Paris - Ile De France

Saint Germain des Pres Church - oldest church Paris

This page was updated on: Friday, March 31, 2017 at: 1:59 pm

Saint Germain des Pres Church district


Romanesque bell tower

Saint Germain des Pres Church is located in one of the most famous districts of Paris!

Saint-Germain-des-Prés district appeared 15 centuries ago.

It developed in the shadow of its affluent abbey founded by the first kings of France.

Saint-Germain Abbey was already renowned for its Scriptorium in the 11th century!

It remained the centre of a vivid intellectual life in Catholic France until the French Revolution.

The district became one of the most sought after areas of Paris during the 17th century when Louis-César de Bourbon, the son of King Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan, and abbot of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, commissioned the restoration of the basilica's Romanesque nave.

The district was indeed very active and affluent, as life revolved around the abbey.

Haussmann's planning works of the mid 19th century fortunately spared the enclave encompassed between the Boulevard Saint-Germain and the river.

Foundation of Saint Germain des Pres Church and Abbey

Saint Germain des Pres is one of the oldest Romanesque churches in France!

King Childebert I founded the abbey in 558AD.


17th century Gothic vaulting and capitals

He built Saint-Vincent-Sainte-Croix Basilica, as the abbey church was then called, on the ruins of a Roman temple.

Its initial purpose was to shelter a piece of the True Cross and Tunic of Saint-Vincent he had brought back from Spain.

The first bishop, Germanus, dedicated the basilica on 23rd December 558AD, the very same day Childebert died!

The abbey was renamed Saint-Germain in 754AD in order to pay tribute to the bishop, who was buried in the chancel.

It became soon known as Saint-Germain-des-Prés in order to differentiate it from Saint-Germain-le-Vieux on the Ile de la Cité.

All Merovingian kings were buried in Saint-Germain-des-Prés until the 7th century, when Dagobert I founded the Abbey of Saint-Denis in the north of Paris.

The Normans destroyed Saint Germain des Pres when they besieged Paris in 885-886AD.

Romanesque Saint Germain des Pres Church


L'entrée du Christ à Jérusalem by Laurent de la Hyre 17th century

The abbey and its church were rebuilt between 990 and 1021 but were transformed over the centuries

The chancel was enlarged in the 12th century.

Pierre de Montreuil built the Gothic cloisters, Chapelle de la Vierge, refectory, dormitory and the chapter in the 13th century.

These transformations turned Saint Germain des Pres into one of the most attractive and affluent abbeys in the Kingdom of France!

The church was restored in the 17th century and the 19th century.

The Gothic vaulted wooden ceiling of the nave and 12th century chancel were therefore painted during the 17th century.

In the 1840s, Flandrin painted the superb murals above the arches.


Murals by Flandrin

The imposing 11th century belfry is one of the oldest Romanesque towers in France.

The arched upper level was rebuilt during the 12th century.

Baltard restored it during the 19th century.

The Romanesque porch collapsed in 1604.

It was replaced two years later with the present Classical portal.

Fortunately, some of the original Romanesque columns with carved capitals that supported it were not affected by the collapse.

They now frame the contemporary wrought iron gate created by Raymond Subes.

Subes was one of the most acclaimed metalworkers of the Art Deco period.

He graduated from the prestigious Ecole Boulle and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs.

The ghosts of Saint Germain des Pres Abbey

The Abbey of Saint Germain des Pres spread on both sides of the Boulevard Saint-Germain.


Original Romanesque columns and capitals in the porch

It was demolished during the French Revolution.

All that is left are the 18th century presbytery and the 16th century Bishop Palace!

The Presbytère was converted into offices for Paris City Hall.

The Palais de Evêché flanks the church at no3-7 Place Saint Germain des Pres.

However, many listed vestiges, such as 13th century cellars, are located in the private properties that were built on the site of the abbey.

They are not open to the public.

The Galerie Commerciale-Marché Saint-Germain was built in 1818 on the land where the abbey held the Foire Saint-Germain.

King Louis II founded this renowned fair in 1482.


Vestige in Rue de l'Echaudé

It indeed attracted people from all over the kingdom and remained a major economical and social event until the Revolution.

The Rue du Four was opened in the 13th century.

It was named after the abbey's bread oven (four) that served the monks and the villagers working for them.

The abbey was fortified during the Hundred Years War (14th century).

The crenelated wall, watchtowers and moats were pulled down in the 17th century.

The Rue de l'Echaudé replaces the outside ditch of the rampart, hence its original name Chemin-sur-les-Fossés-de-l'Abbaye.

Rue de Furstemberg and Rue de l'Abbaye

The Rue de Furstemberg, Rue Cardinal and Passage de la Petite Boucherie were opened in 1699.

The abbey's stables at no.8 and no.6 rue de Furstemberg, were developed and converted into flats.

Eugène Delacroix lived at no6 from 1857 to 1863; his apartment was turned into a museum dedicated to the painter.


Vestiges of the Chapelle de la Vierge

The Rue de l'Abbaye was opened after the Revolution.

The abbey cloisters, chapter and refectory - rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries - were located at the level of no11-16.

The monks' refectory was transformed into an arsenal during the Revolution.

An explosion entirely destroyed it in 1794.

Most of abbey's library was lost in this explosion and the books dispersed!

The explosion also destroyed the magnificent Gothic Chapelle de la Vierge that was located at the level of no6-8.

A few vestiges of the portal were recovered and rebuilt.

They are on display in the tiny public garden that flanks the Church in Rue de l'Abbaye.

A couple of benches were placed along the path surrounding the lawn, where you can admire the statue of Guillaume Apollinaire by Picasso, Hommage à Appolinaire.

Directions: 6th district
Metro: Saint-Germain-des-Prés on Line 4

Coordinates Saint Germain des Pres Church: Lat 48.853798 - long 2.333328

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