Navigation – Plan du site
Archéologie, Terre, Histoire, Sociétés - ARTEHIS
Etudes & travaux

Germanus, Alban and Auxerre

Ian Wood
p. 123-129

Entrées d’index

Index de mots-clés :

Germain (saint), Alban (saint)
Haut de page

Texte intégral

  • 1  Constantius, Vita Germani, III, 16, ed. R. Borius, Constance de Lyon, Vie de saint Germain d’Auxer (...)
  • 2 Passio Albani, VII, 21-22, ed. W. Meyer, Die Legende des h. Albanus des Protomartyr Angliae in Text (...)

1Our earliest information on the cult of Romano-British martyr Alban is to be found in the Vita Germani. According to Constantius, Germanus, together with his companion Lupus of Troyes, visited the site of the saint’s burial in the course of his first visit to Britain, generally dated to 429 1. Constantius provides no detail of the visit, but this is supplied by early versions of the Passio Albani, the full est of which is the so-called T version – named after the fact that it survives in a Turin manuscript. This recount shows Germanus took relics of the apostles and various martyrs to the basilica where Alban was buried : perhaps significantly nothing is said of the whereabouts of the basilica. Equally important, the text also reveals that Germanus knew nothing about the British saint before his visit : it was only while he was at the basilica that Alban appeared to him, in a vision, revealing the tale of his persecution, so that it might be written down on tituli : Sed cum ad basilicam ipsius noctuvigilasset, matutinis transactis, dum se sopori dedisset, sanctus Albanusadfuit, et, quae acta fuerant de persecutionibus eius, revelata tradidit utquetitulis scripta retinerentur publice declaravit. As a result Germanus had the saint’s tomb opened, and hadrelics which he had brought with him inserted into it. He also gathered some earth stained with the saint’s blood to keep 2.

2This text is remarkable for a number of points. First, although Germanus went to the basilica where Alban was buried, he clearly did not go because of the existence of the cult of aknown saint. He only finds out about Alban in a vision while he is there. And as a result, he has the story of the saint’s Passio written down on tituli.

  • 3  Gregory of Tours, Liber in Gloria Martyrum, 50, ed. B. Krusch, Monumenta Germaniae Historica 1, 2, (...)

3It is worth noting that this is not the only example from the fifth and sixth centuries of a nameless saint revealing himself to a bishop. A very clear parallel can be found inthe account of the identification of the tomb of Benignus in Dijon. Gregory of Langres had tried to stamp out a popular cult at the site, but was unable to do so. The martyr then appeared to him in a vision, identifying himself. Subsequently a copy of the saint’s Passio was brought to Dijon by travellers from Italy 3.

  • 4 Victricius of Rouen, De Laude Sanctorum, XII, l. 104-105, ed. R. Demeulenaere, Foebadius, Victriciu (...)
  • 5 Passio Albani, IV, 14, ed. W. Meyer, op. cit., p. 54.

4It has been suggested that the cult of Alban was already known to Victricius of Rouen, who visited Britain shortly before the year 400. In his De Laude Sanctorum, he refers to the story of a British martyr who walked through a river 4. This parallels a well-known episode in the martyrdom of Alban : the crowds of people were such that he could not cross the bridge leading to the site of his martyrdom, so he walked into the river, which parted to allow him through 5. Although there are clear similarities between the story in the Passio of Alban and that related by Victricius, it is important to note that Victricius never names the martyr, nor does he say which river he crossed. In other words, it is not clear that Victricius is referring to Alban : and if he is, it is notable that, like Germanus before his vision, he appears not know the martyr’s name.

  • 6  R. Sharpe, « The late antique passion of St Alban », in M. Henigand and P. Lindley (ed.), Alban an (...)
  • 7  For a transcription of the earliest manuscript of the E text, see I. N. Wood, « Levison and St Alb (...)

