Life & Works
1. General Background
St. Genevieve was born around Anno Domini 419 or 422 in Nanterre, France, “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.”1 She died in Paris in 512. Holy Mother Church celebrates her feast day on the third of January. “She was the daughter of Severus and Gerontia; popular tradition represents her parents as poor peasants, though it seems more likely that they were wealthy and respectable townspeople.”2
2. The Prophecy Over Young Genevieve
“Pope St. Boniface had sent St. Germain to Great Britain to combat the Pelagian heresy around the year 430. He was accompanied by St. Lupus, Bishop of Troyes. On their way through France, they stopped at the village of Nanterre. Upon their arrival, the two Prelates went to the Church to pray for the success of their trip. The people surrounded them with pious curiosity and to ask their blessing. Illuminated by a divine inspiration, Germain espied in the crowd a young girl of seven years of age, and he was interiorly advised that Our Lord had chosen her for a singular mission. He asked the name of the child and that she be brought before him. The people told him that her name was Genevieve. Her father and her mother brought her forward.”
“Is this child yours?” Germain asked.
They answered, “Yes.”
And the holy man said: “Blessed are you that God hath given you this child. Know you for certain that on the day of her birth the Angels sang and a great feast was made in Heaven. This girl shall be of great merit before the Lord. And from her good life and words many shall take example, that they shall leave the yoke of sin and convert to God.”
Then, he turned toward the child, and she said to him: “Blessed Father, your servant is listening.”
The Bishop asked: “Tell me, and be not embarrassed, if you will consecrate yourself to Christ in purity without stain as His spouse?”
The maid answered: “Blessed be you, my Father. What you ask of me is the most cherished desire of my heart. I ask only that by your prayers, Our Lord will accomplish my desire.”
“Have confidence, my daughter,” said Germain. “Be firm in your resolution. Prove by your works the good things that you believe in your heart and say with your mouth, and Our Lord shall give you strength as well as virtue.”3
It is also reported the saint told young Genevieve, “Be of good heart, my child, act with earnestness, and struggle to prove by thy works that which thou believest in thy heart, and professest with thy lips; the Lord will sustain thee, and will give thee the strength that is required to carry out thy holy resolution.”4 Most sources conclude the event between the young girl and the saint as follows: “Genèvieve then expressed her wish that Saint Germain would bless her. Granting the child’s wish, Saint Germain took her to a local church where he performed the consecration. The next day, before he continued on his journey, Saint Germain gave Genèvieve a brass medal engraved with a cross. He instructed her to always wear it around her neck, in remembrance of her consecration to God and devotion to Christ. Further, he told her to be content with only the medal, and to wear it instead of more showy ornaments such as gold and silver bracelets, and necklaces. She kept the medal all her life, never giving it up even when she badly needed money. She lived a life of fervent devotion and penance. As there were no convents near her village, Genèvieve practiced her religious virtue and prayer at home.”5
3. Similarities Between St. Genevieve & St. Joan of Arc
“Many of her neighbours, filled with jealousy and envy, accused Genevieve of being an impostor and a hypocrite. Like Blessed Joan of Arc, in later times, she had frequent communion with the other world, but her visions and prophecies were treated as frauds and deceits. Her enemies conspired to drown her; but, through the intervention of Germain of Auxerre, their animosity was finally overcome. The bishop of the city appointed her to look after the welfare of the virgins dedicated to God, and by her instruction and example she led them to a high degree of sanctity.”6
4. Stopping Attila the Hun, AD 451
“Another significant and often-reported event in Genèvieve’s life occurred around 451, when the barbarian Attila and his army of Huns marched across the continent, intending to take control of Gaul away from the ruling Visigoths. After Attila crossed the Rhine and neared Paris, the Parisian citizens were ready to flee the city in terror. Genèvieve, however, advised them against evacuation. She told them that if they kept their faith in God, fasted, prayed and performed penance, the city would be protected by heaven and their lives would be spared. The citizens were doubtful, however, as they all knew that Attila was a vicious and merciless warlord who left devastation in his wake. His soldiers were an equally cruel band of marauders who raped, looted, killed and destroyed. Still, many of the citizens passed days and nights in prayer with Genèvieve in the baptistery. But when the crisis neared its peak, and Attila seemed to be right outside the city walls, the people became panic-stricken, and they turned against Genèvieve. They accused her of being a false prophet who would bring about their deaths as well as the destruction of their beloved city, and they threatened to stone her.”
