Saint-Germain des Prés

SAINT-GERMAIN-DES-PRÉS

A Short History of the Abbey of Saint Germain des Prés

The abbey of Saint-Germain des Prés, which gives its name to the current quartier and grand boulevardin Paris, was founded by the Merovingian king Childebert (ruled 511–558) and dedicated in 558 to Holy Cross and Saint Vincent. The ceremony was officiated by bishop Germain of Paris, who was buried in the crypt of the chapel of Saint Symporien to the south of the nave, after he died in 576. After his canonization and the translation of his relics to the choir, the church was commonly known by his name. Although we do not know much about that original church, in the sixth century, the historian Gregory of Tours mentioned it, and churchman-poet Venantius Fortunatus praised its marble columns and windows. Theodore Vacquer found the Merovingian wall and other early structures associated with the cloister on the north side of the church in the nineteenth century. After being pillaged and burned by the Normans during the raids of the ninth century, the abbey and church were rebuilt with royal support under Abbot Morard (990-1014). Construction began at the west tower and moved eastward to the choir; a dedication took place in 1021. The majestic west tower from that campaign is still standing (although it has been somewhat restored); it is the earliest structure remaining from medieval Paris. In 1163, a new choir with flying buttresses was completed and rededicated to Saint Germain, making that the official title of the church. The abbey  also boasted a great scriptorium at this time. In the thirteenth century, Abbot Eudes began a project to reconstruct the cloister and its attendant structures: a refectory, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin, a chapter house and vestibule, as well as underground structures. Work on these structures continued through the abbacies of Simon, Hugh d’Issy and Thomas de Mauléon.