There are two famous Catholic churches in the Parisian neighborhood where we stayed for three weeks last May. I have already uploaded a few postings about St Sulpice (see here and here and here) which is just a few blocks from our apartment. The other church is St Germain des Prés, the oldest church in Paris, just a few blocks north of St Sulpice and the church from which both our neighborhood and the major street that runs east-west on the left bank of the Seine get their names. This view of the church from the southwest corner of Blvd St Germain and Rue de Bonaparte near the Brasserie Lipp will be my entry to week # 27 of Laura and Leanne’s Monochrome Madness Challenge over on Leanne’s website.
Way back in the 6th century a group of Benedictine monks was given some land in a pasture outside the walls of Paris to build an abbey and they started to build the first St Germain. Over the centuries the church has been rebuilt and remodeled many times. And the abbey grew until it became a town within a town.
In the 16th century the abbey buildings east of the church were turned into a prison. On September 2-3, 1792 a mob, fearful that the inmates would escape and fight alongside an approaching Austrian-Prussian army, attacked this prison. Nearly 200 people were massacred in those two days, including about 24 priests who were imprisoned because they refused to sign a loyalty oath to the new government.
Most of the abbey is gone now because in the 1850s Baron Haussmann and his boss Napoleon III decided to rearrange the streets of Paris and the Blvd St Germain now cuts right through the former abbey grounds. The church is all that is left of what was once an enormous abbey. And the church used to have three towers, one on each transept, but only the one bell tower now stands.
Three of the neighborhood’s most famous restaurants are a stone’s throw from the church: Les Deux Magots across the square, the Café de Flore across Rue St Benoit from Les Deux Magots, and the Brasserie Lipp across Blvd St Germain from both of the other restaurants. Ernest Hemingway and his pals visited all three places in the 1920s. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir made Café de Flore their headquarters in the 50s. They then got tired of the owner’s politics and began to frequent Les Deux Magots until the tourists drove them back to Café de Flore. That’s pretty much the way it is today: the tourists go mostly to Les Deux Magots and the Parisian locals prefer the Café de Flore. The Place Saint-Germain-des-Pres was in 2000 renamed Place Sartre-Beauvoir in honor of the two intellectuals who held court in one or the other nearby cafes.
We visited Saint Sulpice one rainy day in May and then walked up a little street called Rue des Canettes, stopping for a delicious snack at Crepe Rit du Clown, one of the places Rick Steves recommends in his Paris Tour Guide. At Rue du Four we zigged left and then zagged right up Rue Bonaparte one more block until we got to St Germain. And then we visited l’Eglise de Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
We’ll take a look inside the church in a future posting.