In Quest of the Comte de Saint Germain

I do not speak of my heritage much. Usually it’s doting aunties and grass widows who prat on heritage, linking a randy (in the Scottish meaning of the word) nephew’s behavior to great, great, great uncle Henry’s strange propensity to be a drunken cad.

Americans also speak of some grand, thin connection to some old backstabbing Plantagenet they wouldn’t want to share the fence with today but suddenly boast about when they discover they are descended of him. For the English, nobility was and is a legal status, something they grabbed from the Norman sense of selling anything. Because the British regarded nobility as a legal concept on paper, marriage between members of noble and non nobles was commonplace. Those of British descent can tie their heritage in to some earl, from there to some Plantagenet, and from there to that parker Charlemagne, which so many brag about. I suppose it is because of his nifty name.

But for the Continent, nobility is and was a quality. It is not a legal status. Family is everything. Bloodline carries the quality. The adelgeschlecht, those families that went back to the German invasions of the Roman Empire, were the real deal. They carried the quality of nobility, as their accomplishments in hard times proved when they led their people in times of upheaval greater than anything in Lord of the Rings. These weren’t toadies given titles by a king. They were dynasts. Any titles they held were those of the Holy Roman Empire.

On the Continent the legal concept of nobility does not predominate, obviously. So I must tread carefully when suggesting that a link to the identity of the so-called and infamous Comte de Saint Germain should be sought in a very grand dynastic family from Genoa. I proudly descend of this family, and I am very mindful of its inherent qualities. Their name is Cattaneo della Volta. Along with the Grimaldi, Spinola, Doria, Brignole-Sale, they formed the power of Genoa, and Genoa was the power of the Mediterranean. The Palaeologus favored them, and eventually there was marriage– to my knowledge all branches of Cattaneo descend of the Palaeologus; the princes in the south of Italy openly carry the Palaeologo name on Cattaneo della Volta. Other branches descend through the Palaeologus of Montferrat.

The name and family comes from Ingo Della Volta, son of Conrad, a Lombard noble who like all the Lombards struck together to maintain the Holy Roman Empire. When he met with Barbarossa at Pavia, the great emperor gave him the name Cattaneo, meaning “captain of the Empire.” The family has used it since. They are a wonderful, adventurous, genuinely noble family . . . with a very tangible legacy as well. They carried the true longevity gene.

Even before the Renaissance, it is commonplace that a Cattaneo della Volta reached his 80s– 86 being the common age.  This longevity continues until the modern time. To my knowledge, it is in every branch, and in many of those families who descend from them, like mine. It has been over a century now since one of my ancestors held the Cattaneo name. It’s a bit relative, since I am only 5 generations from the 18th century (we breed far apart), but the gene is a strong one.  It is still with us.

My own branch started with Tomas, who tragically died young, but he had named his son John Baptist (Giovanni Batista) after so many ancestors and Doges.
Good ol’ John Baptist lived to be 86, a marvel for most men in the 19th century, especially for one who took it in his head to go up to the rugged Volga land and run it for Catherine the Great. That wasn’t exactly his charter, but he ended up doing it anyway, preaching, exploring, engaging in science and medicine. His grandson, my great grandfather William, lived to see 85, but was killed by Stalin in 1926 when he wiped out the Volga land. Mom told me stories about how grandmother received letters from relatives still there, the paper stained with tears around the writing telling how bad everything was.

Well, let’s not go there. We haven’t gotten to the subject yet of this blog post. But it is a subject that requires an introduction. My branch is not unique. There are many branches of Cattaneo, especially in Piedmont and Lombardy that tie in with the main line in Genoa. They were born of younger sons, and perhaps there was no real future in the political and trading ventures of the main family in Genoa. They still carried the Cattaneo traits, and the Cattaneo longevity.

Herein we come to a mysterious figure of the 18th century. He was dark and eccentric, educated well in Italy, seemed to have lots of money, and he was mysterious. He went by the name and title of Comte de Saint Germain. He spoke many of the languages of Europe, was an accomplished musician, amused to no end Louis XV, and was often considered a spy or a mountebank or an adventurer. One thing was undeniable. He had longevity.

saintgermain

No one is particularly sure when the Comte de Saint Germain was born, but he died in 1784 and was in his 80s at least. On his deathbed he claimed a Serbian princely background, but it really didn’t check out. One thing was certain, there was no such family or title of Saint Germain to which he was connected.

Yet he was such an educated and gallant, though at times foppish man. He died poor, under the protection of Prince Charles of Hesse-Kassel.

Who was the Comte de Saint Germain? The question has been asked for centuries. The title was bogus. But it was fad to take titles in the 18th century. They were used as aliases. If society believed you were from a great family, it was considered acceptable, even intriguing that you went by a fake identity but one that nevertheless indicated you were from the gentry.

The Comte de Saint Germain’s fluid occupation, however, did not indicate he was close to the stem of any great house still extant. Cattaneo  della Volta most certainly was. The main branch was still the power in Genoa. Other outlying branches were in Lombardy and Piedmont. Dominic had agreed to be Prince of San Nicandro  in the Neapolitan Court, and through marriage they prominently displayed  an amended Cattaneo coat of arms bearing the motto of the Palaeologus– “King of Kings, Ruling over Rulers.”  This wasn’t a family to mess with.

And it seems Comte de Saint Germain never really tread for any length of time within the reach of the Cattaneo family. He seems to have been educated in Italy but made his name more so in northern Europe. For someone who was a scion of this house, testified both in appearance and by the longevity and intelligence, there would be many disapproving cousins who could not only blow his cover but could soundly stop him– Princes of Francavilla, several branches of Cattaneo and several other Genovese and northern Italian houses.

It is highly unlikely he ever carried the Cattaneo name. But from my own searches I think it is very possible he tied in with this erudite and noble dynasty. They produced many adventurers, in the much more acceptable sense of the word, including my Giovanni Batista. He is probably a scion of several of these families. Perhaps some in these families knew who he was, or at least heavily suspected. Italian families stick together. They never forget an insult and they always stick together. Those who suspected he was some junior cousin from a junior branch living on his annuity may have preferred silence. He was famous and intelligent and went by a title that led nowhere to these great families.

If he was educated at Siena, then it is possible some starting point can be found that leads to a student from one of these great families, tied in with Cattaneo’s undeniable longevity gene, that can be traced only so far until he took another identity and made his way through Europe as a talented and mysterious count.

It is beyond my desire to spend the appropriate time to do this, but there may be someone out there who might want to take up the search for the Comte de Saint Germain. It is unlikely any of these great families would care anymore if some junior cousin made his way through notorious fame over 200 years ago. He is considered immortal by many who follow his teachings, but it won’t hurt if he is identified and his immortality fades to his identity with families whose nobility has proven more durable than mortality, one that has existed much longer than he, and will continue to exist for centuries to come.

*         *          *

Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

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