Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Paris: Following family roots at St. Germain l'Áuxerrois

The church of St. Germain l'Auxerrois is a Gothic gem located right around the corner from the Louvre in the 1st arrondissement. For me, it was like coming home. This is the home parish of several of my ancestors, including the one who carries my mother's family name, Jacques Bernier. It is also the parish of one of my more famous ancestors Louis Hebert, one of the first colonists of Quebec.

Nothing remains of the 17th-century neighborhood where he lived, so going to this church where generations of his family worshiped was of particular interest to me. I got quite emotional.

A church has stood on this site since the 5th century. The church is dedicated to St. Germanus of Auxerre (Burgundy), and since it was the parish church of the Louvre Palace, I imagine that is why the rois (roi is king in French) was added to the name. It has played an important role in history, as well, and it was the sounding of matins by the bells of St Germain that signaled the start of the St. Bartholomew massacre of the Huguenots. This is not a role they are proud of, it is a black mark on their history. The bell tower from which matins sounded still stands though it has lost most of its Romanesque style.

The current church dates from the 13th century and has had many, many restorations done on it. The porch that encircles the whole church and its balustrade are worthy of note and were added in the 14th century. After the French Revolution, the church was used for many things other than a church. Today, it is an active Roman Catholic parish.

This church has seen many famous people pass through its doors, not the least of which is Moliere, who was married here. Coypel, Chardin, and Boucher are buried here, along with the sculptor Coysevox. I was anxious to find the baptismal font. Using my not so perfect French, I managed to converse with a volunteer and ask if he knew the history of the current font. He didn't, and no literature he had provided any inkling of its age. 

I was disappointed, but this is a lovely church to visit even if you don't have roots here. Some Renaissance stained glass remains and the wonderful rose window is beautiful. Pay particular note to the Stations of the Cross on the pillars. They are very modern-looking in such an old church, yet they beautifully link the past and the present. Take the time to visit the chapels that flank both sides; they are very attractive and contain some lovely statuary.

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