Whether you walk across Paris or look at the metro or street map, you often see places named after a Saint. Such familiar names as St Genevieve, St Denis, St Vincent de Paul etc… Have you ever wondered who were these saints on the map of Paris and what their history was? We did! Here is a bit of history on the Saints on the map of Paris.
Logically the patron saint of Paris, St. Geneviève, is the one you come across most often. Her statue by Paul Landowski graces the Pont de La Tournelle in the 4th district. There is also one in Jardin du Luxembourg. She is on the front of Notre Dame as well. The Catholic church is celebrating the 1600th anniversary of Genevieve this year. A relic, her index finger, and her sarcophagus is in a chapel dedicated to her in the church of St Etienne du Mont a church in the 5th arrondissement on the Montagne Sainte Geneviève where she lived and prayed.
She was born in Nanterre in about the year 420 and dedicated herself to the religious life when she was 7. On the death of her parents she moved to Paris around 440, where she was noted for her piety and acts of charity. When Attila threatened Paris in 451, she persuaded the inhabitants to not flee and pray, assuring them that the attack would be inconsequential and that they had the protection of heaven. Instead of rallying the Parisian people to her cause, Geneviève’s mysticism had the opposite effect. Accused of false prophecy, some citizens sent her death threats. Attila and his army did not try to invade the city and instead, headed for Orleans which they besieged for long weeks. Geneviève had therefore been right, and her prayers had protected Paris from cruel barbarians. After years of contempt, the young woman became responsible for protecting the city. She is also the patron of gendarmes.
You’ll also find the cathedral of Saint Genevieve and Saint Maurice in Nanterre, once a Roman villa and her birthplace. She is depicted dressed in a long flowing gown with a mantle covering her shoulders and is often shown with a loaf of bread, representing her generosity toward those in need.
The tale of his life was written and rewritten throughout the Middle-Ages by many successive biographers, who gradually transformed history into legend. Early versions present Saint Denis as the first bishop of Paris. Little is known of his life, it is believed that he arrived in Paris and built the first cathedral, preached to the people and converted them to Christianity with two disciples. He was then martyred and beheaded during the persecution of Christians by the Roman authorities. Soldiers were ordered to throw the bodies Saint Denis and his disciples into the Seine but a noble woman named Catulla stole the bodies and reunited all three men for a proper burial where she erected a small monument in their honor.
Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, made a pilrimage to the grave and was inspired to build the church to the Parisian martyr. It is Dagobert I who is considered the founder of the Saint-Denis Basilica. (Note there is also Rue Saint-Denis, Porte Saint Denis in Paris). And did you know that Montmartre means Martyr’s Mount – that’s where Bishop Denis was martyred.
The patron saint of charitable societies, Saint-Vincent-de-Paul is primarily recognized for his charity and compassion for the poor. He studied Theology in Toulouse and was ordained in 1600. In 1605, while on a ship traveling from Marseilles to Narbonne, he was apparently captured and sold as a slave though this story is not supported by any other evidence than a letter . Two years later he and his master managed to escape and both returned to France. In Paris, Vincent came under the influence of a wise spiritual guide who gradually caused him to see that helping others was more important than helping himself. For a few years he worked as a parish priest in Clichy while also serving as a tutor and spiritual director.
By 1625 he had influenced a number of young men, some of them priests, to join him in forming a religious group to be called the Congregation of the Mission. With Louise de Marillac, a talented and sensitive friend, he started the first religious group of women dedicated entirely to works of charity outside the cloister, a group called the Daughters of Charity.
He was canonized in 1737. The religious groups he founded continue to carry on his work. A hospital in the 14th in names after him as well as a church in the 10th. He spent many years as a teacher to the Gondi family in Villepreux just outside Paris and where there remains a Maison Saint Vincent.
Saint-Sulpice. Sulpicius, also called Sulpice devoted himself to all kinds of good works, and especially to care for the poor. When he became Bishop of Bourges in 624, he fought for the rights of his people against King Dagobert’s minister, Lullo. He was known for his austerities and holiness, and is reported to have converted all the inhabitants of Bourges to Christianity with his holiness and charity. He resigned his Bishopric late in life to devote himself to the poor. The St. Sulpice Church in the 6th district is named after him.
Saint-Germain was known for his hardworking and austere nature. According to an early biography, he was known as Germain d’Autun, rendered in modern times as the “Father of the Poor”. While in Paris in 555, Sibelius, the bishop of Paris, died, and King Childebert consecrated as the bishop of Paris. He exercised considerable moral influence on the king’s court and induced Childebert to found a Parisian church, which after his death was renamed Saint-Germain-des-Prés (of the fields as it was at the time outside Paris) and became a royal burial place.
Saint-Lazare. St Lazarus was the friend of Jesus and the brother of Martha and Mary. Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. Legends abound about the life of Lazarus after the death and resurrection of Jesus. He is supposed to have left a written account of what he saw in the next world before he was called back to life. According to an alternative medieval tradition, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha landed in Provence after a miraculous voyage. The family is then said to separate – Lazarus went to Marseille.
Converting many people to Christianity there, he became the first Bishop of Marseille. Today “Lazare” is a train station!
Saint-Eustache. The famous church near Les Halles refers to Saint Eustace, a Roman general of the second century AD who was burned, along with his family, for converting to Christianity. The church was renamed for Saint Eustache after receiving relics related to the Roman martyr as donations from the Abbey of Saint Denis.
More Saints on the map of Paris
Saint-Philippe-du-Roule. The name is a mix between Saint Philippe, one of the Twelve Apostles and The village of Roule, which became a suburb in 1722, was a small locality called Romiliacum by Frédégaire, Crioilum by Saint Eligius, then Rolus in the 12th century. There is a metro station and a church near Les Champs Elysées named after Saint Philippe.
Saint-Placide. From an early age, he was placed under the care of St. Benedict at Subiaco, to be educated. He was filled with the grace of God and entrusted with duties beyond his years. Charged with protecting holdings granted to Benedict, he founded a monastery when just 26-years-old. He was renown for his kindness and never spoke ill of anyone. During a visit from his sister, Placidus was killed by pirates. He is a Saint of the Benedictine Order. There is now a metro station on line 4 and a lovely square with fountains are named after him.
Time for you to continue on your own to discover the saints on the map of Paris: who was Saint Jacques (rue), Saint Michel (boulevard, place, RER, fountain), Saint Dominique (rue), Saint Cloud (place, city, metro, porte, bridge), Augustin… ?