Monday, June 2, 2008
When the Louvre was still a royal palace (Palais du Louvre), the Église Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois was its church. It sits opposite the oldest portion of the Louvre and accordingly drew worshipers from royalty, courtesans, men of art and law, as well as local artisans. It is distinguished by a 12th-century bell tower (not the 19th-century neo-Gothic tower shown in the photo above) that played a sinister part in a bloody massacre (read on). After several enlargements, the church achieved its current appearance in the 15th century. Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois is dedicated to the bishop of Auxerre, who consecrated Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris, and taught St. Patrick of Ireland.
The most notorious point in the church's history was August 24, 1572, the evening of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. The bells of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois rang to signal the supporters of Catherine de Médicis, Charles IX, and the future Henri III to launch the slaughter of thousands of Protestant Huguenots, who had been invited to Paris to celebrate the marriage of Huguenot Henri de Navarre to Marguerite de Valois. Over 3,000 Protestants were murdered in Paris, most while they slept, their bodies then dumped unceremoniously into the Seine. When news of the massacre reached the Vatican, a huge jubilation took place. Pope Gregory XIII had a commemorative medal struck to mark the occasion; he commissioned Vasari to paint a mural of the slaughter, which adorns the Vatican to this day.
The infamous medal ordered by Pope Gregory, which shows an angel, bearing a bloody sword, standing over slaughtered Protestants (Huguenots).
Contrary to common assumption, the dramatic neo-Gothic tower was not the tower that tolled the St. Bartholomew's Day bells, but the small tower on the south side of the church.
Inside, the church has remarkable stained glass, including rose windows from the Renaissance period. The organ was originally ordered by Louis XVI for Sainte-Chapelle, but was relocated here because its case blocked the famous rear rose window inside Sainte-Chapelle.
The intricately carved church-wardens’ pews are outstanding, based on 17th-century Le Brun designs, including a canopied red velvet pew for Louis XIV dating from 1682 (on the right side of the aisle). Royalists assemble here every January 21 for the mass said for Louis XVI on the anniversary of his beheading in 1793.
Other important wood carvings embellish the interior, although most are so poorly lit that they can scarcely be seen. Among the famous men entombed here is royal architect Le Vau. The church holds regular masses in English, and organ and bell recitals are frequently presented.
In 1523, on the adjacent Place de l’Ecole, John Calvin, the incipient protestant reformer, lived with his uncle Richard, a locksmith, in a little room overlooking the church. 14-year-old Calvin was awakened each morning by the monk's chants, before he trotted off to attend the Collège de la Marche.
Théodore Ballu, architect of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois’ flamboyant 19th-century tower, was also in charge of the restoration of the Tour St-Jacques (near Place du Châtelet), which appears to be its virtual twin. The tower of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois provides an unusual architectural link to the 19th century Mairie (town hall) of the 1st arrondissement, located next door to the church.
2, place du Louvre; open daily 8am-7pm
Enjoy free hour-long bell-ringing concerts each Wednesday at 2 p.m.
Métro: Pont Neuf or Louvre-Rivoli
Claude Monet's 1867 painting of St-Germain l'Auxerrois (which does not show the flamboyant 19th-century neo-Gothic tower). It does, however, reveal a bit of the historic bell tower that signaled the start of the infamous St. Bartholomew's Day massacre (seen emerging directly above the shaded side of the roof gable).