5A second important point to be noted in the T version of the Alban Passio is that the martyr tells Germanus the story of his persecution, and that this was then set down on tituli. Clearly the T text cannot have been the version of the Passio which Germanus had written down. The fact that it records the story indicates clearly that there must have been an earlier version. The possibility that the version set down by Germanus might have survived was obscured by Wilhelm Meyer in his edition of the Alban legends, because he concluded that the T text was the earliest of those in existence. Recently, however, Richard Sharpe has demonstrated that the so-called Etext is earlier than the T recension 6. Unfortunately, Meyer did not edit the E text, assuming that it was merely an abridgement of his Turin version 7.

  • 8  R. Sharpe, « The late antique… », op. cit., p. 36.

6The E version is easily the shortest of the early recensions of the Passio Albani. It does conclude with an account of Germanus’ visit to the basilica where Alban was buried, but it does not mention the vision of Alban or the setting down of the martyr’s passion on tituli. In the British Library manuscript the episode is described as follows : Ad cuius basilicam cum beatus Germanus episcopus cum omnium apostolorum diuersorumque martyrum reliquiis peruenisset, in eundem locum pretiosa munera conditurus reuelli sepulchrum iubet, ut membra sanctorum ex diuersis regionibus collecta, quos pares merito receperat caelum, sepulchriunius teneret hospicium. Quibus honorifice depositis atque eleuatis, de loco ipso ubi martyris sanguis effuderat, massam cruenti pulueris rapuit uiolenta quidem deuotione, sed pioeffectu, in cruore apparebat seruatumerubuisse martyris cedem persecutorem pallentem. Quibus rebus manifestatis atque patefactis hominum ingens eadem die ad deum turba conuersa est. It is perfectly possible that this was added to the text that Germanus had set down : certainly it is unlikely that the epithet beatus was used to describe the bishop of Auxerre during his lifetime. This addition apart, it is perfectly possible that the E text is indeed the version of the Passio Albani set down on tituli : its brevity is such that it could have been painted onto placards, as Sharpe suggested 8, or, perhaps more easily, onto the walls of a building.

  • 9  I. N. Wood, « The End of Roman Britain : continental evidence and parallels », in M. Lapidge and D (...)
  • 10  For Albion as an ancient name for Britain, Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, 1, 1, ed. (...)

7Germanus visited Britain in order to combat the Pelagians, who were making considerable headway on the island. With this in mind, it is worth noting the emphases of the Passio. The basic narrative is simple : it is the story of a pagan Briton who decides to protect a Christian priest and changes clothes with him : he then defies the governor, insisting that he is a Christian, and as a result is executed. This could have been presented as the story of a man who saves another by his good works. This, however, is not how the hagiographer chooses to tell the tale : Alban simply acts, apparently irrationally. The crowd that gathers to see him executed behaves equally strangely : it acts gratia ineffabili. The use of the word gratia in a fifth-century text inevitably has anti-Pelagian overtones. If the text were first set down in the context of Germanus’ visit to Britain, it would seem to be a propaganda document for use against the Pelagians 9. So too, one may interpret Germanus’ actions at Alban’s tomb in the same light : he opens the tomb of a British saint and places in it relics of saints of the universal Church. At the same time he gathers earth stained with the martyr’s blood to take back to the continent with him. All of this looks to be propaganda : it is part of Germanus’ anti-Pelagian work, and not some unrelated episode indicating his piety. And there is one other crucial point : it is Germanus who gives Alban a name. If Victricius does indeed refer to Alban, it is striking that he leaves him unnamed. Equally Germanus learns the martyr’s name in a dream. But the name is supremely important : it is Alban, that is simply the man from Albion : the native of Britain 10. The episode of Germanus’ visit to the tomb of the martyr is both an aspect of his anti-Pelagian activities and also symbolic of the reintegration of Britain into the Roman Church.

  • 11 R. Sharpe, « The late antique… », op. cit., p. 36. See Gesta pontificum Autissiodorensium 7, ed. M. (...)
  • 12  W. van Egmond, Conversing with the Saints : Communication in Pre-Carolingian Hagiography from Auxe (...)