“Again, Saint Germain’s intervention helped her. News of the situation reached him as he lay near death in Ravenna, Italy. In response, he sent his archdeacon, Sedulius, to help calm the citizens. Sedulius counseled them to listen to Genèvieve, saying she was not a prophetess of doom but the means of their salvation. Still, some inhabitants abandoned Paris. Genèvieve then supposedly gathered the women who had remained behind and led them outside the walls of the city. As the sun rose, and with enemy weapons before them, Genèvieve and the women prayed for deliverance. Later that night, Attila turned away from Paris, leaving the city unharmed, and headed south, to Orleans. Genèvieve was proclaimed a savior and heroine.”7
5. King Childeric & the Siege of Paris, AD 486
“Genèvieve demonstrated her bravery and helped the people of Paris a second time, almost similarly, more than 30 years later. In 486, Childeric, the king of the Salian Franks, a Germanic tribe, blockaded the city. The prolonged siege created a serious food shortage that brought the citizens to the starvation point. One night, Genèvieve led 11 boats out onto the river, rowing past the enemy’s siege lines. Once safely across, she went from village to village, begging for food. Later that night, she returned to Paris, again slipping safely past the blockade, with boatfuls of precious grain.”
“When he heard about her deed, Childeric was impressed with Genèvieve, even though he was a pagan and she was a Christian. After the siege had ended, he sent for her and, out of admiration, he asked what he could do for her. She said to him, “Release your prisoners. Their only fault was that they so dearly loved their city.” He granted her wish, and later performed other merciful acts at her request.”8
6. The Church of Sts. Peter & Paul
“When Childeric died, King Clovis succeeded him and consolidated control of the land from the Rhine to the Loire. He married Childeric’s elder daughter, Clothilde, who was a Christian. Clovis, like Childeric, was a pagan, and his wife often tried to convert him, but without success. Still, Clovis chose Genèvieve to be one of his counselors, and she earned his trust. As Childeric once did, Clovis freed many prisoners at Genèvieve’s request. Once, as Clovis prepared to enter what he knew would be fierce battle, he promised his wife that he would be baptized in the Christian rite if he came back alive. True to his word, when his army won, he became a Christian in 496, guided in his conversion by Genèvieve. His people and servants soon became Christians as well. Genèvieve is credited with developing the plans for a church to honor Saints Peter and Paul, to be built in the middle of Paris. King Clovis started the church, managing only to lay the foundation before he died in 511. The church was completed by Queen Clothilde.”9
7. Named the “Patron Saint of Paris”
“Genèvieve died January 3, 512, only five weeks after King Clovis’s death. She was in her eighth decade of life; at least one account said she was 89 years old. She was buried in a long, flowing gown with a mantle covering her shoulders, similar to the type of garments worn by the Virgin Mary. Genèvieve’s burial site within the church would become a place of pilgrimage, as people had heard many stories of miracles and cures attributed to Genèvieve. Even after her death, miracles were credited to Genèvieve. Perhaps the most famous account involved the great epidemic of ergot poisoning that afflicted France in the twelfth century. After all efforts to find a cure were unsuccessful, in 1129, Bishop Stephen of Paris instructed that Genèvieve’s casket be carried through the city streets in procession to the cathedral. According to reports from the time, thousands of sick people were cured when they saw or touched the casket. The following year, Pope Innocent II visited Paris and ordered an annual feast to commemorate the miracle. Parisian churches still celebrate the feast.”
