Saint of the Day – 30 October – Saint Germanus of Capua (Died c 541) Bishop of Capua, Italy, Confessor, Papal Legate. St Germanus was a close friend of St Benedict of Nursia. The Roman Matyrology states: St Germanus, Bishop and Confessor, a man of great sanctity, whose soul, at the hour of death, was seen by St Benedict taken to heaven by angels.
Of Germanus’s life before he was Bishop, nothing is known with certainty. The only source to provide information about this period is a hagiography penned in the ninth century. It records his father’s name as Amantius and his mother’s as Juliana. He was born in Capua in the 470s. After his father’s death, he sold his inheritance with his mother’s blessing in order to devote himself to the ascetic life. When on the death of Bishop Alexander the Capuans elected him their Bishop, Germanus at first refused the honour before being persuaded to accept.
shortly after his election, he was made a member of the legation sent by Pope Hormisdas to the court of the Emperor Justin I in Constantinople, the purpose of which was to negotiate an end to the Acacian schism between the western and eastern churches. The legation consisted of Germanus, the Alexandrian Deacon Dioscorus, a Bishop named John, a Roman Deacon named Felix, a Roman Priest named Blandus and a notary named Peter. They gathered in Rome between January and March 519. In both the Liber pontificalis and the letters of Pope Hormisdas, Germanus is always named first, indicating that he was the leader of the group.
Although the two previous missions had yielded no results, that of 519 took place in propitious circumstances. It had the support of the Ostrogothic king Theoderic and of the new Emperor and Patriarch in Constantinople, Justin I and John of Cappadocia. In a letter to Justin’s nephew, Count Justinian, Pope Hormisdas specifies that the members of his legation were selected for their “quality.”
Germanus’s itinerary on his legation is known primarily from various letters. They crossed the Adriatic to Vlorë, then passed through Ohrid on their way to Thessaloniki, where Germanus celebrated Holy Mass. They were met by Justinian ten miles outside of Constantinople. According to a letter from Germanus to Hormisdas dated 22 April 519, the population of the city received them with cheering. They met the Emperor and separately the Senate on the Monday of Holy Week (24–31 March). On Thursday, they met with the Eemperor, Senate and Patriarch together in the Palace to present the libellus Hormisdae, the document entrusted to them by the Pope outlining his conditions for the healing of the schism. The conditions were accepted. Germanus and his colleagues remained in the east for another year securing the acceptance of the Patriarchs outside of Constantinople. On 9 July 520, the Emperor wrote to Pope Hormisdas to commend his legates. The Liber pontificalis credits Germanus with deftly handling the controversy, the calculation of the date of Easter and the reintegration of Bishops deposed by the Emperor Anastasius I.
Little is known of Germanus’s life in his own Diocese after the end of his successful mission to the east. According to the tenth-century Chronicon Salernitanum, Germanus changed the dedication of the Basilica of Capua, from the Apostles, to Saints Stephen and Agatha, after depositing there some of their relics that he had obtained as a reward, from the Emperor himself. According to his eighth- or ninth-century biography, Bishop Sabinus of Canosa was an acquaintance of Germanus. Both went on papal missions to fight monophysitism in the eastern churches, Sabinus in 536. Sabinus was also close to Benedict of Nursia. Pope Gregory the Great in his Dialogues mentions how Benedict, praying atop Monte Cassino, had a vision of the soul of Germanus in the form of a ball of fire being carried to heaven by angels. He later learned that this vision coincided with Germanus’s death.
The death of Germanus can be placed in early 541 because of an inscription which gives the start of his successor Victor’s pontificate in that year. After his death, Germanus was venerated as a saint in southern Italy throughout the early Middle Ages. In his Dialogues, Gregory the Great prays to Germanus to intercede on behalf of the soul of a Deacon, named Paschasius in Purgatory. The image below shows St Germanus and Paschasius meet in the afterlife (upper left corner), from De balneis Puteolanis by Peter of Eboli (twelfth century).
When Count Lando I of Capua relocated the city of Capua in 849, Germanus’s body was moved with it. In late 873, following a campaign against the Arabs harassing Capua, the Emperor Louis II of Italy took some of Germanus’s relics to Monte Cassino. The village at the foot of the hill, ancient Casinum, became known as San Germano. The Empress Engelberga took another part of his relics to endow the Monastery of San Sisto that she founded in Piacenza in 874. Since the Vita sancti Germani episcopi Capuani (Life of Saint Germanus) mentions neither of these transfers, it was probably finished before 873