Saint Geneviève … PATRON SAINT OF PARIS & NANTERRE … AND HEALER …

As far as miraculous healing is concerned, Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes and Saint Catherine Labouré of Paris come to mind. Both had had visions of the Virgin: the Virgin having spoken to them too. Bernadette was fourteen at the time and a shepherd; Catherine, twenty-four and a nun. The visions had appeared to the two […]

Saint Genevieve – Patron Saint of Paris and Nanterre as can be seen in the Saint Genevieve Cathedral in Nanterre(cc MarilynZ. Tomlins)

As far as miraculous healing is concerned, Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes and Saint Catherine Labouré of Paris come to mind.

Both had had visions of the Virgin: the Virgin having spoken to them too. Bernadette was fourteen at the time and a shepherd; Catherine, twenty-four and a nun.

The visions had appeared to the two in the 1830s, and since then miraculous healings have taken place in their name. Those of Bernadette – 70 so far – have been medically confirmed, but those of Catherine are unconfirmed and unofficial, in some cases the miraculously-healed only putting up a plaque in the courtyard of the chapel at No. 140 Rue du Bac in Paris’s 7th arrondissement (district) dedicated to her – the Chapel of our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

However, miraculous healings also take place in the name of a third young woman: Saint Geneviève, born around the year 420 some 13 kilometres (8 miles) north-west of Paris in the town of Nanterre. This article, as its title confirms, is about her.

Immediately, I must say that, as with Saint Catherine, the miraculous healings of Saint Geneviève have not been confirmed by the Catholic Church and are thus not official.

For the healings of Saint Geneviève there are two places to go to: one in Paris and one in Nanterre.

For Paris it is the St Etienne du Mont Church in the 5th arrondissement (district), and for Nanterre it is the Saint Geneviève Cathedral at No. 28, rue de l’Eglise.

Saint Etienne de Mont Church in Paris (cc MarilynZ. Tomlins)

 

Cathedral Saint Genevieve in Nanterre (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Both the church and the cathedral are beautiful. Of course – the miraculous healing aspect may encourage you to visit them … but I am by no means telling you that your aches and pains will scatter when you visit the two.

I will start with the cathedral in Nanterre.

In Roman times the town of Nanterre was known as Nemetodorum from the words nemeto meaning ‘sacred place’ and duron meaning ‘enduring, hard, tough’. (Paris was known as Lutetia and it was the capital of the Parisii peoplesThe name Lutetia would be changed to Paris after its inhabitants the Parisii: this was in 360.)

It was there in Nanterre where Geneviève was born.

The exact date of her birth is not known, but it is given as between 419 to 422.

She was the only child of a man known as Severus and a woman known as Gerontia. Some historians claim they were poor peasants; others that they were wealthy landowners.

 According to legend, her mother was a cruel woman who beat her.

Yet, when her mother had become blind, she had miraculously brought her mother’s sight back. On the grounds of the family home there was a well, and she had washed her mother’s eyes with the water from the well. And her mother was no longer blind. The well is still there today; its healing waters for all and anyone to partake in.

The well in Nanterre (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

After this ‘miracle’, the girl had come to the notice of two visiting bishops – Germanus of Auxerre and Lupus of Troyes, who considered her as blessed by the Almighty.

On the death of her parents, the two took Geneviève to Paris to live with one of her grandmothers.

 In Paris, Geneviève had frequent sightings of the Virgin, so the deeply devout Clotilde, wife of Clovis 1, King of the Franks became another follower. (Clovis’s kingdom would become France: he ruled from 481 to 511.)

The Virgin also spoke to Geneviève, messages the girl would repeat to her followers, and they, in turn would spread the word that the Virgin communicated with the girl.

All this time, Geneviève’s followers claimed that she had miraculously healed their ailments and illnesses.

So many people seeking her healing, Clovis 1, also having been won over, founded an abbey from where she could minister. The abbey became known as the Abbey of Saint Geneviève.  It was on a hill to the south of the River Seine. That area of Paris is today known as La Montagne St Geneviève.