8With regard to the composition of the Passio, there is, however, a further important question, and that is the place of composition, and of its original display on tituli. Sharpe is inclined to associate it with Auxerre itself, noting the reference in the Gesta pontificum Autissiodorensium to Germanus building a basilica dedicated to Alban, with in the walls of his city 11. Wolfert van Egmond, who has written the fullest recent study of the early hagiography of Auxerre, is inclined to question whether Germanus did indeed found such a church, given the absence of any reference to it in earlier sources 12. It does, however, remain unlikely that the Passio Albani was written to be painted on tituli intended for the place where the martyr was buried. Since Germanus’ visit seems to have been brief, the logistics of composing a text and having it painted seem a little daunting.

  • 13 R. Sharpe, « The late antique… », op. cit., p. 36.
  • 14  R. van Dam, Saints and their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul, Princeton, 1993, p. 131-135 and 308-31 (...)

9Although it is true that there is no early reference to a basilica dedicated to Alban in Auxerre, or indeed to the cult of the martyr, it may be that the Passio provides some crucial clues. As Sharpe pointed out, the Passio was written to be set out on tituli. This word he translated as tituli 13. It is certainly true that the E text of the Passio is extremely short. It would still have required a large number of placards. But tituli could equally have been painted on the wall of a basilica, perhaps even underneath paintings of the story. That substantial pieces of prose and verse were placed on the walls of fifth- and sixth-century churches is clear from the collection from Tours known as the Martinellus 14. Indeed, some of the Martinellus texts are no longer than individual sections of the E version of the Passio Albani, only one section of which, the description of the martyr site as a locus amoenus, is in any way expansive.

  • 15  C. Sapin, Peindre à Auxerre au Moyen Âge, IXe-XIVe siècles, Auxerre, 1999, p. 172-221.

10The Martinellus provides us with evidence for substantial texts being put on the walls of late antique churches in Gaul. The crypt of S. Germain in Auxerre provides us with evidence for the painting of texts on the walls of an early medieval church. None of these texts can be date dearlier than the ninth century 15. What they do show, however, is that there was an early medieval tradition of painting quite long texts on the walls of the basilica of S. Germain. One should perhaps ask whether the Passio Albani lies right at the beginning of this tradition. Were major texts painted on the walls of the churches of Auxerre from the days of Germanus himself ? Indeed, was it the bishop’s vision of the British martyr, and his subsequent decision to have the story painted on the walls, that led to the tradition of painting substantial texts on the walls of S. Germain.

11What all this suggests is that the earliest Passio of Alban needs to be considered in the context of Germanus’ work in Britain and in Auxerre. The story of the saint’s martyrdom seems to have been revealed to, or invented by, Germanus in the context of his anti-Pelagian mission to Britain. The earliest written version of the story would seem to have been commissioned by Germanus almost immediately after his visit to the shrine of Alban. It would seem to have been intended for the walls of a church in Auxerre. Perhaps the text alone was painted on the walls : but perhaps there were illustrations that went with it. Finally, it would seem that the texts which are still to be seen on the walls of the crypt of S. Germain mark the continuance of a tradition which began at least as early as the days of Germanus himself.

Haut de page

Annexe

[191v] Tempore persecutionis s(an)ct(us) alban(us) quantu(m) antiquitas tradidit

adhuc pagan(us) clericu(m) persecutores fugiente(m) hospitio

recepit. Ipsiusqui(e) habitu id e(st) caracalla qua ipse uestie

bat(ur) indut(us) p(er) eodem se obtulit.  Stati(m)q(ue) iudici oblat(us) est.

Q(ui) cu(m) ante chr(isti)anitatis agnitione(m) chr(ist)ianum se e(ss)e i(n)vesti

gatione fateret(ur) . gladio p(er)cuti iubet(ur). Cumq(ue) eu(m) ad

uictima(m) ducerent, p(er)uenit ad fluuiu(m) q(uo) muru(m) &

harena(m) ubi feriend(us) erat meatu rapidissimo diui

debat, uidit ingente(m) hominu(m) multitudine(m) utri(u)sq(ue)

sexus c(on)ditionis & etatis que sine dubio diuinitatis

instinctu ad obsequiu(m) martyris uocabat(ur) ita occupasse

ponte(m) ut intra uesp(er)a(m) uix transire posset.  Deniq(ue)

cunctis p(a)ene egressis iudex obseq(ui)o in ciuitate

substiterat.  Tunc beatissim(us) alban(us) confert se ad tor-

rente(m) cui diu inerat deuotio m(i)tis ad  ad martyrium

oci(us) p(er)uenire . et dirigenti ad caelu(m) lumina ilico sic-

cato alueo successit.  Immo p(er)cessit unda uestigiis.

