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E06020: Constantius of Lyon, in his Life of *Germanus (bishop of Auxerre, ob. c. 448, S00455), written in Latin at Lyon (central Gaul) between c. 460 and c. 480, describes how straw which had been in contact with a bed Germanus slept on was used as a contact relic to heal a man possessed by a demon, c. 435.

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posted on 2018-07-19, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Constantius of Lyon, Life of Germanus of Auxerre 22

For a full account of Constantius' Life of Germanus, see $E05841.

This incident takes place when Germanus is travelling from Auxerre to Arles in order to request a remission of taxes from the Praetorian Prefect. It is preceded by Constantius' account of Germanus miraculously thwarting a horse thief: $E07554.

Praeterire silentio impium puto in Alisiensi loco absens quantum uirtutis operatus est. Erat illic presbyter Senator nomine, natalibus nobilis, religione nobilior. Coniunx illi Nectariola, similis sanctitate; quos praeteriens pro studio antiquae caritatis expetiit. Aduenienti praeparant mansionem, et quantum maior persona aderat, tantum minor inpenditur apparatus. Matrona furtim stramen in lectulo subdidit sacerdotis, quo ille inscius cubitauit, deductaque nocte oratione uel psalmis, die reddito, iter quod agebat ingreditur.

Inlustrato hospitio familia tota gaudebat strati reliquias fidelis matrona collegit et condidit. Accidit post dies aliquot ut Agrestius quidam bene ingenuus, habens uxorem, filios et parentes, possessio fieret inuadentis inimici, suorumque omnium fletibus non minus Germani absentia quam infelicis captiuitas lugebatur.

Et cum nihil remedii possit adhiberi, praesumit uirtutem fidei matrona uenerabilis. Stramen conditum profert quo furiosus circumdatus conligatur. Qui spatium noctis unius quasi adposito uallatus incendio, inclamato semper nomine sacerdotis qui, cum abesset praesentia, uirtute non deerat, diuino purgatur auxilio neque umquam postea in omni uitae suae spatio periculum temptationis incurrit.

'I would think it a sin to pass over in silence the miracle he worked while stopping at Alesia (Alise-Sainte-Reine). There was a priest there named Senator, noble by birth and nobler still by piety. He had a wife, Nectariola, equally pious. The bishop, for the sake of an old-time friendship sought them out when he passed through the town. They got the house ready for his visit, but the things that had to be provided were inversely proportionate to the importance of the visitor. The lady of the house, however, secretly put some straw under the bishop's pallet and he lay on it without knowing. He gave the night to prayer and psalms and when morning came resumed his journey.

The whole household were delighted to have had so illustrious a visitor and the good lady collected the remains of the straw and preserved it. Some days later a man of good position named Agrestius, with a household consisting of his wife, children and parents, was entered by a demon, which took possession of him; and the absence of Germanus was as much lamented by the family as the obsession of the unhappy man himself.

But as there was no cure to be found, the revered lady Nectariola resorted to the power of faith. She brought out the straw she had put by and it was wrapped around the raving man. For a whole night he kept shrieking out the name of the bishop as if he were in a furnace, for though the bishop was absent his power was not. In the end the man was delivered from the demon by the divine aid, nor for the rest of his life did he run such a risk again.'

This incident is followed by a passage in which Constantius claims that Germanus carried out numerous miracles at Lyon: $E07557.

Text: Borius 1965. Translation: Hoare 1954.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, ob. c. 448 : S00455

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Lyon Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Cult Activities - Miracles


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Demons

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - other


Germanus of Auxerre (PCBE 4, 'Germanus 1', pp. 878-883) was the most important and revered episcopal saint of 5th century Gaul. The Life of Germanus was written at an uncertain date, some years after Germanus' death, which is traditionally dated to 448 (but some scholars would place up to twelve years earlier). The Life was probably written at some point between about 465 and 480. The author was Constantius (PCBE 4, 'Constantius 3', pp. 521-522), a literary figure, possibly a cleric, attested as active in Lyon in the 460s and 470s. For full discussion of the issues relating to the authorship and date of the Life of Germanus, see E05841.


This miracle takes place when Germanus is travelling from Auxerre to Arles, to request a tax remission for Auxerre (his mission is described in § 19). Constantius' narrative implies that Germanus' journey took place immediately after he returned from his first mission to Britain (in 429), but it was almost certainly several years later: the journey can be dated reasonably closely by Constantius' statement (§ 24) that the Praetorian Prefect at the time was Auxiliaris, who is known to have been in office during the years 435-437 (see PLRE II, 'Auxiliaris 1'). The use by Nectariola, the wife of Germanus' host the presbyter Senator, of straw that had been slept on by Germanus to heal a man possessed by a demon is an interesting example of miraculous healing by a pure contact relic, which Constantius tells us Germanus himself did not know he had been in contact with. Precisely how the straw came into contact with Germanus is not entirely clear from Constantius' account: he says that Nectariola put it in lecticulo, literally 'in the bed' (the use of the diminutive lecticulus implies it was something smaller than an ordinary bed – hence Hoare translates it as 'pallet', while Borius has 'le pauvre lit'), but that she did so secretly (furtim) and that Germanus did not notice its presence. Hoare's translation, 'under the bishop's pallet' is strictly speaking a misrepresentation of Constantius' Latin, though one can see how he came to it in attempt to convey a scenario in which the straw was there but Germanus did not notice it. The situation becomes even less clear when Constantius goes on to describe the healing of the demoniac Agrestius, when it emerges that far from there being merely a few wisps of straw, there was sufficient for Agrestius to be 'wrapped' in it (circumdatus conligatur). Possibly the straw was actually the filling of the mattress Germanus slept on, but Constantius was unable to state this clearly in view of his earlier claim (§ 4) that Germanus never slept on one.


Editions: Borius, R., Constance de Lyon, Vie de saint Germain d'Auxerre (Sources chrétiennes 112; Paris, 1965), with French translation. Levison, W., Vita Germani episcopi Autissiodorensis auctore Constantio, in: Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici V (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum 7; Hannover and Leipzig, 1919), 246-283. English translation: Hoare, F.R., The Western Fathers (London, 1954), 283-320. Reprinted in T.F.X. Noble and T. Head (eds.), Soldiers of Christ: Saints and Saints' Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (University Park PA, 1995), 75-106.

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