Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 27, 2004
St. Genevieve's Little Bread lives
This patron of the City of Light ran wartime blockades, negotiated prisoners' release
St. Genevieve — January 3
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Each year, thousands of people seek out the tomb of that great Parisian St. Genevieve on the Latin Quarter "mountain" named for her.
The search for the patron of the City of Light must however begin in the fifth century in Nanterre, France. This is where St. Genevieve was born and where she became influenced by St. Germain of Auxerre to become a dedicated virgin at age 15.
This humble Roman-Gaul activist then took it upon herself to support the people of Paris and to run a blockade to provide wheat for them during a Frankish occupation.
Staved off invading Huns
Under invaders Childeric and Clovis, she successfully negotiated the release of political prisoners and is said to have by prayer in 451, saved the city from invading Huns.
She urged the building of churches in Paris and at the tomb of St. Denis and was active in civic affairs throughout her life.
Already recognized as a heroic Parisienne, Genevieve was buried in the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul and her tomb almost immediately became the locus of miraculous cures.
In 1129, the saint was invoked to alleviate the suffering of the people and is credited with ending a serious epidemic. Since that time, her relics were routinely processed through the streets of Paris whenever famine, drought or other disasters threatened the city, with prayers seeking her intercession with the Almighty.
To further honour the city's patron, King Louis XV began in 1764 an enormous basilica on the mount. Then, revolutionaries of 1791 converted the newly finished edifice to the Pantheon, a shrine to the great men of France and Genevieve's relics were removed to the adjacent church of St. Etienne-du-mont.
A first step then, for those following the life of the saint, is a visit to the Pantheon which, despite its secular status, contains much religious decoration. Beneath its enormous open dome, walls are covered with frescos depicting the life of St. Genevieve.
A pensive saint
Particularly moving is a night-time scene showing a pensive saint watching over her beloved sleeping city.
Most visitors to the Pantheon will then explore the huge area of the lower level crypt to view the tombs of Frances notables including - Zola, Voltaire, Rousseau.
A block away, Eglise Saint-Etienne-du-Mont honours St. Stephen the Protomartyr. With its unique profile, "Outside and inside, this church resembles no other," it's another Paris landmark. But is not the first church on the site. The nearby Clovis bell tower for example, is all that remains of an earlier Eglise Ste-Genevieve.
In a side chapel, the shrine of the saint contains an ornate sarcophagus, containing mainly the slab on which the holy person's body reposed before being disturbed during the revolution of 1791.
Her shrine seems always frequented by petitioners praying or lighting votive candles. Many important personages have made their way up the mount to venerate these relics including, in 1997, Pope John Paul.
Bread to the poor
Stained glass windows in the chapel portray scenes from the saint's life, including one of Genevieve distributing bread to the poor of Paris, an event that gave rise to the tradition of St. Genevieve's Little Bread, a ritual of almsgiving that is celebrated each Jan. 3 in the Quebec City church of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires for one.
Often, pilgrims will time a visit to allow for attendance at the daily 11 a.m. Mass. It is celebrated at a small central altar in the choir, an inspirational venue in which to participate in the Eucharistic celebration at one of Paris' holiest places.
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