Saint Germain des Prés

Saint Germain des Prés (46)

The church of Saint Germain des Prés is known for being the oldest in Paris.

Its origins date back to 542, when the Merovingian king Chidelbert I began building a basilica that came to be known as Saint-Germain-le-Doré, due to its grand splendour. Initially the church was devoted to Saint Vincent, a deacon martyred in Zaragoza in the 4th century. In fact, one of the relics that the church would contain was his tunic. Its name changed to Saint Germain around the 9th century, so in the heart of the basilica you will be able to find his tomb, although several Merovingian kings were also buried here, up to Dagobert.

It was built with marble, a mosaic flooring and its gilded bronze roof sparkled beneath the sun. It became a really powerful Benedictine abbey and, due to its wealth, was repeatedly pillaged by the Barbarians and even closed during the revolution.

It was situated outside the royal walls and in the 10th century already had a small hamlet growing up around it. Later on, in the 17th century it became one of the great intellectual centres of Europe, with outstanding figures and thinkers.

With the revolution the clerics were executed and their library confiscated. It is said that on the 3rd of September 1792 the masses stabbed 318 priests. Moreover, a large part of their more than 50,000 volumes and 7,000 manuscripts disappeared, among which figured, for example, the thoughts of Pascal. The national Library currently holds around 1,000 manuscripts saved from the fire of 1794.

Of the whole complex, we only have today what you see before you: the church and the abbey palace, largely thanks to the active support of Victor Hugo. In 1803 it was reopened for worship, although it is very marked by the restoration works undertaken over the last century.

Outside nothing remains of the Romanesque portico, terribly damaged during the Revolution. Only the side façades of the bell tower conserve their original appearance. 

When you visit it, you will be given a very useful map that will help you understand the period and characteristics of each corner. Its nave dates from the 11th century and the choir was rebuilt in the 12th century and consecrated in 1163 by Pope Alexander III.

We would highlight the “Virgin with Child” which comes from Notre-Dame, a 15th-century piece that you will see at the entrance.

Also pay special attention to the stained-glass windows in the chapel of Saint Genevieve.  They are spectacular. They are the work of Pierre de Montreuil from the 13th century rescued from the old chapel of the Virgin.

On the right in front of the entrance railings is the chapel of Saint Symphorianus, the original site where saint Germain was buried.

And to finish, two small curiosities that you cannot miss. Firstly, you can find among its most famous tombs, that of the philosopher Descartes. “Cogito ergo sum”. Secondly, inside the church you will be able to find a small painting that represents the head of a woman. It is by Picasso, in homage to his friend and poet Guillaume Apollinaire, a detail that very few visitors usually appreciate.

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