A Saintly Cinderella

In 16th century France there lived a little girl who lived a short, and sorrowful life; a life filled with familial neglect and abuse, much like the character known as Cinderella. I would like to report that she was saved from her cruel home life by a prince, but she was not. In fact, she died alone from starvation in her family’s barn at the tender age of twenty-two. However, the events of her life, which would have embittered the best of us, led this little Cinderella into the arms of God, where she spiritually flourished; and where she was led to the highest degrees of sanctity, as attested to during the process of her canonization, where she was declared a Catholic saint.

Who was this little Cinderella?

She was St. Germaine Cousin, and here is her story (source noted at end of block/quote):

Saint Germaine Cousin… (1579–1601) is a French saint. She was born in 1579 of humble parents at Pibrac, a village 15 km from Toulouse.

Of her, the Catholic Encyclopedia writes:

“From her birth she seemed marked out for suffering; she came into the world with a deformed hand and the disease of scrofula, and, while yet an infant, lost her mother. Her father soon married again, but his second wife treated Germaine with much cruelty. Under pretence of saving the other children from the contagion of scrofula she persuaded the father to keep Germaine away from the homestead, and thus the child was employed almost from infancy as a shepherdess. When she returned at night, her bed was in the stable or on a litter of vine branches in a garret. In this hard school Germaine learned early to practise humility and patience. She was gifted with a marvellous sense of the presence of God and of spiritual things, so that her lonely life became to her a source of light and blessing. To poverty, bodily infirmity, the rigours of the seasons, the lack of affection from those in her own home, she added voluntary mortifications and austerities, making bread and water her daily food. Her love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and for His Virgin Mother presaged the saint. She assisted daily at the Holy Sacrifice; when the bell rang, she fixed her sheep-hook or distaff in the ground, and left her flocks to the care of Providence while she heard Mass. Although the pasture was on the border of a forest infested with wolves, no harm ever came to her flocks.”

She is said to have practised many austerities as reparation for the sacrileges perpetrated by heretics in the neighbouring churches. She frequented the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist, and it was observed that her piety increased on the approach of every feast of Our Lady. The Rosary was her only book, and her devotion to the Angelus was so great that she used to fall on her knees at the first sound of the bell, even though she heard it when crossing a stream. The villagers are said to have inclined at first to treat her piety with mild derision, until certain signs of God’s signal favour made her an object of reverence and awe.
The ford in winter, after heavy rains or the melting of snow, was at times impassable. On several occasions the swollen waters were seen to open and afford her a passage without wetting her garments. Notwithstanding her poverty she found means to help the poor by sharing with them her allowance of bread. Her father at last came to a sense of his duty, forbade her stepmother henceforth to treat her harshly, and wished to give her a place in the home with his other children, but Germaine begged to be allowed to remain in the humbler position. At this point, when men were beginning to realize the beauty of her life, she died. One morning in the early summer of 1601, her father found that she had not risen at the usual hour and went to call her, finding her dead on her pallet of vine-twigs. She was 22 years old at the time.

Her remains were buried in the parish church of Pibrac in front of the pulpit. In 1644, when the grave was opened to receive one of her relatives, the body of Germaine was discovered fresh and perfectly preserved, and miraculously raised almost to the level of the floor of the church. It was exposed for public view near the pulpit, until a noble lady, the wife of François de Beauregard, presented as a thanks-offering a casket of lead to hold the remains. She had been cured of a malignant and incurable ulcer in the breast, and her infant son whose life was despaired of was restored to health on her seeking the intercession of Germaine. This was the first of a long series of wonderful cures wrought at her relics. The leaden casket was placed in the sacristy, and in 1661 and 1700 the remains were viewed and found fresh and intact by the vicars-general of Toulouse, who have left testamentary depositions of the fact.

Expert medical evidence deposed that the body had not been embalmed, and experimental tests showed that the preservation was not due to any property inherent in the soil. In 1700 a movement was begun to procure the beatification of Germaine, but it fell through owing to accidental causes. In 1793 the casket was desecrated by a revolutionary tinsmisth named Toulza, who with three accomplices took out the remains and buried them in the sacristy, throwing quick- lime and water on them. After the Revolution, her body was found to be still intact save where the quick-lime had done its work.

The private veneration of Germaine had continued from the original finding of the body in 1644, supported and encouraged by numerous cures and miracles. The cause of beatification was resumed in 1850. The documents attested more than 400 miracles or extraordinary graces, and thirty postulatory letters from archbishops and bishops in France besought the beatification from the Holy See. The miracles attested were cures of every kind (of blindness, congenital and resulting from disease, of hip and spinal disease), besides the multiplication of food for the distressed community of the Good Shepherd at Bourges in 1845.

On 7 May 1854, Pius IX proclaimed her beatification, and on 29 June 1867, placed her on the canon of virgin saints. Her feast is kept in the Diocese of Toulouse on 15 June. She is represented in art with a shepherd’s crook or with a distaff; with a watchdog, or a sheep; or with flowers in her apron.

