Lives of the Saints: St. Genevieve, Patroness of Paris
From Rev. Alban Butler’s The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints; edited by Dan Leo, Associate Professor of Eschatological Studies, Olney Community College; author of Conversations With the Big Guy: More Inspirational Thoughts For Young People.
Illustrated by rhoda penmarq for penmarq universal productions™.
HER father’s name was Severus, and her mother’s Gerontia: she was born about the year 422, at Nanterre, a small village four miles from Paris, near the famous modern stations, or Calvary, adorned with excellent sculptures, representing our Lord’s Passion, on Mount Valerien.
When St. Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, went with St. Lupus into Britain to oppose the Pelagian heresy, he lay at Nanterre in his way. The inhabitants flocked about them to receive their blessing, and St. Germanus made them an exhortation, during which he took particular notice of Genevieve, though only seven years of age.
After his discourse he inquired for her parents, and addressing himself to them, foretold their daughter’s future sanctity, and said that she would perfectly accomplish the resolution she had taken of serving God, and that others would imitate her example.
He then asked Genevieve whether it was not her desire to serve God in a state of perpetual virginity, and to bear no other title than that of a spouse of Jesus Christ. The virgin answered, that this was what she had long desired, and begged that by his blessing she might be from that moment consecrated to God.
The holy prelate went to the church of the place, followed by the people, and, during long singing of psalms and prayers, he held his hand upon the virgin’s head.
After he had supped, he dismissed her, giving a strict charge to her parents to bring her again to him very early the next morning. The father complied with the commission, and St. Germanus asked Genevieve whether she remembered the promise she had made to God.
She said she did, and declared she would, by the divine assistance, faithfully perform it. The bishop gave her a brass medal, on which a cross was engraved, to wear always about her neck, to put her in mind of the consecration she had made of herself to God; and at the same time he charged her never to wear bracelets, or necklaces of pearl, gold or silver, or any other ornaments of vanity.
All this she most religiously observed, and considering herself as the spouse of Christ, gave herself up to the most fervent practices of devotion and penance.
The author of her life tells us, that the holy virgin begging one day with great importunity that she might go to the church, her mother struck her on the face, but in punishment lost her sight, which she only recovered, two months after by washing her eyes twice or thrice with water, which her daughter fetched from the well, and upon which she had made the sign of the cross.
Hence the people look upon the well at Nanterre as having been blessed by the saint.
About fifteen years of age, she was presented to the bishop of Paris to receive the religious veil at his hands, together with two other persons of the same sex. Though she was the youngest of the three, the bishop placed her the first, saying, that heaven had already sanctified her; by which he seems to have alluded to the promise she had already made, in the presence of SS. Germanus and Lupus, of consecrating herself to God.
From that time she frequently ate only twice in the week, on Sundays and Thursdays. Her food was barley bread with a few beans. At the age of fifty, by the command of certain bishops, she mitigated this austerity, so far as to allow herself a moderate use of fish and milk.
Her prayer was almost continual, and generally attended with a large flow of tears.
After the death of her parents she left Nanterre, and settled with her godmother at Paris, but sometimes undertook journeys upon motives of charity, and illustrated the cities of Meaux, Laon, Tours, Orleans, and all other places wherever she went, with miracles and remarkable predictions.
God permitted her to meet with some severe trials; for at a certain time all persons indiscriminately seemed to be in a combination against her, and persecuted her under the opprobrious names of visionary, hypocrite, and the like imputations, all tending to asperse her innocency.
The arrival of St. Germanus at Paris, probably on his second journey to Britain, for some time silenced her calumniators; but it was not long ere the storm broke out anew. Her enemies were fully determined to drown her, when the archdeacon of Auxerre arrived with Eulogies, or blessed bread, sent her by St. Germanus, as a testimony of his particular esteem for her virtues, and a token of communion.
This circumstance, so providentially opportune, converted the prejudices of her calumniators into a singular veneration for her during the remainder of her life.
King Clovis, who embraced the faith in 496, listened often with deference to the advice of St. Genevieve, and granted liberty to several captives at her request.
Upon the report of the march of Attila with his army of Huns, the Parisians were preparing to abandon their city, but St. Genevieve persuaded them, in imitation of Judith and Hester, to endeavour to avert the scourge, by fasting, watching, and prayer. Many devout persons of her sex passed many days with her in prayer in the baptistery.
She assured the people of the protection of heaven, and their deliverance; and though she was long treated by many as an impostor, the event verified the prediction, that barbarian suddenly changing the course of his march, probably by directing it towards Orleans.
Our author attributes to St. Genevieve the first design of the magnificent church which Clovis began to build in honour of SS. Peter and Paul, by the pious counsel of his wife Saint Clotilda, by whom it was finished several years after; for he only laid the foundation a little before his death, which happened in 511. St. Genevieve died about the same year, probably five weeks after that prince, on the 3d of January, 512, being eighty-nine years old.
The city of Paris has frequently received sensible proofs of the divine protection, through her intercession. The most famous instance is that called the miracle of Des Ardens, or of the burning fever. In 1129, in the reign of Lewis VI. a pestilential fever, with a violent inward heat, and pains in the bowels, swept off, in a short time, fourteen thousand persons, nor could the art of physicians afford any relief.
Stephen, bishop of Paris, with the clergy and people, implored the divine mercy, by fasting and supplications. Yet the distemper began not to abate till the shrine of St. Genevieve was carried in a solemn procession to the cathedral. During that ceremony many sick persons were cured by touching the shrine, and of all that then lay ill of that distemper in the whole town, only three died, the rest recovered, and no others fell ill.
Pope Innocent II. coming to Paris the year following, after having passed a careful scrutiny on the miracle, ordered an annual festival in commemoration of it, on the 26th of November, which is still kept at Paris.