of the Prefect of Gaul, who ruled over the fourth, or western part of the empire, and he, like a true Roman, always ready to detect and make use of the best tools, offered the successful lawyer a post under Government. This Germanus gladly accepted. He quickly rose from one office to another, and must have been quite a young man when he become "Duke and Governor of the Provinces of Armorica and Nervica," which included the greater part of modern France; only the Prefect and the Vice-Prefect were above him.
Shortly before he obtained this higher honour, Germanus had married a girl of a noble family, who was rich and good, called Eustachia. He bought a country place a few miles out of Auxerre, and whenever he felt he could allow himself a holiday, moved there with his wife, in order to enjoy some hunting.
In this way several years passed, when an event took place which changed the whole course of the life of Germanus.
In the midst of the town there was a wide open space, where grew a very old pear-tree, under which the citizens used to assemble to talk over their affairs, or to have a gossip in the summer evenings. Now it was the habit of Germanus, from time to time, to hang one or two dried specimens of game upon the branches. It seems to us a harmless thing enough, but it greatly displeased the Bishop, who in those days was the ruling power in most of the cities. He thought it would remind the people of the heathen custom of decorating the branches of this very tree with hideous masks of men and beasts, as scarecrows or even as charms. So he wrote to Germanus to beg him to give up this practice, but the Governor paid no heed. Then he went to his house and still Germanus would not listen. At length the Bishop, whose name was Amator, resolved to settle the matter himself, and when Germanus, who had been away on business, returned to his country house, the news met him that the old pear-tree had been cut down to its roots and burnt, the beasts that were on it being thrown outside the walls.
The Governor's face grew white with anger at the tale.
"Cut down the pear-tree, has he?" he cried, when his wrath permitted him to speak. "He seems to have forgotten that I have power of life and death in my province! I will teach him how to defy me!" and he hastily ordered a large body of men to be ready to ride with him to Auxerre as soon as he had finished some urgent business which awaited him.
But though he was as quick as he could, he was yet too late. One of his household managed to warn the Bishop, who was loved by all, and Amator declared himself happy in being permitted to die for what he believed to be the truth. Yet even as he spoke, a secret voice said to his soul, that though his life on earth would not last much longer, it was not Germanus who would kill him, and—strange as it appeared—it was that very Germanus who would succeed him as Bishop.
When Amator understood these things he knew what was required of him; and he set forth instantly to ride to Autun where the Prefect happened to be, for it was the law that no office could be conferred without his leave, and it was fortunate that at this moment he was so near at hand.
The Prefect received Amator with great honour, and asked for his blessing; then he begged his guest to explain the reason of this sudden visit. In a few words Amator told him all that had occurred and of the revelation of his approaching death.
"But will the people, who have the right to elect their Bishop, be satisfied with Germanus?" inquired the Prefect, "especially when they are aware he has quarrelled with you."
"Yes, if I choose him," answered Amator, "and they feel it is the will of God. But I wished to make sure that you would not oppose it."
"I am in your hands," replied the Prefect, and with that Amator was content and returned to Auxerre.
By this time Germanus had begun to understand the folly of his conduct, and as soon as he knew that the Bishop had come back, he went with his attendants to Auxerre, curious to learn what business had taken Amator to the Prefect. He found a large crowd pressing into the hall belonging to the Bishop's house, to which messengers had summoned them, and he and his followers entered likewise. When place could be found for no more, Amator came in and stood before them.
"My children," he said, "I have somewhat to say unto you. God has revealed to me that the day of my departure from you is at hand. Therefore, while there is time, consider carefully whom you will choose to rule the Church after me."
The people heard with amazement and had no words to tell their surprise and sorrow; and Amator, seeing this, bade them lay down the arms which they carried and go with him into the church, Germanus accompanying them. When all were within, the Bishop ordered the doors to be locked, and walked himself to the upper end, where the nobles and chief men were standing.