“St. Genèvieve also became known as the Patron Saint of Young Girls. Also, in 1962, Pope John XXIII named her the patron saint of French security forces, a gesture that honored her many efforts to secure Paris. Her feast day is January 3, but it is not part of the general Roman Catholic calendar.”10
The Church of St. Genevieve & Her Relics
8. Paris Turns Against Her Patron
In 512, St. Genevieve died and her body was interred in the Sts. Peter & Paul Church she helped design. “This fact, and the numerous miracles wrought at her tomb, caused the name of Sainte-Geneviève to be given to it. Kings, princes, and people enriched it with their gifts. In 847 it was plundered by the Normans and was partially rebuilt, but was completed only in 1177. This church having fallen into decay once more, Louis XV began the construction of a new church in 1764.”11 Unfortunately, the French Revolution broke out before the new church dedicated to St. Genevieve was finished. In 1791, the Constituent Assembly secularized the church and renamed it “The Pantheon” - a building dedicated as a mausoleum for notable Frenchmen. The fight for the building continued as it was rededicated as a church in 1821, then secularized in 1831, rededicated in 1852, and then finally secularized as the Pantheon in 1885.12 Today, the Pantheon remains a secularized burial place for Frenchmen, which occasional permits religious events.13
9. The Burning of St. Genevieve’s Relics
“St. Genevieve’s relics were preserved in her church, with great devotion, for centuries, and Paris received striking proof of the efficacy of her intercession. She saved the city from complete inundation in 834. In 1129 a violent plague, known as the mal des ardents, carried off over 14,000 victims, but it ceased suddenly during a procession in her honour. Innocent II, who had come to Paris to implore the king’s help against the Antipope Anacletus in 1130, examined personally into the miracle and was so convinced of its authenticity that he ordered a feast to be kept annually in honour of the event on 26 November. A small church, called Sainte-Geneviève des Ardents, commemorated the miracle till 1747, when it was pulled down to make room for the Foundling Hospital. The saint’s relics were carried in procession yearly to the cathedral, and Mme de Sévigné gives a description of the pageant in one of her letters. The revolutionaries of 1793 destroyed most of the relics preserved in St. Genevieve’s church, and the rest were cast to the winds by the mob in 1871. Fortunately, however, a large relic had been kept at Verneuil, Oise, in the eighteenth century, and is still extant.”14
10. Prayer to Saint Genevieve
Saint Genevieve, you who by the days before, penance and prayer, ensured the protection of Paris, intercede near God for us, for our country, for the devoted Christian hearts. You who cured the sick and fed the hungry, obtain the light of God and make us stronger to reject temptation. You who had the concern of the poor, protect the sick, the abandoned, and the unemployed. You who resisted the armies and encouraged the besieged, give us the direction for truth and justice. You who through the centuries never ceased taking care of your people, help us to keep the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. May your example be for us, an encouragement to always seek God and serve him through our brothers and sisters. Amen.15
11. Litany to Saint Genevieve
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us. God the Father of heaven, have mercy on us. God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us. God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us. Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
St. Genevieve, who since childhood was filled with GodÂ’s grace, pray for us. St. Genevieve, consecrated to Christ by St. Germane, pray for us. St. Genevieve, obedient to the Holy Spirit, pray for us. St. Genevieve, zealous defender of the faith, pray for us. St. Genevieve, heroically devoted to the Church, pray for us. St. Genevieve, whose life is an example how we should live for God, pray for us. St. Genevieve, intercessor of the clergy, pray for us. St. Genevieve, who suffered for your vocation, pray for us. St. Genevieve, who knew about hostility and abandonment, pray for us. St. Genevieve, who spent hours in prayer, pray for us. St. Genevieve, whose fasts and prayers saved the city, pray for us. St. Genevieve, who had a demanding friendship with the king, pray for us. St. Genevieve, whose wisdom enlightened the pagans, pray for us. St. Genevieve, whose prudence guided the leaders, pray for us. St. Genevieve, with purity you overcame slander, pray for us. St. Genevieve, whose strength stood up against the evil doers, pray for us. St. Genevieve, who miraculously nourished the hungry, pray for us. St. Genevieve, who reconciled sinners with God, pray for us. St. Genevieve, who brought back to the Church the lost ones, pray for us. St. Genevieve, who read the conscience through the gift of the Holy Spirit, pray for us. St. Genevieve, who cured the sick, pray for us. St. Genevieve, who controlled the floods, pray for us. St. Genevieve, who restored peace between enemies, pray for us. St. Genevieve, who softened the fate of the prisoners, pray for us. St. Genevieve, who drove out demons, pray for us. St. Genevieve, protector of your devoted people, pray for us.
