A year ago in a church in Limoux, some friends and I discovered St Germaine. We were struck by her small, simple statue and yet we knew there was a story behind her – as there always is. I felt so drawn to her knowing that I must already know her story….and sure enough I did…we all do. We were extremely grateful when Kathleen offered to meet us the day before the formal part of the tour began and take us to see St Germaine’s home.
St Germaine was thought to have been born around 1579 in Pibrac near Toulouse. She was a shepherdess and ministered not only to her flock but also the poor of Pibrac. Her step-mother and two step-sisters resented her beauty (inside and out) and banished her to live with the animals in the stables (can you see where I’m going here?!).
Despite living in awful circumstances she would loyally serve her step-mother by shepherding the sheep (you’ll usually find sheep at her feet in statues or beside her in paintings). Although she was never formally educated she believed in The Way of Love and was of Cathar heritage (from her late mother). She fed those who had nothing to eat by sneaking into the house after dark to get bread. One day her step-mother sent guards after her. When they asked her what was in her apron she opened it up and instead of bread, beautiful flowers fell to the ground – often referred to as the Miracle of the Flowers. So her step mother was unable to discredit her. Statues and pictures often show her with flowers falling from her apron. This is an allegorical story (interpreted to reveal hidden meaning).
Still jealous of her step-daughter, on the eve of Germaine’s 22nd birthday (which is usually when a girl becomes a woman and a priestess in Cathar culture), the step-mother poisoned her. She died under the stairs in the stables of the barn where she lived.
Nowadays her home is visited by many. There is a wax model of St Germaine under the stairs surrounded by baskets of flowers. Although Cathar, like so many figures throughout history, the Vatican PR machine stole her story and made her into a saint to cover up the truth.
There was such beauty in the simplicity of Germaine’s story and perhaps that is why I have felt so drawn to it. But I also realise that I grew up on a farm where my Mum always kept sheep so that she could use their wool for her weavings. When Mum moved to her home in Cladech many years ago, one of the most endearing things we loved was the daily visits of a neighbouring shepherdess with her flock of sheep. Today her daughter guides her flock across the meadow in front of our home every evening. I always find it an opportunity to pause to watch the sheep grazing on the hill below.
We then moved on to the middle of the village of Pibrac where there is a church containing what are believed to be the relics of St Germaine in a gold reliquary topped with small statues of her with her flock. Clearly St Germaine is held with high regard and great love in this community.
If you haven’t already guessed, the story of St Germaine inspired the story of Cinderella. Several centuries after her death seven sisters from the region were married into Huguenot families in Germany including the Grimm family. The sisters shared their local legends which the brothers who turned the stories into fairy tales. So many of the fairy tales we love are steeped in Cathar tradition…and then Huguenot legend as well as rooted in The Hero’s Journey.
One of our Sacred France friends – Sharon – was deeply moved by St Germaine’s story and was touched when a fellow friend bought her a simple statue of St Germaine for her to put in her garden back in New York. Unfortunately Sharon was unable to fit the statue in her luggage so she gifted it to us. So here is the statue in our garden….with the sheep in the meadow behind! Thank you Sharon!
St Germaine….for Sharon! Note the sheep in the field behind her!