"In the name of God," he cried, and suddenly taking a pair of scissors from under his robes, he seized the hair of the astonished Germanus with one hand, while he cut it off with the other. Without giving him time to recover from his surprise, he slipped off the Governor's mantle, and threw a Bishop's dress over him, uttering the few words necessary to ordain him priest.
"Know, dear brother, that God has willed that you should succeed me as Bishop of this place," he said. "Strive to keep holy the charge committed to you."
We do not hear that the Governor made any resistance to these extraordinary proceedings; indeed he seems to have been half stunned by their violence and unexpectedness. But as soon as Amator had accomplished his desire, he went back to his house, for he felt the symptoms of death upon him. Still, ill though he was, he never ceased to preach to his people the duty of electing Germanus, which at last they agreed to do. Then he bade them carry him to the church, and place him upon the Bishop's throne, and there, in the midst of the multitude who loved him, he gave up his soul on the 1st of May, 418.
Although, in obedience to Amator's wish, the nobles, clergy, and people with one voice proclaimed Germanus their Bishop, he himself hesitated long before accepting the post, and in fact at one time made up his mind to refuse it altogether. Though a just man and a Christian in name, he had been entirely occupied in fulfilling his duties as Governor, and had given little attention to matters belonging to the Church. But the more he hesitated, the more resolved were they all that he, and no other, should fill Amator's place, and at length he yielded.
Like Saint Ambrose, in a very similar case, once Germanus had decided to accept the Bishopric, he allowed nothing to stand between him and his office. He resigned his Governorship, gave away the rich furniture and the possessions he had always enjoyed, and, hardest of all, parted with his wife Eustachia. But though, as was the custom in those days, she retired into a convent, they seem always to have remained friends, and even to have seen each other from time to time.
At the date of his election Germanus was forty, and for thirty years he ruled the Church of Auxerre, reverenced throughout the empire for his wisdom and holiness. Henceforth, the manner of his daily life was entirely changed. He ate no meat, and only at Christmas and Easter could be prevailed on to touch wheaten cakes, wine, or salt. Barley-bread was his common food, and that he prepared himself, but before eating it he sprinkled ashes in his mouth, lest it should taste too nice. Winter and summer, night and day, he wore a hair shirt under his only garment, which was a long woolen tunic, with a small hood added to cover his thick hair, while his bed consisted of four planks and his mattress of a compact mass of cinders. For blankets he had a coarse strip of cloth, yet when his labours were ended he slept as soundly as he had ever done in the Governor's palace.
Now, although the actual work of a Bishop was quite new to Germanus, the qualities and the training which had made him a just and wise Governor stood him in good stead in his present position. Men were no less quarrelsome, no less ready to take advantage wherever they could get it, no less given to cheat and to lie in the fourth century than in the twentieth, and the Bishop needed to be able to see through made-up stories, to be just in his judgments, to be courageous in dealing with those in power, and to control his temper when acts of tyranny and wickedness were brought to his notice. Germanus had learnt these things in a hard school, and it was not long before the people felt that they had done well for themselves in listening to the entreaties of Amator.
Very soon after Germanus became Bishop, a tax-collector, named Januarius, appeared before him in great distress. The Bishop asked him what was the matter, and promised to give him all the help he could when he had heard the story. So Januarius, with a faltering voice, poured forth his tale.
It was his business, he said, to accompany the Governor when he made the tour of the province, in order to see for himself the condition of the people, while Januarius collected the taxes that were due, and, when all were gathered, paid them into the treasury. He was returning from one of these tours, when, as they were passing near Auxerre, Januarius bethought him that here, at length, was the chance of visiting the famous Bishop Germanus, of whose election he had heard so much. Therefore, without asking leave of the Governor, he secretly left the party, and took the road to Auxerre. He was so busy thinking of the great man he was about to see, and wondering how he would be received by him, that he quite forgot all about the money, and the fastening of the bag containing it becoming unloosed with the jogging of the horse, it slid down, unperceived, to the ground, just at the very moment when a lunatic, or a man possessed with an evil spirit, was coming out of a wood by the roadside. Waiting till Januarius was safe round a corner, he picked up the bag, and the tax-collector knew nothing of his loss till he dismounted at the door of the Bishop's house.
