Paris - Ile De France

Saint Severin Church - Gothic Flamboyant Twisted Pillar

This page was updated on: Friday, June 16, 2017 at: 11:27 am

The Church of St. Severin in the Latin Quarter

Saint Severin Church is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful churches in Paris.

The first church, built during the 11th century, was rebuilt two centuries later in order to serve the ever-growing population.

Some believe that this first church replaced an oratory erected on the site where the hermit Séverin lived and was buried during the 6th century.

Others think that the church was simply dedicated to St-Séverin.

This preacher lived in the late 5th century and founded the Church of Agaune in the Canton of Velais in Switzerland.

It's impossible to work out which version is correct, as nothing remains of the 11th century church.

Transformation of Saint Severin Church

That said, the present day church is quite different from the early 13th century one.

The building was indeed extensively enlarged and altered over the next 3 centuries.

The first three bays of the nave and the lower level of the belfry are indeed the vestiges of the original Gothic church.

The nave already had lateral aisles, but an additional aisle was built in the early 14th century in order to accommodate the students of the Latin Quarter.

These initially worshiped in the neighbouring Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre Church, but their numbers kept increasing!

Saint Severin Church was enlarged once more in the 15th century.

Amazingly, its width and not its length was increased because of the lack of available land at the front and the back of the church.

This architectural peculiarity translates into impressive volumes!

The church was partially destroyed during the Hundred Years War and needed major rebuilding work.

The current architecture therefore dates from the late 15th to the 17th century.

Saint Severin Church - Double ambulatory and twisted pillar

Saint Severin Church is a successful blend of successive architectural styles, however, Gothic is dominant.

Anne Duchess of Montpensier, the cousin of Louis XIV, indeed commissioned the most prestigious artists and architects of the time with its remodeling and updating.

One of the striking features of Saint Severin Church is the group of carved columns in the double ambulatory.

They resemble a dense forest of palm trees and surround a central twisted pillar carved with a superb twist wrapped around its stack.

The equally magnificent lateral chapels of the apse were built between 1489 and 1520 in pure Gothic Flamboyant style.

A second sacristy was built in 1643.

In 1673 Jules Hardouin-Mansart built the Chapelle de la Communion on the southeast side.

In 1685 Charles le Brun transformed the chancel's original Gothic arcades into Classical semicircular arches.

Saint Severin Church's decorative features

He also added a pink marble fascia on the pillars, which were re-used during the elevation of the nave.

Marmosets also were added in order to disguise the junction between the pillar and its extension.

This trick was commonly used as the re-use of pillars saved a lot of money.

Marmousets go usually in pairs and represent monks or prophets, most often holding scrolls.

Two 13th century keystones escaped destruction; these are the remnants of the Chapel of the Virgin Mary that stood to the right of the vestry.

Remains of the only remaining original decoration, a 15th century fresco representing the Last Judgment, were also restored in 1968.

Saint Severin Church contains also several pieces of unusual funeral art.

The Black Heart painted (below the 15th century fresco) bears the epitaph of Catherine de Brinon and her daughter Catherine de Canteleu.

Both women died in 1699; their family had then been contributed to the maintenance of the church since 1491!

The church cemetery closed centuries ago, but the somewhat unusual tombstone of one of its former parishioners has been kept.

Nicolas de Beaumont is indeed represented with his wife and their fifteen children kneeling before Christ.

Saint Severin Church contains also one of the masterpieces of the 17th century French School of Painting:

Saint-Paul the Apostle meditating as he is writing, and holding a sword by Claude Vignon.

There is also a replica of Our Lady of Ostrabrama.

A Polish parishioner bequeathed the painting to the church in 1840.

The original is located in Vilnius, in Lithuania.

The chapel located to the left of the vestry is dedicated to Sainte-Thérèse de l'Enfant Jésus.

The statue of Sainte-Thérèse is a cast of a statue by Paul Landowski.

Finally, the impressive organ, built by Jean Ferrand in the 18th century, turns Saint Severin Church into a major centre of Sacred Music.

Saint Severin Church's stained-glass windows

The stained-glass windows are another major feature of Saint Severin Church!

The Gothic stained-glass windows of the chancel are intact and apparently date from the 15th century.

They enhance the beautiful rose window located above the west entrance.

Emile Hirsch produced most of the south chapels’ stained glass windows between 1875 and 1900.

These windows were funded by wealthy parishioners.

In exchange for their financial support, they indeed served as models to illustrate the scenes from the Life of the Saints or the Gospel !

Among the parishioners’ faces, you'll therefore find that of Charles Garnier.

The architect of the Opéra indeed lived nearby and worshiped in Saint Severin Church.

The chapels that surround the chancel and double ambulatory are adorned with seven colourful non-figurative stained glass windows.

These are the creation the artist Jean Bazaine (1904-2001) and were installed in 1970.

The decoration theme is based on the Seven Sacraments.

Sainte-Ursule's relics

Saint Severin Church contains the relics of Sainte-Ursule, the patron saint of the nearby Sorbonne University.

According to legend, Ursule was the daughter of  a Christian Breton King and lived in the late 3rd century AD.

She refused to marry a Pagan German Prince and fled with her maids.

Her journey took her first on a pilgrimage to Rome and then to Cologne in Germany, where she was captured, tortured and killed by the Huns.

In the 12th century the skeletons of several young individuals were discovered near Koln and immediately declared as those of Ursule and her maids.

The legend of Ursule was revived and “her relics” sent to all corners of Christian Europe.

Saint Severin Church was among the recipients.

Ursule's relics are placed in a small screed affixed on one of the walls.

Saint Severin Church - exterior

The western portal located below the belfry dates from the 13th century.

It was recovered from Saint-Pierre-aux-Boeufs, a church located on the Ile de la Cité and pulled down in the late 1830's.

The sculpture represent Saint-Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar.

The belfry has one of the oldest bells in Paris; it was indeed cast in 1412!

The south entrance opens onto a small walled garden landscaped on the site of the cemetery.

It is surrounded by a Gothic covered gallery, the former charnel house - charniers.

The bones of the deceased were removed from their graves a few months after burial.

They were then placed in small cavities in the walls of charnel houses in order to free space for future burials.

This was common practice in the big cities during the Middle Ages as space was scarce!

This peaceful little public garden is a little oasis of greenery in this very busy district!

Directions: 5th District
Metro: Saint-Michel on Line 4
Coordinates: Lat 48.852242 - Long 2.345475

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