SHAPING IDEAS THAT
CREATED A LEGACY
The Church of Saint Germain des Prés has seen many eras of French culture. As the oldest church in Paris, it has influenced and shaped people, places, and ideas throughout history.
Both the church and village of Saint Germain des Prés are located in Paris's 6th Arrondissement. The village was established during the twelfth century as a result of the church's many visitors. Through the years it continued to grow with help from the abbey, which transformed the area into an important economic center for locals and passersby. Today, the 6th Arrondissement is a highly sought after quarter of Paris for both tourists and inhabitants of the city.
The Church of Saint Germain des Prés played a significant role in influencing literature and philosophical ideas still studied and circulated today. Several men involved with the church left their marks on the pages of history during the 17th century, including Dom Mabillon, Dom de Montfaucon, Descartes, and numerous monks.
Serving as the gathering place for hundreds of monks, Saint Germain des Prés was an epicenter for the production of hand-copied literature. During the 17th century alone, over 700 literary works were composed. The monks and scholars of the church were also committed to housing important manuscripts from other areas around Europe. The collection grew steadily over time and, today, reaches numbers around 7,000 (conserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale).
LITERATURE, PHILOSOPHY, & THE SORBONNE
Mabillon, Montfaucon, and Descartes helped shape historical and scientific research as we know it today. Mabillon established processes for authenticating artifacts and manuscripts from the Middle Ages, while Montfaucon worked on archaeology studies of Greek antiquity. Famous philosopher, Descartes, became connected to the church when his ashes were re-buried next to Mabillon and Montfaucon in 1819 at the abbey. The ideas and findings of these integral men are still used by academics today in the nearby Sorbonne and all over the world.
The walls of Saint Germain des Prés are covered in centuries old works of art depicting important historical and religious figures, and taking viewers on an irreplaceable journey to the past. Most notable are the vast mural works painted by Hippolyte Flandrin in the nineteenth century.
In the early 1800s, the church was in ruins. The City of Paris selected Hippolyte Flandrin to complete a full redecoration of the building's interior. Between the years of 1842 and 1864, Flandrin completed numerous works of art that can still be seen in the church today.
Flandrin used an encaustic, or hot wax, painting technique for the murals. In the sanctuary, scenes from the Passion, as well as historical figures of the abbey are seen on three different levels. Images of the apostles can be seen in paintings and the stained glass windows of the Monk's Choir. Paintings in the nave depict scenes from the Bible, showing figures and stories from the Old Testament, along with one painting of the New Testament which was done by Flandrin's brother, Paul. The North Transept was painted by Sebastian Cornu after Flandrin's death in 1864.
Many styles of religiously inspired architecture can be seen at Saint Germain des Prés from Romanesque arches to Gothic elements in the Nave and Choir.
Along with the arches, Saint Germain des Prés showcases 40 Romanesque capitals which sit on the top of numerous columns. These capitals are designed with beautiful decorations or important historical events, portraying aspects of the Old and New Testaments, plants and animals, and even monastic life. The capitals were sculpted in a time when many of the population could not read or write and were meant to educate patrons on religion through the images portrayed upon them.
In 1014, the bell tower was built by Abbot Morard, making it the oldest in Paris (the tower just celebrated 1,000 years!). The Nave was also constructed in the 11th century. It holds vast roman arches, a once wooden ceiling, and sizable windows which allow in torrents of light.