Paris - Ile De France

Saint Germain des Pres Church - oldest church Paris

This page was updated on: Sunday, December 10, 2017 at: 7:05 pm

Saint Germain des Pres Church district

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

Saint-Germain-des-Prés village developed 15 centuries ago in the shadow of its influential abbey.

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

The district became one of the most sought after and affluent areas of Paris during the 17th century.

Louis-César de Bourbon, the son of King Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan, who was then abbot of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, indeed commissioned the restoration of the basilica's Romanesque nave.

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

It was indeed pulled down and redeveloped!

All that is left today is the church.

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.

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 the king brought back from Spain.

The first bishop, Germanus, dedicated the basilica on December 23, 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

The abbey and its church were rebuilt between 990 and 1021, however, 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 painted during the 17th century.

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

Saint Germain des Pres Church boasts the oldest Romanesque belfry in France

The arched upper level of the imposing 11th century belfry was rebuilt during the 12th century.

The base is original and turns it into one of the oldest Romanesque towers in France.

Baltard restored it during the 19th century.

The Romanesque porch collapsed in 1604 but the portal was replaced two years later with the present one.

Fortunately, some of the collapse didn't affect all the original Romanesque columns that supported it.

These columns were retained and today frame the contemporary wrought iron gate Raymond Subes especially created for the church.

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

The ghosts of Saint Germain des Pres Abbey

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

It was entirely pulled down at the French Revolution.

All that is left (and is visible) is the 18th century presbytery and the 16th century Bishop Palace!

Paris City Hall converted the Presbytère into offices.

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

However, many surrounding buildings that were built on the site of the abbey, still contain listed vestiges.

Among these are the 13th century cellars (not open to the public).

Medieval Saint-Germain Fair

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

King Louis II founded this renowned fair in 1482.

The fair 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).

However, 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 nos.8-6 rue de Furstemberg, were converted into flats.

Eugène Delacroix lived at no6 from 1857 to 1863; his apartment is today a museum dedicated to the painter.

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.

Sadly, an explosion entirely destroyed it in 1794.

Most of abbey's library was lost in this explosion and the remaining 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 its 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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