Saint of the Day – 14 September – Saint Maternus of Cologne (Died c 325) the first Bishop of Cologne and Founder of the Diocese of Tongeren, Germany. Born in Trier, Germany and died in c 325 in Cologne, Germany. Also known as – Maternus of Trier, Maternal, Materno.
The Roman Martyrology states of him today: I “In Cologne, Germany, St. Maternus, Bishop, who led the inhabitants of Tongeren, Cologne and Trier to faith in Christ.“
We know him as the first Bishop in the Christian history of Cologne. But from the ninth century a singular legend was born in Germany (and the place of origin is Trier), according to which Maternus would have arrived from Palestine. Not only that, he is also indicated as a disciple of Saint Peter the Apostle and sent by him to proclaim the Gospel in the Germanic world. This imaginative tale was intended to present Trier as the first episcopal see of Germany and, therefore, endowed with jurisdiction “by seniority” over the others.
The truth of history, on the other hand, states that our Saint, the Bishop of Cologne, was an important figure in the Church, now free by the work of Emperor Constantine but exposed – after the external persecutions – to the internal travail of Christians who hurt themselves by heresy.
Maternus is one of the peacemakers, called to settle a hard conflict that was born in North Africa. It was the Donatist schism, from the name of the Bishop Donatus. The schism of the rigorists, averse to any indulgence towards Christians who gave in out of fear during the persecution of Diocletian.
In May 313 Maternus left for Rome to attend a Synod with Pope Miltiades to attempt to resolve the problems faced and inflicted on the Church by the Donatists. (Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History). In 314, he also attended the Synod of Arles and he was the first Apostle of Alsace and successfully promoted the spread of Christianity in that Province and in Western Germany.
We do not know anything else about Maternus, after his mission to Rome, which ends with a judgement in favour of the Bishop elect Cecilian, over whom the heresy erupted in Carthage (but without putting an end to the schism, which will still torment Saint Augustine).
In Cologne and in his hometown of Trier, the faithful began to venerate him as a saint. A popular cult of which the splendid 13th century stained glass windows in the Cathedral Chapel dedicated to his name, also testify. He is venerated in many Churches both in Germany and in parts of modern day France. His cult seems to have been widespread by the many artworks of him in the abovementioned Churches. The image below shows the body of St Maternus arriving in a boat (1722) – sadly, we have no explanation for the obvious miracle around this painting.
He was buried in the Cathedral of Cologne but the Cathedral of St Peter in Trier boasts a large Reliquary, which became and remains, a pilgrimage site.