"No one will ever believe me," he ended, almost weeping with fear. "And death is the punishment. If you cannot help me, I am lost indeed."
"Do not be cast down," answered the Bishop kindly. "Speak to me as to a friend, and tell me what it is you want me to do."
At this Januarius looked down and hesitated. The Bishop watched him, but said nothing, and at length the tax-gatherer murmured that he knew it was a great deal to ask, but that the only way to save him was for the Bishop to replace the money.
"Well, this I will do," replied Germanus, "but first I will search the town; and, perchance, I may find the thief."
For three days the search continued, the Bishop causing a close examination to be made of everyone whose character was not above suspicion, but all in vain; no trace of the money could be found. At the close of the third day Januarius was nearly beside himself, for the following week the taxes were due to be given in and his loss would be discovered. But the Bishop did not despair.
"We have searched the sane men, and now we must try those who are possessed with devils," said he, "and that I will do myself." Then he ordered these unhappy creatures to be brought before him, and strangely enough, the first led into his presence was the thief himself, though the Bishop did not know it. Very cunning was the man, and he betrayed nothing, so the Bishop bade his attendants follow him to the church, bringing the accused with them. Thus it was done, and a great crowd entered the church after them. The Bishop then gave a solemn greeting to the people, and, falling on the ground, prayed earnestly that the truth might be brought to light. As he prayed, the man with the evil spirit was gradually drawn out of the hands of those that held him and raised upwards, floating in the air in the midst of flames, and shrieking in torment.
"I confess, O Germanus, I confess," he cried. "It was I who stole the bag, and hid it under a great stone in the edge of the wood."
When he heard this, the Bishop bade the evil spirit leave the man, and he left him. Then the man stood upon his feet again, whole, and the messenger sent by the Bishop to the hiding-place, brought back the money and Januarius departed, rejoicing.
Some time after this, Germanus set out upon a journey to visit a distant part of his diocese. It was winter and very cold, and at length the Bishop became chilled to the bone, and when they reached a deserted ruin near the road, he declared he felt so ill he could go no further. His companions looked at each other in dismay. The place, they knew, was said to be haunted by ghosts, and, though they did not like to admit it, even to themselves, they were horribly frightened at the idea of spending the night there. However, they dared not say so to the Bishop, and tried to comfort themselves by thinking that they were quite safe in the presence of such a holy man.
For a while all went well. They lit a fire and cooked their supper, and while they were eating it a monk read, as was the custom, some pages out of a book of prayers. Germanus, worn out with pain and fatigue, fell asleep, lying wrapped up in cloaks under the shelter of a projecting wall. Suddenly the reader felt an icy wind blowing, and glancing up beheld a pale figure standing before him, with chains about his legs. With a bound the monk reached the side of the sleeping Bishop, and shook him violently.
"What is it?" asked Germanus, lifting his head, but the reader could not answer, and only pointed to the ghost.
"Tell me wherefore you are here, and why your body is not reposing in peace beneath the earth?" said Germanus, and the ghost made reply:
"Great crimes did I and another commit when we were in the world, and as a punishment Christian burial was forbidden us, and we were compelled to wander until we could find someone to take pity on us. And therefore, O Germanus, I have come to you." And so he vanished.
Then Germanus rose, and without more ado he bade his trembling followers search the ruins by aid of their lanterns and the full moon, he himself standing by to give them courage, and also to see that they were not faint-hearted in their search. In silence and in dread the men peered into the dark corners, and at length one gave a cry.
"What is it?" asked the Bishop, hastening to the spot. "Have you found them?"
