Saint Germain des Prés Church
15 CENTURIES OF FRENCH HISTORY
From the eighth to the tenth century, the church was a religious site for hundreds of monks, who hand-copied texts which circulated throughout Europe.
The building was ransacked multiple times during the Viking Invasions of Paris and left in ruins.
In 1631, Saint Germain des Prés became the center for the Saint Maur congregation, disciples of Saint Benedict. The Maurists, as they were known, produced a large quantity of literature focused on science and history. More than 220 writers composed over 700 literary works during this time.
Three men of the sixteenth century who were involved with the church played major roles in our understanding of research and science.
Dom Mabillon, a Benedictine scholar, published De re diplomatica, which explored different ways to verify early Middle Age documents. Dom Montfaucon, another scholar, studied and researched early civilizations such as the Greeks. Philosopher, mathematician, and physicist, Descartes, was also tied to the church after his ashes were reburied with Mabillon and Montfaucon at Saint Germain in 1819.
Saint Germain des Prés was repurposed and used as a saltpeter (potassium nitrate) refinery and cannon foundry in 1794. Chapels served as storage for carbon, blast furnaces were installed, and piles of saltpeter towered up to the chancel vaults.
15 tons of gunpowder were ignited and caused an explosion that left the church in ruins on August 17, 1794. The debris was cleared, and the monastery began its journey to the church we know today.
The revitalization of the church began with artist Hippolyte Flandrin, who was selected to paint major murals upon the monastery walls. Flandrin's paintings depict several historical and religious figures, as well as multiple iconic scenes of Christianity. The murals were considered the heart of the nineteenth century revitalization campaign and are the center of our restoration project today.
The restoration of the church continues today. This historical monument will undergo various phases of restoration over the next several years which include improvements to the structure itself and the artifacts within.
To see what is currently being restored, click here.
In 543, Merovingian King Childebert sought to build a basilica to house important relics and the tunic of St. Vincent. As a result, Bishop of Paris Germain d'Autun erected St. Vincent and the Holy Cross monastery in the fields surrounding Medieval Paris.
After he died in 576, Germain was named a Saint, and the monastery was dedicated to him.
The Middle Ages
Around 1000, Father Morard was named the new abbot of Saint Germain des Prés. He rebuilt the abbey with three towers. The bell tower was completed in 1014, the same year of Morard's passing.
The library was deemed accessible to outside scholars during the Middle Ages. It housed centuries of literary works by hundreds of monks, giving the "escoliers" from the nearby Sorbonne (founded in 1250) an opportunity to keep a general catalog of information for study.
In subsequent years, the church underwent various levels of damage to its buildings, books, and the tombs of Merovingian Kings.
The French Revolution created a time of turmoil and sadness within Saint Germain des Prés. Monks' orders were disbanded in 1790 and the men were expelled from the monastery. Those who refused to accept the new order were massacred in 1792. Many others were slaughtered without trial by the sans-culottes.
After the Concordat of 1801, which relieved the religious constraints of the French Revolution, the City of Paris became the owner of Saint Germain des Prés.
Due to severe damage caused by the explosion, demolition of the building was seriously considered. Father Keravenant, the first priest named after the Concordat of 1801, and Victor Hugo, a French writer, participated in a successful campaign to stop the demolition.
The 20th century saw more restoration projects for Saint Germain des Pres.
During the 1950s, a campaign for repairs was started, which resulted in the removal of paintings from the apse and decorations from the chapel, as well as swapping out wooden barriers for metal.
The original sepulcher of Saint Germain was discovered and excavated in the 1970s. The southern staircase of the tower was cleared and the chapel of Saint Symphorian, now 1,000 years old, was restored.