Oratory of Saint Germain l’Auxerrois

Saint Germain l'Auxerrois Church in Paris
Saint Germain l’Auxerrois Church in Paris

Saint Germain l’Auxerrois was built on a site where two religious buildings previously stood.

An oratory was erected in 500AD in order to commemorate the passage of St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre.

Three centuries later, a baptistery replaced it to baptise the children who perished during the Seine’s recurrent floods. 

This area was then a vast marsh dotted with few hamlets.

Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, the parish church of the kings of France

King Robert the Pious rebuilt Saint Germain l’Auxerrois in the early 11th century.

Saint Germain l'Auxerrois Church porch

In the 1180s, Philippe-Auguste enclosed the Rive Droite within a perimeter wall and built the Louvre fortress and Les Halles covered market.

In the direct vicinity of the Louvre, Saint Germain l’Auxerrois Church was therefore enlarged and became the parish church of the kings of France.

The superb Gothic entrance porch created by the master mason Jean Gaussel was completed in 1439. 

It is – with the porch of the Sainte Chapelle – one of the oldest in Paris.

The statues that ornate it were restored in the 19th century, and the most damaged replaced.

The church was uninterruptedly enlarged and altered over the following centuries, but has retained its original Romanesque bell tower.

However, the spire was pulled down in the 18th century and replaced by a balustrade.

Its single bell, Mary, which was cast in 1529, is tragically famous as it rang the signal for the outbreak of Saint-Bartholomew’s day massacre on August 24, 1572.

Saint Germain l’Auxerrois Church – Interior

The 13th century Chapelle du Saint Sacrement is considered a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. 

Saint Germain l'Auxerrois Church - retable

It boasts a 15th century polychrome wooden statue of St. Germanus, and a 14th century painted stone representing St. Mary of Egypt.

The Gothic chancel and first bay of the Chapelle de la Vierge were completed in the 14th century, and the nave a century later.

The transept and the chapels surrounding the chancel were built in the 16th century, during the French Renaissance.

Saint Germain l’Auxerrois was eventually completed around 1580.

17th century mutilations

Saint Germain l'Auxerrois Church - Chapelle du Saint Sacrement
Chapelle du Saint Sacrement

The canons commissioned a series of drastic transformations, or rather mutilations, during the 17th and 18th centuries. Gothic was indeed then considered obsolete and hideous!

They therefore destroyed the tympanum of the portal and the Renaissance rood screen created by Jean Goujon and Pierre Lescot.

They painted the murals and vaults of the chancel in white and redecorated and carved the pillars and capitals.

They replaced the nave’s 14th century stained glass windows with translucent glass in order to lighten it up.

However, the best glass-painters of the 19th century replaced these with the current stained glass windows during the church’s restoration.

Fortunately, the 16th century windows located on both sides of the transept are original.

Post French Revolution

Saint Germain l’Auxerrois was closed but escaped destruction at the French Revolution. 

Saint Germain l'Auxerrois Church - 17th century font with angel
17th century font with angel

It indeed became a saltpeter factory, a barn, a printing factory and even a police station!

It eventually re-opened in 1802, but was desecrated and closed once more during the riots of 14 and 15 February 1831

It then served as town hall of the 4th district.

It officially re-opened in 1837 and was restored over the following 20 years.

Restoration proved to be a real challenge for the architects Lassus and Viollet le Duc, though. 

Indeed, the damage done during the transformations and mutilations of the 17th and 18th centuries couldn’t be all corrected.

A wealth of architectural features and art works

Saint Germain l’Auxerrois contains a wealth of architectural features and art works.

Saint Germain l'Auxerrois Church chancel

This includes two 17th century fonts adorned with sculpted angels and a magnificent series of Renaissance stained glass windows and a rose-window.

There are also a superb back door dating from 1570 and a pulpit designed by Charles Le Brun and Le Mercier.

The church boasts also two 16th century Flemish and French retables.

Beautiful 19th century murals adorn the transept and chapels and the Clicquot built the superb organ in 1771.

Take the time of strolling along the ambulatory, there is a lot to discover!

Finally, many confuse the tower that overlooks the Place du Louvre for Saint Germain l’Auxerrois bell tower.

This tower is in fact the belfry of the town hall of Paris’ 1st district.

Directions: 1st District – Place du Louvre
Metro: Louvre-Rivoli on Line 1Coordinates: Lat 48.859579 – Long 2.340874
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 8am to 7pm – Sundays from 9am to 8pm

N.B. The Chapelle du Saint Sacrement is reserved for prayer and meditation and photos are not allowed.

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