Paris: Solo on the Left Bank: Part 2
Paris at the Table

The Woman Who Saved Paris

On the top of the Left Bank hill housing the dramatic Panthéon Img_0164_2_1 monument seen from afar across the city stands a particularly inspiring church, the Église Img_0168_2 St-Étienne-du-Mont, one of the spiritual centers of Paris. In a special shrine within the church lie the remains of Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris, who in the 5th century is said to have saved Paris from Attila the Hun through her prophesy. Her memory is revived each morning at 8 a.m. when the bells in four bell towers awake the neighborhood in a sustained medley -- and sound out the hours and half hours and other special holy times throughout the day.

On this site in the 6th century in the basilica of Img_0189_2_1 Sainte-Pierre-Saint-Paul, King Clovis -- who had converted to Christianity under the guidance of Saint Geneviève -- along with Queen Clothilde and Geneviève herself were buried. The present church, still used as a parish church, is a worthy stop in itself, built over Img_0188_2_3 centuries and incorporating a number of architectural styles, primarily Gothic. Other unique features include the rood screen (or pillared gallery), the only one in Paris, and a remarkable organ. It also contains the remains of mathematician/philosopher Blaise Pascal and playwright Jean Racine. Perhaps more importantly, however, the church houses Saint Geneviève's reliquary, which was revered until the French Revolution, then destroyed and her ashes thrown into the Seine by a gleeful mob. But in 1803 a bone fragment was recovered and placed in a reliquary now above the altar of the church.

With another womantraveler, I walked reverently through the church and absorbed its very personal history. We learned, for example, that the tower bells even have names --Charles, Marie, Étienne, and Geneviève. Before leaving, I scribed a prayer to Saint Geneviève asking her to stand by the dear ones in my life.