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Have you ever sat on the terrace of the Café Les Deux Magots and wondered about the significance of the church across the cobblestoned plaza? Founded in the 6th century by King Childebert, son of Clovis I, this is the oldest church in Paris.

Clovis I (466-511AD) was a dynamic, ambitious Merolingian King. Converting from Arianism to Catholicism, the religion of his wife, he became the first king to be baptized in the Cathedral of Reims. Clovis is credited with uniting all the Frankish tribes and becoming the ruler of the Roman province of Gaul, roughly a dominion the size of modern-day France. Upon his death in 511, his realm was divided between four sons. Childebert got Paris. He built a church to house the holy relic of Saint Vincent and on December 23rd in the year 558 Bishop Germain consecrated the church. That same day, Childebert died.

Under the auspices of the royals, the church grew to be the very powerful Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. In the 9th century, the aggressive, conquesting Normans repeatedly desecrated and set fire to the church. It was rebuilt, and one of the 10th century towers remains, containing the original belfry.

Enough tumult, you say, how much more devastation and horror can the history of this religious site contain? The answer is, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Along came the French Revolution and a huge mistrust by the general population of the clergy, thought to be close allies of the hated aristrocracy. On this spot, a few steps from the swanky cafes and boutiques of today, an angry mob convened and vented. The event that took place here on September 3, 1792, is one of a series of mass executions, come to be known as “The September Massacres”. Hundreds of priests were slaughtered and beheaded. Between the paving stones, ran rivers of blood. Two years later, part of the abbey, converted into a factory for the production of saltpeter(the main component of gunpowder) was destroyed by fire.

The ushering in of the 19th century revealed a derelict and unsafe Saint-Germain, desperate for renovations. Thanks to a vigorous campaign, championed by Victor Hugo, who also drew attention to need for restoration at Notre Dame and other historic monuments of Paris, plans were initiated and demolition averted.

Fourteen centuries have passed since the Bishop of Paris consecrated the church. Wars are still fought, territories lost and won. Perhaps the Eglise Saint-German has made peace with the world, as it quietly surveys the lively cosmopolitan scene of the Place Saint-Germain-des-Pres.

3 Place St-Germain-des-Pres
6th Arrondisement
Metro: St-Germain-des-Pres
Open Daily 8am-7pm
Concerts Held Here

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