"Yes, truly," was the answer, and there, with stones piled over them, lay two skeletons, having chains about their legs.
"Leave them till sunrise," said the Bishop, and at sunrise the chains were struck off, clothes were placed upon the naked skeletons and a grave was dug outside the walls. So at last their wanderings were done and Christian burial was given them, and the Bishop himself read the prayers and implored forgiveness for their misdeeds.
Germanus had been for eleven years Bishop of Auxerre when he paid his first visit to Britain, and this is how it came about. A heresy had broken out in the country, which was still governed by the Romans, and was spreading far and wide. The Bishops and clergy preached against it in vain, and finally resolved to send to Germanus and beg his help. By command of the Pope, who had been informed of the state of the British church, a council of the Bishops of Gaul met at Troyes, and it was decided that Germanus was to start at once on his mission, and that Lupus, Bishop of Troyes, should accompany him.
They seem to have travelled partly on horseback and partly by water, but they could not have got on very fast, for at every town crowds assembled to ask their blessing. Amidst the throng that awaited them at Nanterre, a small place just beyond Paris, Germanus' eye was caught by the radiant face of a little girl of six, and he asked her name.
"Geneviève," they told him.
"Ah," said the Bishop to her parents, as he laid his hand upon her head, "One day the name of this child will be known throughout the land, and her life will be an example to us all," and picking up a small copper coin marked with a cross, that was lying on the ground at his feet, he gave it to her, bidding her wear it round her neck in remembrance of him.
And for hundreds of years after, when Geneviève was reverenced as the Patron Saint of Paris, the Canons of her Order distributed on her name-day little cakes of bread, each marked with a cross.
On a cold winter day the two Bishops embarked on board a small ship for Britain. The sea was smooth till they reached the middle of the Channel, when a great gale sprang up and the waves washed over the side of the tossing vessel.
"The evil spirits are fighting against us," said the sailors, as the wind whistled through the sails and tore them to shreds, and in their terror they deserted their posts and let the ship drift as it would, while they aroused Germanus, who had slept through it all, and told him they were lost unless he would pray for them. As he prayed, the storm subsided, and with a fair breeze behind them they finished their voyage, landing at Richborough, a town lying to the north of Dover, not far from the mouth of the Thames.
All the way to London, and on to St. Albans (so called after the first British martyr), the two Bishops preached against the heresy of Pelagius, to the multitudes who came to listen to them. At St. Albans—or Verulam, to use the old name—they stayed some time, and then proceeded towards the north-west. It was during this journey that Germanus had the happiness of seeing his old friend, the Irish Saint Patrick, who had formerly spent many years as his pupil at Auxerre. The mother of Patrick was a native of Gaul, and for a long while his family dwelt in the part of the country called Armorica, which was under the rule of Germanus while he was Governor.
Now at the time of Germanus' first visit to Britain, the Romans had been settled there for four hundred years, and were shortly to be replaced by the Saxons. But, though the famous conquest under Hengist and Horsa did not occur till twenty years later, bands of Saxon pirates were constantly sailing across the North Sea from the lowlands beyond the Elbe, and laying waste the farms and villages along the banks of the rivers. At the date when Germanus was going from one town to another preaching against the heresy of Pelagius, they had become more daring than usual, and had coasted round Cornwall and the Bristol Channel, and past Wales, till they had reached the river Dee—for the Saxons never lost sight of land if they could possibly help it. Here they were joined by the Picts from the south-west of Scotland, and the Scots from the north of Ireland, and together they proceeded up the Dee in their light ships, which could always find some place of shelter in rough weather. To check them, the Roman governors had ordered flat boats, which could float in shallow water, to be moored on the banks, and bridges to be built across the rivers, taking care to keep them so low that no masts could get under the arches. Yet, in spite of these precautions, the invaders did much harm, and the Britons, who did not feel strong enough to attack them, remained in their entrenchments.
