With bits and pieces from the 6th century through the 20th, this is Paris' oldest church. It is named after a canonized bishop who is thought to have been entombed in 576 in an abbey chapel which once stood on this site, and which was also the burial place of early French royalty. The events of history have been not been kind to many of France's churches and this one is no exception. The original was destroyed by the Normans; the abbey, used as a prison during the Revolution, vanished in an explosion of stored gunpowder; and the church itself was stripped of relics and treasure.
Restoration during the 19th century brought some of the original furnishings and the purpose of worship back to this battered old lady. Some newer paintings and decoration added during this period thankfully enhance rather than distract from those dating back many centuries. Tombs include philosopher René Descartes; the heart of King John (Jan) II Casimir Vasa, abdicated King of Poland-Lithuania and former abbott of the church; and the (presumed) original burial site of Saint Germain.
Entrance is free; see the website for hours and more details.
Literary and artistic enthusiasts, stop for lunch or a glass of wine at nearby Cafe de Flore, Les Deux-Magots (we did this one) or Brasserie Lipp. All three were once of the haunts of some big names in literature, philosophy and the arts.
This church is, as you probably know, the oldest in Paris. It was founded by Childebert, son of Clovis, the first king of France and is dedicated to the saintly Germain who was Bishop of Paris in Childebert’s life. It is located in what, at the time, were flood-prone fields as the “Prés” indicates, being the French word for fields.
This is the church where the remains of Rene Descartes were moved from Stockholm but, as near as I can tell, there is little, if anything, here. There is what looks like a marble memorial to him between two chapels. It praises his intellect and his contribution to the literature and thought of his time. Some regard him as the father of the enlightenment.
The church was built, as so many were, to house and honor a holy relic, in this case the stole of St. Vincent, brought from Spain by Childebert in the 6th Century. The abbey became one of the richest in France and a Catholic intellectual center until the French Revolution. There is a lot of interesting statuary and paintings to be seen, one statue of St. Germain and a 13th Century one of the Virgin and Child which has been pieced back together from three stone pieces found in a recent archeological dig nearby.
There are so many beautiful churches in Paris - probably more than in any other city I've visited - that I find it impossible to say which is my favourite. However, in terms of sheer simplicity and purity of line, the exquisite Romanesque St Germain-des-Pres would have to win hands down.
St Germain-des-Pres is the oldest church in Paris and was founded as a Benedictine monastery by Childebert in 542. At the time, it was located just outside the city walls of Paris ('des Pres' means 'in the water meadows'). It served as the burial place for the Merovingian kings and became one of the wealthiest monasteries in France during the Middle Ages, but much of the complex was destroyed by fire and other disasters over the centuries and the former royal occupants were relocated to the royal necropolis at St Denis, leaving behind only the church. In particular, I find the bell tower over the main entrance to be endearingly sturdy, as it was designed to bear the weight of the enormous bells on foundations that were regularly waterlogged when the Seine flooded.
In keeping with its monastic past, the interior of the church is unstated and very peaceful. It has an evocative atmosphere and is the sort of place where you cannot help but feel a connection across the centuries to the Dark Ages in which the monastery was at the zenith of its importance.
This church is one of the most important sights in Paris. The abbey was founded in the 6th century and back in the middle ages there was a whole village around this abbey. Nowadays only the church has survived. This church has lots of features of the Romanesque period and hosts a permanent eshibition about St. Germain des Pres
Be sure to go around the side of St-Germain des Près to the small garden, but before you get there be sure to look up and notice the building itself. It has suffered much since its orgins in the 6th century. Only the great tower and the choir of the 12th century remain from earlier times.
St. Germain des Pres is reported to be the oldest church in Paris. During much of its existence there was also a large Benedictine abbey complex, of which only fragments remain.
The picture on the left is the church. In the picture of the shop on the right you can see some old stones -- these are part of the old abbey that have been incorporated into the shop's design.
The website documents a massacre of prisoners that took place at the abbey during the French Revolution.
Located behind Abbaye Saint-Germain-des-Près, le Palais Abbatial was built in 1586 by Cardinal de Bourbon, the Abbot of Saint-Germain-des-Près. The architect of the palace is thought to be Guillaume de Marchand, whose design is considered a precursor to the Louis XIII style that emerged in France shortly thereafter. Le Palais Abbatial was also the second building in Paris, after Hôtel Scipion, to combine redbrick and stone in its construction. Some modifications occurred later, particularly around 1680 by Guillaume Egon, the Cardinal landgrave of Fürstenberg. His title is eternalised a short block away from the palace, at place Fürstenberg, one of the most charming squares in Paris. It is planted with four large Paulownia trees and is often featured in French films. Le Palais Abbatial is nowadays the headquarters of a couple of religious organisations.
One of the results of baron Haussmann's street planning of Paris, boulevard Saint-Germain was cut through the left bank of Paris in a curve from west to east. The wide boulevard's name refers to the once suburb of Paris, faubourg Saint-Germain, which later became the literary district of the City of Lights. The focal point of the district, located where rue Bonaparte intersects boulevard Saint-Germain, is famous for cafés/restaurants (les Deux Magots, Café de Flore and le Procope) which historic characters, such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, are known to have frequented. Beyond the wide avenue, however, are narrow streets and small squares with pre-18th century buildings that recall an older Paris with a mediaeval character. Nowadays, the Saint-Germain area is one of the trendiest districts in Paris with many high-end and start-up designer label shops, boutique hotels, and chic restaurants. Strolling through the area one afternoon in Paris is well worth the time.
The abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is the oldest surviving church in Paris. Its bell tower is also one of the oldest surviving in the whole of France. Built in 1014 AD, the abbey replaced a 6th century church that had been destroyed by the Normans in the 9th century. It originally had two additional towers on either side of its apse, but they were deemed unstable and removed in the early 19th century. The abbey was continuously added to and remodelled over the centuries. Although its interior has conserved some original details, particularly in its ambulatory chapels, the nave and aisles of the church were completely altered in the 19th century with flamboyant polychrome decorations. Saint-Germain-des-Prés gave the surrounding neighbourhood its name, and the district has now become one of the trendiest in Paris.
This lovely little square, has all the Parisian atmosphere you could ask for. Situated just in front of the St. Germain-des-prés church, the oldest in Paris, this is a place where there is life. Students from some of the best schools in France congregate here, mingling with the many tourists and of course there is the possibility of spotting someone famous at the nearby cafés, Lipp, Flore and the Deux Magots. This is an ideal people-watching spot-Have a look at the photo of the Nun eating lunch with an "SDF" and a pigeon. Unfortunately I couldn't get the whole shot for a hedge being in the way.
Not a couple of hundred metres away is the superb "place de Furstenberg", with the Delacroix museum at no. 6, the last home and studio of the painter. Website below.
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