For years I was mildly puzzled about who Saint Germain was, but only mildly. Now that I have finally looked him up, it turns out he was born around the year 496 and was Bishop of Paris from 555 until his death in 576.
According to a poet called Venantius Fortunatus, Germain performed numerous miracles during his lifetime and even before. While he was still in the womb, Germain performed his first miracle by preventing his mother from aborting him. (I don’t know how the poet determined that it was the fetus who performed this miracle, and not some adult who talked her out of it.)
Now that I know about this, I think I will have an entirely different feeling in the future when cycling east on Boulevard Saint Germain.
The church and abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés were founded in the year 543, which is why the church has a website is called depuis543.org — depuis meaning since.
The abbey was destroyed, for the most part, during the French Revolution, but the church survived. Apparently some of the original sixth century pillars still exist, but over the centuries the church has been damaged and re-built several times, so there are Romanesque and Gothic elements along with paintings from various centuries. The square tower of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is said to be the only remaining Romanesque tower in Paris.
The interior of the church, which had become rather faded since the last major renovation in the nineteenth century, is currently being carefully renovated and restored once again. This ambitious project began in 2014 (after I took these photos) and is scheduled to last until 2021.
The name of the church means ‘Saint-Germain-of-the-Meadows’, although its once-extensive sixth-century meadows have long since disappeared, sort of like the ‘Fields’ that once surrounded the London church St Martin-in-the-Fields.
Outside the church, in the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, is a casting of the sculpture Le Prométhée by Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967), showing Prometheus bringing fire to the people, as he did in ancient Greek mythology.
(See also: Zadkine’s sculptures in Paris.)
Like many other streets and squares in Paris, the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés still has an ornate dark green Wallace Fountain from the 1870s. The building on the far left in this photo, 42 rue Bonaparte (with the café Le Bonaparte on the ground floor), is where the author Jean-Paul Sartre lived from 1947 to 1962, in a fourth-floor apartment with a view of the church.
Location, aerial view and photos on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.
See more posts about the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter in Paris.