This was the state of things in Lent, 430, when Germanus and Lupus were baptising large numbers in the county of Cheshire, on the other side of the Dee. They were having service as usual one morning, when a messenger, hot and breathless, interrupted the ceremony.
"Come over and help us, O Germanus!" he cried, as the Macedonians had cried to St. Paul. "The Saxons from across the seas, and the wild men from the north are advancing up the river, killing and burning as they go, and none can stop them."
"Return, I will follow," answered Germanus, and, accompanied by Bishop Lupus, he hastened to the British army which was encamped beside a small stream called the Alen, not far from the town of Mold.
The arrival of the two Bishops raised the spirits of the Britons, and they were at once hailed as commanders of the force. The duties of a general were not entirely new to Germanus. As Duke and Governor of Armorica, it was his place to lead the army in battle, and, though we do not know if he had actually done so, yet he was not the man to be found unprepared for any duty he might have to fulfil. So we may feel certain that he had studied Cæsar's book on war, and talked with the generals who had faced the hordes of Goths and Barbarians at that time pouring into the empire, even if he had not spoken with the great Ætius himself.
It was on Easter Day that the enemy were actually seen leading their boats and making ready for battle, and, at the first intelligence of what was happening, Germanus sent out scouts to watch and to report to him the direction the allies would take in order to reach the British camp. When news was brought that they were moving towards a valley surrounded by high hills, he rejoiced greatly, for he knew they were delivered into his hands. He posted his men behind rocks and in ravines along the mountain sides, and gave strict orders that no one should stir until he gave the signal. The Picts and Saxons advanced cheerfully, feeling sure of victory, and passed through the narrow entrance into the valley itself, which to all appearance was empty. As soon as they were fairly within it, a voice cried "Alleluia." "Alleluia" was echoed from every rock, and the mountain was alive with a great host rushing down the slopes shouting "Alleluia." In their surprise, the Saxon leaders lost their heads. They turned and fled, followed by the whole of their army, leaving everything behind them.
Thus the "Alleluia" battle was won without an arrow being shot or a spear thrown, and the valley is known as the Field of German unto this day.
Right glad were the people of Auxerre to welcome their Bishop back a few months later, for things were going very ill with them. The Roman empire had for long been falling into decay, and the Barbarians from the east and north were establishing themselves within her boundaries. In order to meet the expenses of the constant wars, fresh taxes were imposed, but as the rich were not bound to pay them, they fell doubly heavy on the poorer people. Indeed, the plight of some was so wretched that they actually sold themselves into slavery to obtain food and clothing. Auxerre, being on the more eastern side of Gaul, towards the battle-ground where Goths, Huns, Alans, and Franks fought in quick succession, was perhaps worse off than the towns further west, and no sooner had the Bishop entered the city than a deputation of the citizens appealed to him to save them. There was only one way to do it, and that was to visit the Prefect of Gaul, now living at Arles, and obtain from him a decree by which for the future the town should be freed from all taxation. In our eyes it seems hardly just that one city should pay heavy taxes imposed for a special purpose, and another should pay none but such was the custom, and it does not appear to have occurred to Germanus that there was anything wrong about it. At any rate, after making hasty preparations, he set off with a few attendants on the long journey to Arles.
It was a wet day when he started, and towards evening, as the little company was drawing near its first resting-place, it passed a man who had neither shoes nor coat. Struck by his miserable plight, the Bishop reined in his horse and began to talk to him; and, finding that the beggar had nowhere to go, invited him to spend the night in the house where they were to sleep. The man eagerly accepted, and shared the supper which was provided for the Bishop's followers, but when the others were engaged at their prayers he managed to creep out unperceived, and to steal the Bishop's horse. The theft was, of course, not discovered till the next morning when they were ready to depart, and the horse of one of the attendants was brought round for Germanus to mount.
"What beast is that? and where is my own horse?" asked he.
"The rascal that you sheltered yesterday has stolen him, O Germanus," they answered; and when he heard, the Bishop looked grave and silently mounted the horse that was held for him.