Give us, Lord, the spirit of intelligence and love of which you filled your daughter, Genevieve, so that attentive to your service and seeking to do your will, we can please you by our faith and our deeds. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Sprit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Let us open our hearts in thanks to God for the favors showered upon us. Saint Paul teaches us to give thanks to God the Father always through Christ, in whom He has given us everything. For when we became GodÂ’s children in Christ, God gave us the riches of his grace, rescuing us from the powers of darkness and bringing us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. Whenever we acknowledge GodÂ’s gifts, we prepare ourselves to take part more fully in the Eucharist, which is the sum of all blessings and the crown and source of all thanksgiving. Amen.16
Celebrating the Feast Day
12. Celebratory Alcoholic Drinks
Cheers! SPL is certainly no stranger to celebrating the traditions of the Catholic faith with alcohol. A week before St. Genevieve’s feast, the Church celebrates the feast of St. John the Apostle, which has a long tradition of blessing wine.17 With SPL posting lists on prayers to bless beer and introductions to Trappist Ale, it is no surprise that alcohol would be included in celebrating the great St. Genevieve. The first recipe come recommended by the author of Drinking with the Saints, Michael P. Foley. He also recommends looking into Sainte Genevieve Winery for those more inclined to wine. He proposed toast is “to St. Genevieve: May she protect us from today’s barbarians.” As the Patroness of Paris, the “Paris Cocktail” is a fitting drink to celebrate this wonderful saint.
3/4 oz. gin 3/4 oz. Grand Marnier 1/2 oz. cherry liqueur 1/2 oz. lemon juice
Pour ingredients into a shaker filled with ice and shake forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass.
Another option, suggested by SPL, would be a French Coffee:
1/2 cup whipping cream, chilled (heavy cream)
1/8 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups coffee, hot
_Beat the cream until it’s rich and fluffy, with soft peaks (or use already whipped cream from a can). Mix in the powdered sugar, and continue to beat until you have stiff peaks. Split whipped cream between 2 mugs. Add vanilla to the hot coffee, then pour over cream. Serve right away, Don’t stir!_18
Enjoy the cocktail, the wine, or the caffe - but be sure to toast St. Genevieve. St. Genevieve: May she protect us from today’s barbarians!
13. Celebratory Foods
While there does not appear to be a traditional food associated with the feast of St. Genevieve, there are two fun options for breakfast. The first would be to serve french toast and the second would be to serve the so-called Apostle’s Fingers, which is a traditional French dish served during the winter carnival. The Apostle’s Fingers are lemon and riccota filled crepes.19
St. Genevieve, pray for us!
Catholic Encyclopedia, St. Genevieve. ↩︎
St. Genevieve, Encyclopedia. ↩︎
St. Genevieve, Encyclopedia. ↩︎
St. Genevieve, Encyclopedia. ↩︎
St. Genevieve, Enncyclopedia. ↩︎
St. Genevieve, Catholic Encyclopedia. ↩︎
St. Genevieve, Catholic Encyclopedia, directly paraphrased. ↩︎
St. Genevieve, Catholic Encyclopedia. ↩︎