Cu(m)q(ue) ad locu(m) destinatum morti uenisset . occurrit ei stri-

cto gladio carnifex precans p(ro) martyre se puniri precans

q(ui) martyre(m) p(er)cussur(us) erat.  proiectoq(ue) a se impio gladio

ad s(an)c(t)i albani pedes aduoluit(ur) et repente fact(us) e(st) ex p(er)-

secutore collega.  Cu(m) q(uo) is ex p(er)secutore fact(us) e(ss)et collega

ac iacente ferro e(ss)et int(er) carnifices iusta cunctatio:

montem cum turb(is) s(an)c(tu)s martyr ascendit, siqu(i) mons

oportune et editus letus gr(ati)a ineffabili : quingentis fere passib(us)

ab harena situs e(st) : uariis florib(us) pict(us) atque uestit(us) :

in q(uo) nichil e(st) arduu(m) nichil p(re)ceps . nichil abruptu(m)

que laterib(us) longe lateq(ue) deductu(m) : a facie equoris

natura co(m)planat.  Cui aut(em) dubium e(st) huic martyri

e(ss)e p(re)parat(um) qu(a)e ia(m) priu(s)qua(m) sacro consecraret(ur) cruore : sacru(m) simil(is) fecerat pulchritudo . in cuius vertice

dari sibi beat(us) alban(us) aquam rogauit . statimq(ue) incre-

dibili meatu ante martyris pedes fons p(er)ennis

exort(us) e(st) ut om(ne)s cognoscerent : etiam torrente(m) martyri

obsequi(um) dedisse ; Neq(ue) eni(m) fieri poterat ut in ardui mon-

tis cacumine aq(uam) martyr peteret q(uam) utiq(ue) flumen

reliquerat sic ut fluuiu(s) n(on) uid(er)et(ur).  Qui deniq(ue) martyrio

p(er)soluto deuotione co(m)pleta officii testimonio) relicto

reu(er)s(us) e(st) ad natura(m) .  Nec illud pretereundu(m) putaui

q(uo)d carnifici illi radicte(m) ad t(er)ra(m) lumina cecider(unt) .

[191r] q(ui) piis ceruicib(us) intulit impias mani(bus) . Tu(m) s(an)c(t)i martyris

caput abscinder(et) : Ibique etia(m) carnifex ille q(ui) s(an)c(tu)m d(e)i p(er)ire

noluerat laut(e) et ipse p(er)cuss(us) e(st) .  Tunc iudex animi

tanta nouitate p(er)culsus iniustas etia(m) principu(m)

p(er)secutiones iubet cessari, referens augeri poti(us) reli

gione(m) s(an)c(t)oru(m) p(er) qua(m) eade(m) opinabant(ur) aboleri .

Ad cui(us) basilica(m) cu(m) benedict(us) german(us) ep(iscopu)s cu(m) omniu(m) a-

p(osto)lor(um) diu(er)sorumq(ue) reliquiis p(er)ueniss(et) p(re)ciosa i(n). eode(m)

loco munera conditurus, reuelli sepulchru(m) iubet

ut me(m)bra s(an)c(t)orum ex diu(er)sis regionib(us) collecta . q(uo)s pa

res merito recep(er)at celu(m) sepulchri uni(us) tenens hospi

cium . Quibus honorifice depositis atq(ue) sociatis . de loco

ipso ubi martyris sanguis effusus e(ss)e massam cruen

ti pulueris rapuit.  Uiolenta quide(m) deuotione.  S(ed)

pio affectu.  Quib(us) reb(us) manifestatis atq(ue) patefactis

ingens hominu(m) multitudo eade(m) die ad d(eu)m conu(er)sa e(st) .

