Saint Severin Church – Latin Quarter
Saint Severin Church is located in the Latin Quarter.
It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful churches in Paris.
A first church was built during the 11th century, but was rebuilt two centuries later in order to serve the expanding local population.
Some believe that this first church replaced an oratory erected during the 6th century on the site where the hermit Séverin lived and was buried.
Others think that the church was simply dedicated to St-Séverin.
This preacher lived in the late 5th century and founded the Church of Agaune in the Canton of Velais in Switzerland.
It’s impossible to work out which version is correct.
There is indeed no clue, as nothing remains of the 11th century church.
The first three bays of the nave and the lower level of the belfry are the vestiges of the Gothic church rebuilt in the early 13th century.
The nave of this church already had lateral aisles.
However, an additional aisle was built in the early 14th century in order to accommodate the students of the Latin Quarter.
These initially worshiped in the neighbouring Saint Julien le Pauvre Church, but their numbers kept increasing!
Saint Severin Church was enlarged once more in the 15th century.
Amazingly, its width and not its length was increased because of the lack of available land at the front and the back of the church.
This architectural peculiarity translates into impressive volumes!
Saint Severin Church was partially burnt during the Hundred Years War and needed major rebuilding work.
The current architecture therefore dates from the late 15th – early 16th centuries when the church was once more enlarged.
Saint Severin Church’s double ambulatory and twisted pillar
Saint Severin Church is a successful blend of successive architectural styles.
Gothic, however, is dominant!
Anne Duchess of Montpensier, the cousin of Louis XIV, commissioned the most prestigious artists and architects of the time with its remodeling and updating.
One of the striking features of Saint Severin Church is the group of carved columns in the double ambulatory.
They resemble a dense forest of palm trees and surround a central twisted pillar carved with a superb twist wrapped around its stack.
The equally magnificent chapels framing the apse were built between 1489 and 1520 in pure Gothic Flamboyant style.
A second sacristy was built in 1643.
In 1673 Jules Hardouin-Mansart built the Chapelle de la Communion on the southeast side.
In 1685 Charles le Brun transformed the original Gothic arcades of the chancel into Classical semicircular arches.
He also added a pink marble facing on the pillars.
Saint Severin Church’s decorative features
The pillars were re-used during the elevation of the nave.
They were decorated with marmosets in order to disguise the junction between the pillar and its extension.
This trick was commonly used as the re-use of pillars saved a lot of money.
Marmousets go usually in pairs and represent monks or prophets most often holding scrolls.
Two 13th century keystones that escaped destruction are the remnants of the Chapel of the Virgin Mary that stood to the right of the vestry.
Remains of a 15th century fresco representing the Last Judgment were also restored in 1968.
This is the only remaining original decoration.
Saint Severin Church contains several pieces of interesting and unusual funeral art.
The Black Heart painted below the 15th century fresco bears the epitaph of Catherine de Brinon and her daughter Catherine de Canteleu.
Both women died in 1699 and their family had been contributed to the maintenance of the church since 1491!
The church cemetery closed centuries ago, but the church has retained the somewhat unusual tombstone of one of its former parishioners.
Nicolas de Beaumont is indeed represented with his wife and their fifteen children kneeling before Christ.
Saint Severin Church contains also one of the masterpieces of the 17th century French School of Painting:
Saint-Paul the Apostle meditating as he is writing, and holding a sword by Claude Vignon.
There is also a replica of Our Lady of Ostrabrama.
A Polish parishioner bequeathed to the church in 1840.
The original painting is located in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.
The chapel located to the left of the vestry is dedicated to Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus.
The statue of Sainte-Thérèse is a cast of a statue by Paul Landowski.
Finally, the impressive organ was built by Jean Ferrand during the 18th century.
Saint Severin Church is indeed a major centre of Sacred Music.
Saint Severin Church’s stained-glass windows
The stained-glass windows are another major feature of Saint Severin Church!
The Gothic stained-glass windows of the chancel are intact and apparently date from the 15th century.
They complement the beautiful rose window located above the west entrance.
Emile Hirsch produced most of the south chapels’ stained glass windows between 1875 and 1900.
These windows were funded by wealthy parishioners.
In exchange for their financial support, they served as models in the scenes from the Life of the Saints or the Gospel !
Among the parishioners’ faces, you’ll therefore find that of Charles Garnier.
The architect of the Opéra indeed lived in the neighborhood and worshiped in Saint Severin Church.
The chapels which surround the chancel and double ambulatory are adorned with seven non-figurative stained glass windows.
They are the creation the artist Jean Bazaine (1904-2001).
The theme of their decoration is based on the Seven Sacraments.
They were installed in 1970.
They are very colourful and give off a warm soft light.
Saint Severin Church contains the relics of Sainte-Ursule, the patron saint of the nearby Sorbonne University.
According to legend, Ursule was the daughter of a Christian Breton King who lived in the late 3rd century AD.
She refused to marry a Pagan German Prince and fled with her maids.
Her journey took her first on a pilgrimage to Rome and then to Cologne in Germany, where she was captured, tortured and killed by the Huns.
In the 12th century the skeletons of several young individuals were discovered near Koln and immediately declared as those of Ursule and her maids.
The legend of Ursule was revived and “her relics” sent to all corners of Christian Europe.
Saint Severin Church was among the recipients.
Ursule’s relics are located in a small screed placed on one of the wall.
Saint Severin Church – exterior
The western portal located below the belfry dates from the 13th century.
It was recovered from Saint-Pierre-aux-Boeufs, a church located on the Ile de la Cité and pulled down in the late 1830’s.
The sculpture represent Saint-Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar.
The belfry has one of the oldest bells in Paris; it was indeed cast in 1412!
The south entrance opens onto a small walled garden which was developed on the site of the cemetery.
It is surrounded by a Gothic covered gallery, the former charnel house – charniers.
The bones of the deceased were removed from their graves a few months after burial.
They were then placed in small cavities in the walls of charnel houses in order to free space for future burials.
This was common practice in the big cities during the Middle Ages as space was scarce!
The peaceful garden is open to the public; it’s a little oasis of greenery in this very busy district.
More photos – Saint Severin Church
Directions: 5th District
Metro station: Saint-Michel on Line 4
Coordinates and map Saint Severin Church: Lat 48.852242 – Long 2.345475