In the shadows of the ever-so-famous Paris Pantheon, there’s another church. Little-known but just as fascinating as its imposing neighbour, welcome to Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, the final resting place of the Patron Saint of Paris, Saint Genevieve…
A history of Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont
You’ll know you’re right place as soon as you spy the ecclesiastical building. An asymmetrical Gothic design featuring a particularly large aubergine door and incorporating several Renaissance elements, the church took over well over a hundred years to construct.
Built between 1492 and 1626, the place of worship was eventually consecrated in 1626 and was dedicated to Saint Etienne, who was once the patron saint of the old cathedral of Paris. Located in the Latin Quarter of the city, a high-rise belfry to the left-hand side dates back to the 16th-century and is particularly skinny.
Much of the building you see today was constructed for the purpose of serving as extra space for the nearby Abbey of Saint Genevieve, where Saint Genevieve herself had been buried since the 6th-century. During the 500s, the Montagne was still known by its Roman name, Mount Leucotilius. Founded by King Clovis I, the abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution.
The subjugation spelt an end to the Abbey and its associated school, ending over a millennia worth of history. Eventually, all the abbey was demolished, save for the Clovis Tower which can still be spied from Saint Etienne du Mont and its surrounds.
Clovis Tower, as seen from close to the Paris Pantheon
Highlights of the Church of St Etienne du Mont
Of particular note within the interior of the church is the 15th-century rood screen (known as jubé in French, giving rise to the other English word for rood screen, jube). For those unfamiliar with the term, a ‘rood screen’ is essentially a richly carved panel (which is typically made from wood or stone) that separates the chancel from the nave.
The choir screen is the only surviving example of its kind in Paris and is particularly magnificent to look at thanks to its Renaissance façade and two spiral staircases flanking either end. At the entrance, the tympanum (the name for the carving above the entrance to the church) is particularly well carved and depicts the stoning to death of Saint Genevieve in 36 CE.
Elsewhere in the church, you’ll find that most of the stained glass windows date back to the 16th and 17th-centuries. The organ is the oldest in Paris, having been installed in 1631. Aside from Renaissance and Gothic styles, the pulpit represents the Baroque and was a welcome addition to the church in 1651.
Unfortunately, the ecclesiastical building was extensively damaged as a result of the French Revolution. Heavy restorations took place in the 19th-century, hence the heavily exaggerated Renaissance features to be found in the church today. People of note buried within the church now include the mathematician Blaise Pascal and the playwright Jean Racine.
Saint-Étienne-du-Mont: Final Resting Place of Saint Genevieve
Up until the French Revolution, it was common practice within the city to regularly take the relics of Saint Genevieve (lying within her golden tomb) in procession to Notre Dame Cathedral on Ile de la Cite and back. By 1793, however, as was so common during this period, this religious ceremony was soon abolished.
After all, organised religion was heavily targeted and the relics of Saint Genevieve were soon burned, while the rest of the relics found within the gold gilt chest melted. Little was left behind. Following the end of the French Revolution, the Paris Pantheon was built to house all that remained of the long-ago lost relics of the Saint.
Following further political turmoil (and a men-only policy until very recent times) the Pantheon was transformed into a secular mausoleum. Now, a Gothic sanctuary within Saint Etienne du Mont is the final resting place of Saint Genevieve, or at least what is left of her. Visit today, and the patroness has her very own chapel, to the right-hand side of the church when facing the altar.
The shocking event of 1857
Should you opt to take a tour of the stained glass windows and the church beyond its initial offerings, you’ll never be told about one of the more shocking events in the history of the church. For on the 3 January 1857, Bishop Marie-Dominique-Auguste Sibour was assassinated within the walls of the building.
Murdered to the cries of “Down with the goddesses!,” the assassination had links to the occult, with ties to the infamous occultist Eliphas Levi. The murder took place as a result of priest Jean-Louis Verger protesting against the idea of the immaculate conception and, supposedly, the lack of acquisition of an occultist paper.
How to visit the Church of Saint Etienne du Mont
Should you wish to visit the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont for yourself, then you’ll be happy to know that a trip inside is free. To the left-hand side of the building, when facing the church head-on, you’ll soon spy a set of steps. These steps are the very same ones which were used as a filming location for Midnight in Paris.
Close by, in the Latin Quarter, you’ll find the ever-so-pretty Rue Genevieve which winds its way down towards the River Seine. Other attractions of note nearby include the Jardin du Luxembourg (which is home to the glittering Medici Fountain) and the Arenes de Lutece, one of the final traces of Roman Lutetia to be found in Paris today.