Church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois
The church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois is in the heart of Paris, directly across the street from the Louvre. When the French Royal Family was in Paris, they lived at the Louvre and the Church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois was where they practiced their religion. That is why it was also called the “paroisse des rois de France” (parish of the Kings of France). Probably the most well known event that took place here involved the plot to massacre Protestants during the French wars of Religion in the sixteenth century, known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. A wedding that was orchestrated to give the illusion of peace between the Catholic Royals and the Huguenot minority was actually the battle cry to Catholics to slaughter Huguenots across the city. Unbeknownst to the bride Princess Margaret and the groom Henry III of Navarre (also known as Good King Henry), the day of the wedding the Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici, orchestrated a secret plot to carry out a series of assassinations and mass violence against the Huguenots.
The church itself actually has a much longer history, a history that tells a large part of the story of the city of Paris and the various empires it has belonged to. It is one of the oldest parishes in Paris. Originally built in the fifth century the church has undergone many rebuilds and changes in the centuries since. The origin story of this particular church involves two saints, Saint Germain the Bishop of Auxerre (where its name comes from) and Saint Genevieve, the Patron Saint of Paris. The Church itself was originally built on the meeting place of Saint Germain and Saint Genevieve. It was during this meeting when Saint Germain, her Bishop, told a seven-year-old Genevieve that her future was that of a holy woman. It was then that she requested he take her to her church and consecrate her as a virgin. Following Germain’s highly regarded example, she dedicated her life to the church. At 15, she asked to become a nun.
When Attila the Hun and his army approached Paris in the year 451, the people of Paris, not surprisingly, wanted to run. Genevieve convinced the people to stay and pray for the protection of Heaven. Soon after Attila changed his course. Throughout her life, she carried on with her acts of charity, prayer and foretelling what was to come. It was that last habit that caused many people to turn against her, to the point where they wanted to “drown her in a lake of fire”. St Germain stepped in to prevent that.
Genevieve also held great influence over two of her Kings, Childeric and his son Clovis. Childeric respected her devotion to her parishioners, particularly after witnessing the lengths she went to to secure food for them during a time of famine. While both Kings were pagans, they respected her enough to listen to her advice. Clovis ultimately converted to Christianity and with that, many of his people converted with him, creating a religious unification across his empire. While his decision to convert is attributed to his wife, Clotilde (she was venerated as a Saint for her act), it is hard to believe St. Genevieve’s example had no influence on his decision. This is especially noteworthy when you realize that Clotilde in turn promoted the idea of making Genevieve the Patron Saint of Paris. Clovis and Genevieve were even both interred in the same abbey for a time. Throughout her life and after her death many miracles in Paris were attributed to her.
The Church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois has its fingerprints on much of the history of Paris between the St. Bartholomew’s day massacre, being burned to the ground in a Norman invasion, famine, war, an empires conversion to Catholicism many major events can be traced back to it and its faithful parishioners over the centuries. Much like the city of Paris, the church keeps going, as if it is the beating heart of Paris itself.
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