Legend of Sainte-Genevieve
Sainte-Genevieve is one of the three patron saints of the City of Paris.
Common legend has it that shewas a simple peasant girl.
Ancient texts, however, attest that she was born around 422AD in a noble family of Nanterre (a town west of Paris) to a Gallo-Roman father and a Frankish mother.
Saint-Germain, the Bishop of Auxerre, stopped over in her village, while on his way to preach in Britain.
He singled out the little girl from the crowds for her devotion and sanctity.
Genevieve took the veil when she was young, after the death of her parents.
She moved to Paris where she became soon known for her pious and ascetic life and charitable virtues.
She was the symbol of the society of that era, a society born from the successful blending of Latin and Germanic cultures.
Genevieve became the heroine of Paris in 451AD when Attila and his Hun warriors besieged the city.
The Parisians believed that her payers and determination prevented Attila from invading and destroying Paris, because she encouraged them to reinforce the city’s defense instead of fleeing.
According to legend, this is what she told the wealthy citizens who were getting ready to flee:
« Que les hommes fuient, s’ils veulent, s’ils ne sont plus capables de se battre. Nous les femmes, nous prierons Dieu tant et tant qu’Il entendra nos supplications »
“Let the men flee, if they want, if they are no longer able to fight. We women, we pray to God so fervently that He will hear our prayers “
Attila spared Paris, and Genevieve became a heroin overnight!
Sainte-Genevieve Abbey under the patronage of King Clovis
The Huns were definitely kicked out of Gaul by other invaders, the Franks, who not only founded France but gave it its first king Clovis.
Clovis unified the country with the support of the Church of Rome, on the condition that he converted to Christianity.
He did so after marrying Clotilde, a Christian princess from Burgundy.
Genevieve founded an abbey (Abbaye Sainte-Genevieve) under the patronage of Clovis and Clotilde.
She died in 512AD and was buried next to them in the abbey church – Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul Basilica.
The many miracles that started to occur at Genevieve’s grave led the diocese to rename the basilica Sainte-Genevieve Church.
Her remains were encased in a golden shrine, as the church became a major site of pilgrimage.
Tragically the abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution, and the graves of Clovis, Clotilde and Sainte-Genevieve desecrated.
Sainte-Genevieve in St-Etienne du Mont Church
Her golden shrine was melted in 1793, her remains burnt on Place de Grève (current Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville) and her ashes scattered in the Seine!
Her original stone sarcophagus, which had been left in the church’s crypt, escaped destruction, as the revolutionaries mistook it for an “ordinary” tomb.
It was recovered from the ruins in 1802 and placed in St Etienne du Mont Church.
The church was returned to the cult in 1803.
The sarcophagus and some relics of Sainte-Genevieve (recovered from various French churches) were placed in a silver and gold gilded shrine placed in a lateral chapel.
The neo-Gothic Chapelle Sainte-Genevieve was completed in 1853.
Its wall is opened with a superb stained glass windows that depicts the saint’s life.
Annual religious celebrations still take place between the 3rd and 11th January in order to honour the memory of the saint.
You’ll find many stained glass windows representing Sainte-Genevieve in the many churches of Paris, but also statues, small and gigantic, such as that standing on Pont de la Tournelle.