Regnante d(omi)no n(ost)ro ih(es)u chr(ist)o.  Cui e(st) cu(m) coet(er)no patre et

sp(irit)u s(an)c(t)o honor uirt(us) laus et gl(ori)a et imp(er)iu(m) i(n) s(e)c(u)la s(e)c(u)l(oru)m am(en):

Haut de page

Notes

1  Constantius, Vita Germani, III, 16, ed. R. Borius, Constance de Lyon, Vie de saint Germain d’Auxerre, Paris, 1965 (Sources chrétiennes, 112), p. 153.

2 Passio Albani, VII, 21-22, ed. W. Meyer, Die Legende des h. Albanus des Protomartyr Angliae in Texten vor Beda, Berlin, 1904, p. 60.

3  Gregory of Tours, Liber in Gloria Martyrum, 50, ed. B. Krusch, Monumenta Germaniae Historica 1, 2, Hannover, 1885.

4 Victricius of Rouen, De Laude Sanctorum, XII, l. 104-105, ed. R. Demeulenaere, Foebadius, Victricius, Leporius, Vincentius Lerinensis, Evagrius, Rubricius, Turnhout, 1985 (CCSL, 64), p. 92 ; G. Clark, « Victricius of Rouen : Praising the Saints », Journal of Early Christian Studies, 7/3 (1999), p. 365-399, at p. 387-378.

5 Passio Albani, IV, 14, ed. W. Meyer, op. cit., p. 54.

6  R. Sharpe, « The late antique passion of St Alban », in M. Henigand and P. Lindley (ed.), Alban and St Albans, Leeds, 2001, p. 30-37.

7  For a transcription of the earliest manuscript of the E text, see I. N. Wood, « Levison and St Alban », forth coming. It should be noted that the four surviving manuscripts of the E version contains trikingly different readings.

8  R. Sharpe, « The late antique… », op. cit., p. 36.

9  I. N. Wood, « The End of Roman Britain : continental evidence and parallels », in M. Lapidge and D. N. Dumville (ed.), Gildas : New Approaches, Woodbridge, 1984, p. 1-25, at p. 12-14. It should be noted that I was then following Meyer’s opinion as to which of the versions of the Passio Albani was the earliest.

10  For Albion as an ancient name for Britain, Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, 1, 1, ed. C. Plummer, Bædæ Opera Historica, Oxford, 1896, t. 1, p. 9.

11 R. Sharpe, « The late antique… », op. cit., p. 36. See Gesta pontificum Autissiodorensium 7, ed. M. Sot, Les Gestes des évêques d’Auxerre, Paris, 2006, t. 1, p. 38-39.

12  W. van Egmond, Conversing with the Saints : Communication in Pre-Carolingian Hagiography from Auxerre, Turnhout, 2006, p. 90-96. Unfortunately van Egmond was not aware of Sharpe’s work : he does not, therefore, discuss the E text of the Passio Albani.

13 R. Sharpe, « The late antique… », op. cit., p. 36.

14  R. van Dam, Saints and their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul, Princeton, 1993, p. 131-135 and 308-317.

15  C. Sapin, Peindre à Auxerre au Moyen Âge, IXe-XIVe siècles, Auxerre, 1999, p. 172-221.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Ian Wood, « Germanus, Alban and Auxerre », Bulletin du centre d’études médiévales d’Auxerre | BUCEMA, 13 | 2009, 123-129.

Référence électronique

Ian Wood, « Germanus, Alban and Auxerre », Bulletin du centre d’études médiévales d’Auxerre | BUCEMA [En ligne], 13 | 2009, mis en ligne le 02 septembre 2009, consulté le 27 avril 2017. URL : http://cem.revues.org/11037 ; DOI : 10.4000/cem.11037

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Les contenus du Bulletin du centre d’études médiévales d’Auxerre (BUCEMA) sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo Centre d'études médiévales d'Auxerre
  • Revues.org