Meanwhile, whatever Geneviève said were considered a demand or advice from the Almighty and not to be ignored.

Thus, when Attila the Hun invaded Paris in 451, and Geneviève told the people of the city not to flee, but to stand and fight, and that God would guide them to victory, they listened to her, and the approaching Attila learning that the people of Paris were going to resist, he led his army away from the city, thus not attacking it. And, when the city ran out of food because of the hostilities and she told the people to get into boats and to sail down the river (Seine) to where they will find wheat to bake bread, they did so, and they did indeed find wheat and the starving masses of Paris could fill their stomachs.

Geneviève was thus considered the saviour of Paris, and today she is known as the Patron Saint of Paris.

The exact date of her death is also not known, but historians give it as between 502 and 512, she then aged between 79 and 93.

She was laid to rest in a stone casket which was placed in the abbey.

From then on, the abbey would become a place to visit when in need of healing, and those who went to pray for such healing at Geneviève’s casket left precious gifts behind. Thus, in 847 when the Vikings attacked Paris, ransacking the city, they made for the abbey and ransacked it too and carried off all the precious objects.

The faithful continued to visit the abbey, and in 1222, Pope Honorius 11 (1060/1130) Pope from 21/12/1124 until his 1130 death ordered a new church to be built on the hill where stood the abbey, but it was not completed until 1624 and then, to this church dedicated to Saint Stephen (Etienne in French) and known as the Saint Etienne du Mont Church, Geneviève’s remains were moved. 

There Geneviève’s lay until the French Revolution (1789/1799) when angry revolutionaries ransacked the church, as they did all places of worship in the Kingdom of France, and burnt Geneviève’s remains and dumped the ashes in the Seine.

Over the following decades what was believed to be relics from her stone casket were found in various Paris churches, and in 1853, the relics were entombed in a magnificent gold and silver sarcophagus and placed in the renovated Saint-Etienne du Mont Church.   There it can still be seen today: and as with her original stone casket, it has become a place of worship and for seeking cures for health problems.

Genevieve’s sarcophagus in the Saint Etienne du Mont Church in Paris (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins

 

Nanterre though would not forget and forsake Geneviève, and would erect another sarcophagus for her, which would be placed in the Cathedral of Saint Genevieve in Nanterre.

Nanterre’s sarcophagus for holding Genevieve relics (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Number 28 Rue l’Eglise where stands the cathedral always has people standing about.

I must though say that the cathedral in itself is not spectacular: it is the fact that this is a place of worship dedicated to Saint Geneviève, healer and Patron Saint of Paris – and also the Patron Saint of Nanterre – and indeed, since 1963, Patron Saint of the Gendarmerie – which draws the visitors.

I went there on a Saturday.

It was afternoon, and I was walking around when I came to Rue l’Eglise and stopped dead in my tracks (maybe one should not speak of death when speaking of a girl in whose name healing miracles happen) by a most unusual sight: a mosaic covering the building ahead of me.

The Mosaic on the chapel in Nanterre (cc MarilynZ. Tomlins)

I knew about the cathedral, but not of the mosaic, but there was advice on hand. 

 A young woman, standing outside the building at a table laden with brochures, enlightened me.

The building is a chapel and the congregation’s presbytery, and the building was constructed in the 13th century where once had stood the house of Geneviève’s parents. Indeed, in front of the chapel is the well with the healing water.

The mosaic, ten metres (33 feet) high and nineteen metres (13 feet) wide, dates from June 2017. It is the work of Father Marko Rupnik, born in Idrija, Slovenia, in 1954, today a Jesuit based in Rome. An artist, Father Rupnik was commissioned by the congregation to do a mosaic to honour Geneviève.

Father Rupnik, already the creator of mosaics in the Vatican, at Lourdes and at Fatima in  Portugal, had created the mosaic at Rome’s Centro Aletti, the atelier which specialises in religious works of art, especially mosaics and frescoes. He is the Centre’s director.