For some distance they rode on, till at length the Bishop turned in his saddle, and said to the man nearest him:
"Soon you will see that the thief has not profited by that evil deed, so let us pause for a while, till he comes up to us;" and the word was given to halt under a grove of trees. In a short time the thief came towards them, leading the horse.
"All this time, since I took the horse from the stable, have I been trying to flee," cried the man, as soon as he was near them, "but when once I was out of sight of the house where you slept, the beast would not stir one step, pull his bridle as I might. Then I knew that this was the punishment of my crime, and I resolved, if I could, to restore him to you. And as if the creature could see into my mind, at that very moment his feet were loosed and he hastened down this road, and, behold, I give him back to you without hurt."
"Arise, my son," said the Bishop, for the thief had fallen on his knees. "If yesterday I had given you a cloak, you would not have stolen the horse. Now, therefore, take this mantle and steal no more."
After that, he bade his company continue the journey, and in due time they arrived at Arles, where he was welcomed with great honour by St. Hilary, the Bishop and the Prefect, to whom he at once explained the business which had brought him. The Prefect readily promised that the people of Auxerre should suffer no more from the extra taxes, and Germanus hastened home with the joyful tidings.
In 446, Germanus was again summoned to preach against heresy in Britain, where Vorti O'ern was now king, but he did not stay many months, as affairs in Gaul were in a very disturbed state and his presence was needed as peacemaker. This time it was the inhabitants of the north-west, who, under the name of the Armorican confederacy, had banded themselves together against the Romans and their allies, the Alans, and revolted against them. Now, when the hosts of Barbarians were about to be let loose upon them by the General Ætius, a panic seized them, and they implored the help of the Bishop, himself once Governor of those very provinces. Contrary to their expectations, Germanus succeeded in obtaining a truce from the Alan king, and even consented to cross the Alps into Italy, and to lay the matter before the Emperor, Valentinian III, or to speak more truly, before his mother, Placidia.
During the months he spent in the town of Ravenna, the city on the Adriatic which was then the seat of Government, Germanus worked hard to help all kinds of distressed people, as well as those distant tribes for whose sake he had come. But in the midst of his labours, and of his pleadings with the powerful Empress-Mother, the news arrived that the Armoricans had again broken into revolt, and that the rising had been put down with much severity. Deep must have been the disappointment of the Bishop that all his efforts had proved so useless, but he was not given long to lament, for his day of rest was at hand, and it was revealed to him in this wise.
One morning he had been talking over the affairs of the Church with some of the Italian bishops, when he suddenly broke off and remained silent. They waited respectfully, guessing from his face that he had something of importance to tell them, and at last he began to speak again. "In the night, during my sleep, I dreamed that the Lord visited me, and gave me provisions for a journey."
Well the bishops knew also, though in their grief they refused to believe, and sought to put another interpretation on the dream. But a few days later Germanus was taken ill, and when it became plain that death was near, hundreds flocked to take leave of him and to beg his blessing. Among these was the Empress Placidia, who fell on her knees by his bed, and asked if there was nothing she could do for him who had done so much for the world.
"Yes, one thing," he said; "let my body be carried back to Gaul, and buried at Auxerre with my people." So at the end of seven days he died, having ruled over his diocese thirty years.
Very unwillingly the Empress gave orders that his last request should be fulfilled. His body was embalmed and covered with a magnificent cloak, on which the imperial arms were embroidered. It was then placed in a cedar-wood coffin, and, followed by an immense multitude, set out on its homeward journey across the Alps. From time to time, some of the mourners fell off, and others took their places, but five women walked on foot beside the corpse, never faltering. Three of them died on the way, worn out by fatigue, but the other two arrived at Auxerre safely. At the end of fifty-three days the city was reached, and on the 1st of October, 448, the Bishop was laid to rest, as he had wished, with his own people.