The Church of St. Severin in the Latin Quarter
It is considered one of the finest churches in Paris.
It indeed boasts 15th century, 19th century and colourful contemporary glass windows, but also an intriguing twisted pillar in the ambulatory.
It replaces the 11th century church.
This church was erected on the site of the oratory where the hermit Séverin lived and was buried in the early 6th century.
Transformation of Saint Severin Church
This Gothic church was extensively enlarged and altered over the next 3 centuries.
All that is left of it are the first three bays of the nave and the lower level of the belfry.
An additional aisle was added to the nave in the early 14th century to accommodate the students of the Latin Quarter.
These initially worshiped in the neighbouring Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre Church, which soon became too small for their ever increasing numbers.
Saint-Severin was enlarged once more in the 15th century, but in width only.
It indeed lacked space at the front and rear.
All these architectural peculiarities translate into impressive volumes and interesting architecture.
Saint Severin Church – Double ambulatory and twisted pillar
The current architecture therefore dates from the late 15th to the 17th century and is a blend of successive architectural styles, however, Gothic is dominant.
Anne Duchess of Montpensier, the cousin of Louis XIV, commissioned the most talented artists and architects of the time with its remodelling and updating.
One of the church’s striking features are the carved columns in the double ambulatory.
They indeed resemble a dense forest of palm trees and surround a central twisted pillar adorned with a superb twist wrapped around its stack.
The apse’s equally magnificent lateral chapels were built between 1489 and 1520 in pure Gothic Flamboyant style.
In 1673 Jules Hardouin-Mansart built the Chapelle de la Communion on the southeast side.
Saint Severin Church’s decorative features
In 1685 Charles le Brun transformed the chancel’s original Gothic arcades into Classical semicircular arches.
He also adorned the pillars with pink marble fascia and marmosets to mask the junction where the pillars had been extended during the elevation of the nave.
This trick was common 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 survived the alteration works; they are the remnants of the Chapel of the Virgin Mary that stood to the right of the vestry.
All that is left of the original decoration is a 15th century fresco representing the Last Judgment.
Saint Severin Church contains also several pieces of unusual funeral art.
This includes a Black Heart that bears the epitaph of Catherine de Brinon and her daughter Catherine de Canteleu who died in 1699.
Their family had been contributing to the church maintenance since 1491!
There’s also the somewhat unusual tombstone of one of its former parishioners, Nicolas de Beaumont, who is depicted with his wife and their 15 children kneeling before Christ.
You’ll find 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’s a replica of Our Lady of Ostrabrama bequeathed to the church by a Polish parishioner in 1840.
The original painting is in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The chapel located to the left of the vestry is dedicated to Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus.
It contains the cast of a statue of Sainte-Thérèse 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 decorative feature of Saint Severin.
The chancel’s well preserved Gothic stained-glass windows date from the 15th century.
They enhance the rose window located above the western 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 served as models to illustrate the scenes from the Life of the Saints or the Gospel.
Among the parishioners’ faces, you’ll find Charles Garnier’s, the architect of the Opera House who lived nearby.
In 1970 Jean Bazaine created the 7 colourful contemporary stained glass windows of the chancel’s lateral chapels and double ambulatory.
The theme of their decoration is based on the Seven Sacraments.
Finally, Saint Severin Church shelters 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 who 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.
Saint Severin Church – exterior
The western portal 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 represents Saint-Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar.
You’ll find this portal near the belfry which boasts one of the oldest bells in Paris, a bell cast in 1412!
Finally, a small public walled garden encompassed within a Gothic covered gallery (the former charnel house) replaces the cemetery.
In the Middle Ages, it was common practice in the big cities to dig out the deceased’s bones a few months after they died and to store them in small cavities of charnel houses to free space for new burials.
This secluded public garden is today 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