Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Patron Saint of Paris


How does one become the patron saint of a city? St. Genevieve did it by having her remains (or should I say relics?) paraded around Paris during an outbreak of ergot poisoning. To this day the churches still commemorate that epidemic relief. During her lifetime she convinced the people of Paris to stay in their homes and pray, instead of fleeing in panic at the advancement towards the city of Attila the Hun. His army (or should I say hoards?) turned and attacked Orleans instead. I wonder if anyone in Orleans prays to St Genevieve?

And what is the reward for being a patron saint? Usually a church is built in the honor of the saint, but St. Genevieve had a bit of bad luck with that since hers was plundered  by Vikings, fell into decay after centuries of neglect, and then was finally replaced by a remarkable structure, more worthy of her importance, that is still standing to this day. Her new church was confiscated during the revolution and renamed the Pantheon. At that time her relics were publicly burned. What remains of her is now interred in Sainte Entienne Du Mont, a small church within a block of the Pantheon. How did I discover all this? I was looking at a hotel website and it referred to the church of St. Genevieve on the Contrescarpe. Being familiar with the area I wanted to know where the church was since I hadn't seen it.

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As it turned out, I had not only seen the church, but had attended mass there on our last trip to Paris. St. Entienne Du Mont is no Pantheon, but it is a striking church and does have some lovely features like the rood screen that separates the nave from the choir.  The open carving of the spiral stairs on either side of the rood screen is visually appealing, but the stairs lead to nowhere. The pulpit and organ have beautifully carved woodwork worthy of our attention. I'm guessing it's walnut wood since they grow so many walnut trees in the South.

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As destiny would have it, I had taken some photos after mass and even took a few of the coffin where the few remaining relics of St. Genevieve are interred. Poor St. Genevieve, why did the revolutionaries feel the need to destroy what had been venerated by so many generations before them? There is a humility about this entire story that I believe would have been appreciated by Genevieve. Somehow I suspect good works in an of themselves were reward enough for her. I had wondered who was in the coffin, thinking perhaps it was a local bishop or cardinal. Now I know it was someone far more important.

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