Legend of Saint-Marcel

Saint-Marcel, the 9th Bishop of Paris, is one of the three patron saints of the City of Paris along with Ste-Geneviève and Saint-Denis.

Saint-Marcel Church in Paris
Saint-Marcel Church in Paris

He was born into a humble family who lived on the Ile de la Cité, near the Petit-Pont.

Legend has it that he performed many wonders and miraculous healing in his youth.

However, he is mostly remembered for defeating a dragon by a single blow of his stick.

This dragon, which terrorized Paris and ate the bodies of ‘girls of easy virtue’, obviously symbolized the evil that Saint-Marcel cleared Paris of.

The holy man presided over the Council of Paris in 360-361AD where the bishops of Gaul France) solemnly recognized the Council of Nicaea of 325AD.

The Barbarian invasions of the late 3rd century entirely destabilized society and left the population at the mercy of armed gangs.

Saint-Marcel was a born leader!

He indeed took over from the failing institutions; he taught and evangelized the poor (who were mostly pagan) and led the Parisians to reorganize their social structures.

He died in 436AD and was buried in a place he chose along the old Roman road.

Paris’ first Christian necropolis

This burial place became the first Christian necropolis of Paris.

It was located on the southern corner of the current Boulevard Saint-Marcel and Avenue des Gobelins crossroads.

A small oratory was erected on his tomb, which soon became a place of pilgrimage for the Christians of Paris, who took the habit of saying “We’re going to Saint-Marcel”.

The Quartier Saint-Marcel is therefore the site of the first Christian settlement in Paris.

This deserted area was quite at a distance from the city centre.

However, it was a stone’s throw from the ford and bridge on the river Bièvre, near Saint-Médard Church at the bottom of Rue Mouffetard.

A chapel replaced the oratory during the 6th century to serve (until the French Revolution!) the ever-growing Christian community of Paris.

The holy man’s relics were transferred to the fortified Ile de la Cité during the 9th century Norman invasions.

This transfer contributed to propagate his worship and make him a patron saint of the city.

Saint-Marcel Church was pulled down during the renovation of Paris in the mid 19th century.

The 1st stone of the larger St-Marcel-de-la-Salpétriêre Church was laid in 1856 at no80 Boulevard de l’Hôpital.

This church was demolished in 1962.

The current contemporary building, which shelters the holy man’s relics, was inaugurated in 1966.

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