(end of excerpt, source, some links from original excerpt removed by SCF; to see original, refer to linked source)

This following excerpt contains a bit more detail on her life (source noted at end of block):

Germaine was a frail, sickly child, afflicted with scrofula, a nauseous disease which caused abscesses about the neck. Her right arm was deformed and partially paralyzed. She was a prey to every disease of the times due to the unsanitary conditions under which she lived.
Laurent Cousin’s wife beat Germaine savagely. The child’s body bore livid testimony of her cruelty. She was dressed in cast-off rags and never given a pair of shoes. Her feet were frost-bitten in winter and bloody in summer as she led the Laurent flock to pasture and back. 
Germaine lived with the animals, had a mattress of hay and twigs in a corner of the barn. She was given little food and was often so hungry she ate what the dogs and pigs left behind. She was never sent to school, merely instructed briefly in order to make her First Holy Communion. The girl was shunned by children of her own age and ignored by adults. Her only refuge was the church. There she heard Mass every morning. 
The most celebrated incident in Germaine’s life occurred shortly before her death. One wintry day the village people saw the stepmother pursuing Germaine as she drove her flock down the road. The woman was screaming loudly and she shrilly accused Germaine of having concealed in her apron some bread that she had stolen from the stepmother’s home. Threatening to strike the girl with the club, she demanded that Germaine unfold her apron. The girl did so, and fragrant flowers, of a kind unknown in the region, cascaded to the snow-covered ground. 

On the night of her death two monks traveling from Toulouse lost their way in the forest and sought shelter for the night in the ruins of an ancient castle. At midnight they were awakened by music overhead, accompanied by a pathway of light, inhabited by white-clothed forms. A tip of the luminous pathway rested over a barn in the distance. The forms again appeared going this time towards heaven and were accompanied by another who was garlanded with flowers. It seemed the forms were escorting the newcomer.

Upon reaching the village next morning the monks inquired if anyone had died during the night. Only a poor shepherd girl, they were told. Germaine Cousin had been found dead in a stable. Interest was enhanced when Germaine took on startling beauty after death. People flocked to the Cousin house to see her and departed calling her “a saint.”
In accordance with the custom of the day Germaine’s body was interred in the village church, consigned to a grave under the flagstone floor of the church opposite the pulpit, without marker or inscription. 
Forty-one years later, when a relative named Edualde died after requesting to be interred in the Cousin place of burial, the grave diggers found a beautiful girl beneath the flagstone. The body was in a state of perfect preservation, as soft and pliable as a living person. The older residents of Pibrac identified the corpse as that of Germaine Cousin. The scrofula scars were evident and there was the deformed arm. 

A series of astounding miracles through the succeeding seventeen years brought to Pibrac Monsignor Jean Dufour, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Toulouse. This investigator arrived on September 22, 1661. He found Germaine’s body still perfect sixty years after her death! Germaine’s canonization however, was to be as painfully acquired as her life had been. Her cause was plagued with obstacles.

In the year 1700 a voluminous file containing all official documents and testimony taken, was entrusted by Archbishop Colbert of Toulouse to a Capuchin monk, Father Constantin de Figeac, who was on his way to Rome. The file, however, was not delivered to the Vatican, for immediately on his arrival in Rome Father Constantin was sent to Mesopotamia. He left instructions that the precious papers were to be delivered to the Congregation of Rites. The papers were mislaid, forgotten.

The French Revolution became another form of torture, yet at the same time, the proceedings added evidence to the cause of Germaine. The revolutionaries of Toulouse decided that “superstition” should be stamped out of Pibrac. A tinsmith named Toulza was sent with three assistants to destroy the body of Germaine. They dug a hole under the sacristy floor, dumped the corpse into it, spread a large quantity of quicklime over it and drenched the lime with water. The lead casket was confiscated to be melted down for bullets for the revolution.
When the Reign of Terror subsided, the citizens of Pibrac urged a reopening of the lime pit. After two years in such a place the body of Germaine was again brought forth in perfect preservation, more beautiful than ever. The corpse was returned to the sacristy of the church. 

In 1765 Abbe Francis, a priest of the village of Auriac near Pibrac, published a book relating the story of Germaine. The book inspired interest in the shepherdess throughout France. In 1843 Cardinal Paul d’Astros, Archbishop of Toulouse, officially reopened the cause of Germaine for canonization. His successor, Pope Pius IX, was equally fascinated by Germaine but political events of the time drove the Holy Father from the Vatican, prevented Germaine’s beatification until May 7, 1854. Canonization followed on June 29, 1867. 

On that day the little girl with a withered arm, whom no one wanted, was given to the world to love and cherish as a glorified saint of God. (source)

St. Germaine‘s feast day is June 15.

The following are two prayers to St Germaine (source noted at end of block):

Saint Germaine, look down from Heaven and intercede for the many abused children in our world. Help them to sanctify their sufferings. Strengthen children who suffer the effects of living in broken families. Protect those children who have been abandoned by their parents and live in the streets. Beg God’s mercy on anyone who abuses children. Intercede for handicapped children and their parents.
Saint Germaine, you who suffered neglect and abuse so patiently, pray for us.  

Remember us, blessed Germaine, your brothers and sisters who labor and suffer in this difficult world. Know that we place our hope in you, ask for your help in our need, and for consolation in our suffering. Hear us as we ask you to be with us in our time of trial. You experienced much pain, isolation, humiliation, and suffering. Now from your place of glory please look with kindness upon our sorrows. In your happiness, remember our tears.
Form us in the way of your humility, your patience, your faith, and your charity.
And then, at the hour of our death, welcome us to our eternal home.

translated from the original French prayer, source.

St. Germaine, little Cinderella, pray for us!

May you have a good day.


~Image: Cinderella.