In May 2017 he and ten artists from Aletti had begun to set up the mosaic which consists of hundreds of small pieces of marble and stone – and gold.

The mosaic depicts Geneviève on her knees in front of the Christ: He is putting the protection of the city of Paris and of the city of Nanterre in her hands. Paris is represented by the Eiffel Tower, and Nanterre by the Cathedral.

The cathedral – or sections of it – dates from the 13th century.

I say ‘sections of it’ because first there had stood a small church which had been added to from the 1920s, the façade having been rebuilt altogether because of its destruction by fire during the Hundred Years War (1337/1453) when the army of  Edward 111 of England’ attacked the town.

In 1966 the new church, rebuilt at a cost of 5 million euros had become the seat of the diocese’s bishop, thus a cathedral.

Today, dozens go every day to the cathedral. They go the pray to Geneviève for assistance – or for healing – but also to admire the cathedral’s many stained-glass windows, frescoes, and indeed her sarcophagus.  Like the one in Paris, this one is of gold and silver, but it is in the form of a boat to commemorate Geneviève’s order for the people to get into boats to sail up the Seine to fetch wheat so that the starving people of Paris could bake bread.

How to get to the church and the cathedral:

In Paris, the St Etienne du Mont Church, in the 5th arrondissement (district),  therefore in on Paris’s Left Bank, is easy to get to.  Go to the Pantheon off Boulevard Saint Michel, then walk around the building and on Place Saint Geneviève behind it you will see a church and this will be the St Etienne du Mont.

However, do note that the church is not open at all hours.

It is open from Thursday to Friday from 8.45 a.m. to 7.45 p.m. and on a Saturday from 8.45 a.m. until noon to reopen at 2 p.m. until 7.45 pm.  On a Monday it is open for one hour only – from 6.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. On a Sunday it is open from 8.45 a.m. to fifteen minutes past 12 to reopen at 2.30 p.m. to close at 7.45 p.m.

Inside St Etienne du Mont Church(cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The town of Nanterre is also not difficult to get to. Neither is it difficult to find one’s way about the town. 

You need to take the A1 RER metro line, and you can do so from the Paris stations of Chatelet-les-Halles or La Défense Grande Arche.  

The stop you would have to descend at in Nanterre is Nanterre-Ville.    Do note that there are three Nanterre stops on the AI RER line. They are Nanterre Prefecture, Nanterre Universite and Nanterre Ville. Do not descend at the first two: you will be very far from the cathedral and you will be totally lost.

When you descend from the train on the station of Nanterre-Ville, you will see signs directing you to the cathedral. You won’t get lost! The walk is not long and as it will take you through the town’s main shopping area, it will not be a boring walk.

To get to Nanterre-Ville buy a Mobilis day ticket at the Paris metro station of your departure. The Paris metro is divided into 5 zones, and Nanterre-Ville falls in Zone 3: the ticket will cost you 10 euros and it will be valid until 1 a.m. the next morning, and for as many metro, bus and tram rides as you wish. 

I will end by saying: if you are seeking healing, then I wish  Saint Genevieve will give it to you.

 

Saint Genevieve Inside Saint Genevieve Cathedral in Nanterre. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins

Below you will see stones from Saint Genevieve’s first tomb, the one which had been ransacked during the French Revolution. Today the stones are well protected being part of the  St Etienne du Mont Church sarcophagus.

 

Stones from Saint Genevieve’s original tomb today in Saint Etienne du Mont Church inParis. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

 

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Marilyn Z. Tomlins

One Response to “Saint Geneviève … PATRON SAINT OF PARIS & NANTERRE … AND HEALER …”

  1. 1
    Louise Says:

    This is an excellent and most informative article. I appreciate the historical information given as it gives an in-depth view of what happened. It makes the cathedrals more real for the visitors. By giving visiting times as well will also help the tourist or visitor to plan well in advance. This article is most helpful to any person who would like to visit Nanterre.

    Thank you for this helpful and interesting article.

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