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HISTORY

St-Germain-des-Prés is the oldest church in Paris. Parts of it date back to the 6th century A.D, when a Basilica and a Benedictine abbey were founded on the site by Childebert, son of Clovis, the first Christian king of France. It was built to shelter a shard of wood, said to be a relic of Jesus' crucifix brought back from Spain in 543 A.D. In the Middle Ages, the church of St-Germain-des-Prés was so powerful, both religiously and culturally, that it became like a town within the town. Vikings came down the Seine and sacked the church several times. Later during the French revolution, revolutionaries used it to store gunpowder. The colourful 19th-century frescoes in the nave are by Hippolyte Flandrin, a pupil of the classical master Ingres. The church stages superb organ concerts and recitals. In one of the side chapels, rests in peace the famous philosopher René Descartes who invented Cartesian philosophy and geometry.


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CONSTRUCTION

The ancient basilica was built along a Decamanus - the East-West line of the ancient Roman city of Lutetia (Paris). The basilica was designed as cruciform with four apses. Since then, the elegant building has defied history's uses and abuses; its 11th-century Romanesque tower continues to be the central symbol of the neighborhood (Quartier St Germain), as well as the beautiful boulevard, named after the church. Unfortunately, in four ruthless invasions, the Normans destroyed all but the abbey. Only the marble columns in the triforium remain from the original structure. The church was enlarged and reconsecrated by pope Alexander III in 1163 A.D. Again during the French revolution, the abbey was completely destroyed but the church was spared.

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WHAT TO SEE

The present building, incorporating repairs and enlargements from various eras, is a fine example of Romanesque architecture. The Romanesque square tower, dating from the early 11th century A.D, is topped by the church's landmark spire, which dates to the 19th century A.D. Inside, the church consists of a Romanesque nave and a Gothic choir with gilded capitals. The marble columns of the triforium are the only survivors of the 6th-century abbey church. The carved capitals on the pillars are copies of the originals, which are kept in the Musée National du Moyen-Age.

For a time, the abbey was a pantheon for Merovingian kings. Many of them were buried in the Chapelle de St Symphorien, which was restored in 1981. Among the others interred here are Descartes (just his heart; the rest is in the Pantheon) and Jean Casimir, king of Poland who abdicated his throne. The colorful 19th-century frescoes in the nave are by Hippolyte Flandrin, a pupil of the classical master Ingres. Romanesque paintings were discovered in the triumphal arch during the 1981 restorations.

CONCERTS: St-Germain-des-Prés stages concerts and recitals featuring Gregorian chants, which are enhanced by the church's fantastic acoustics and medieval atmosphere. For more information, call telephone 01 43 25 41 71. It is necessary to arrive about 45 minutes before the performance for a front-row seat. Tickets are from €15 to €50.

NEAR AND AROUND

Around the 19th century, the area was frequented by painters like Manet and writers like Honoré de Balzac and Georges Sand. After World War II, St-Germain exploded into a hotspot for existentialist thinking, avant-garde theater, painting and jazz. Picasso, Sartre, De Beauvoir, Beckett and Charles Gainsbourg are some of the famous names associated with the area. They frequented the renowned cafés, Les Deux Magots and Café de Flores.

From this place a few steps takes one to the beautiful St Sulpice church of Da Vinci code fame. The river Seine is just a few 100 metres from this church. One arrives also to the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg, in a few minutes stroll. It is a lovely walk on a late summer evening and if you are a jogger you will fall in love with the jogging paths inside the idyllic Luxembourg Gardens.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION:
(please verify with the Paris Tourism office)

3 Place St-Germain-des-Prés, 75006 Paris
Open: everyday 8:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Hours for mass:
Mon - Sat: 7 a.m, 9 a.m, 12:15 p.m, 7 p.m.
Sun: 9 a.m, 11 a.m, 5 p.m, 7 p.m.

Metro : St Germain des Prés (line 4) / Mabillon (line 10)
Bus Nos. 63

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