Born in Nanterre near Paris, France, c. 422; died in Paris, c. 500
Genevieve was born in a village on the outskirts of Paris during the
time of Attila the Hun. She was a shepherdess, the only child of Severus
and Gerontia, hardworking peasants. Genevieve was so bright and
attractive that when Saint Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, was visiting
the village with Saint Lupus on their way to Britain in 429 to squelch
Pelagianism, he took special notice of the seven-year-old. After his
sermon, the inhabitants flocked about them to receive their blessings.
Germanus beckoned for her parents and foretold her future sanctity.
When he asked Genevieve if she wished to be a spouse of Christ and serve
God only, she asked that he bless her and consecrate her from that
Taking a gold coin from his purse, he gave it to her, telling her to
keep it always as a reminder of that day and of God to whom her life
belonged. Although in later years Genevieve was often hungry and had
no other money, she never parted with the coin. Another version recorded
by Constantius tells how the holy bishop went to the church, followed by
the people, and during the long singing of Psalms and prayers,
his hand upon the maiden's head.
In either case, she continued tending
the sheep and helping her blind mother in spinning and weaving.
When Genevieve was 15, her parents died and she went to live in Paris,
where she repeated her vows and the bishop of Paris gave her and two
other girls the veil. She settled with her godmother Lutetia in Paris.
In the course of time, she became famous for her sanctity. She
frequently ate only twice a week--sparingly (a small portion of barley
bread and some beans). (This fasting she continued until age 50 when her
bishop commanded her to alter her diet.)
She experienced visions and prophecies, which initially evoked hostility
from Parisians--to the point that an attempt was made to take her life.
But the support of Germanus, who visited her again, and the accuracy of
her predictions eventually changed their attitudes. (Germanus also
corrected some of her harsher penances during this visit.)
The young girl loved to pray in church alone at night. One day a gust of
wind blew out her candle, leaving her in the dark. Genevieve merely
concluded that the devil was trying to frighten her. For this reason
she is often depicted holding a candle, sometimes with an irritated devil
Her bravery rallied the city in 451, when Attila II the Hun's army
marched on the city in an attempt to wrest Gaul from the Visigoths. The
citizens were ready to evacuate the city. As the Huns battered at the
gates of Paris, Genevieve persuaded the men to stay and gathered the
women of the city for prayer. Her courage depended on complete trust in
God, and as Attila and his army approached she encouraged the Parisians
to fast and pray in the hope that God would avert disaster. Many
citizens spent whole days in prayer with her in the baptistery. It is
from this that the devotion to Saint Genevieve, formerly practised at
Saint-Jean-le-Rond, the ancient public baptistery of the church of
Paris, appears to have originated. She reassured the people that they
had the protection of heaven. She cared for the sick, fed the poor, and
everywhere inspired confidence.
God will protect you,
must trust in Him.
At one point, however, when the crisis was at its height and the people
were panic-stricken, they turned against her, wanting to stone her and
saying that she was a false prophet who would bring about their
destruction, and they threatened to stone her. But the good Bishop
Germanus had not forgotten her, and though he lay dying in Ravenna,
Italy, he sent his archdeacon Sedulius to pacify the people. Sedulius
persuaded the panic-stricken people that Genevieve was not a prophetess
of doom, and to listen to her counsel not to abandon their homes.
Many of the inhabitants lost heart and fled in panic, but Genevieve
again gathered the women around her, and led them out on to the ramparts
of the city, where in the morning light and in the face of the spears of
the enemy they prayed to God for deliverance. Providentially, the same
night, the invader turned south to Orleans, and again the city was
saved, since when Genevieve, who was venerated even by the enemy, has
been acclaimed as a saviour and heroine of her people.
In 486 the saint's bravery proved invaluable for the people of Paris for
the second time. The Frankish King Clovis killed Syragrius, the Roman
representative in Soissons, ending the Roman governance of Gaul. King
Childeric of the Franks besieged Paris, bringing its inhabitants to the
point of starvation.
One night, when the city was blockaded and there was a serious shortage
of food, Genevieve took a boat and rowed out alone (more likely at the
head of a company) upon the river into the darkness to Arcis-sur-Aube
and Troyes. She slipped silently and secretly past the lines of the
enemy, landing at dawn far outside the city, where she went from village
to village imploring help and gathering food, and returned to
Paris--again successfully evading the enemy--with eleven boatloads of
precious corn. (Other sources say that nightly she captained eleven
barges to collect grain in the Champagne region.)
When the siege was over, Childeric, the ever-pagan conqueror, in
admiration of her courage, sent for her and asked what he might do for
Release your prisoners,
Their only fault was that
they so dearly loved their city.
And this he granted.
When, on the death of Childeric, 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 and tried to convert her
husband without success. Clovis allowed his first son to be baptized,
but the child died. The second son was baptized and came close to death,
but recovered at the prayers of Clothilde and Remi.
Meanwhile, Genevieve became his trusted counsellor. Clovis entered a
harsh battle and promised to be baptized, if he should win. He won and
under the influence of Genevieve, he converted in 496. His people and
servants followed suit. Clovis, like Childeric, released many prisoners
at her request. Later, however, fresh troubles came to the city, and
once more it was threatened by an invading army.
Genevieve also initiated the interest of many people in building a
church in honour of Saint Denis, which was afterward rebuilt with a
monastery by King Dagobert in 629. Genevieve made many pilgrimages in
the company of other maidens to the shrine of Saint Martin of Tours. Her
reputation for sanctity is so great that it even reached Saint Simeon
the Stylite in Syria (he asked to be remembered in her prayers).
By the time she died King Clovis of the Franks had grown to venerate the
saint. It was at Genevieve's suggestion that Clovis began to build the
church of SS. Peter and Paul in the middle of Paris, where they interred
her body. Later the church was renamed Sainte Genevieve and it was
rebuilt in 1746.
In times of national crisis the French have often turned to Genevieve
for help. But in 1793 the body of Saint Genevieve was taken from her
shrine and publicly burned at the Place de Greve. At the time of the
French Revolution, the church was secularised and is now called the
Pantheon, a burial place for French worthies. But some of the relics
were spared and later placed in the Church of Saint Etienne (Stephen) du
Mont, where thousands visit them each year.
Most of the information about Genevieve derives from a Life that claims
to be by a contemporary; its authenticity and value are the subject of
much discussion. The idea that she was a shepherdess is recent and
without authority; the evidence suggests that she came from a family of
good position. She was a real person, however; her name is entered in
Saint Jerome's Martyrology, which makes her cultus very ancient.
In art she is shown as a shepherdess, usually holding a candle-- which
the devil is trying to extinguish, while an angel guards it-- or a book
or torch. She may have a coin suspended around her neck (the one
Germanus gave her). Sometimes she may be shown as a nun with sheep near
her, with the devil at her feet with bellows, a key in one hand and
candle in the other, or restoring sight to her mother
She is the patron saint of Paris, and invoked against disasters, drought
and excessive rain, and fever
Tropaire ton 1.
Tes larmes abondantes
ont arrose et feconde le desert des coeurs steriles,
tes prieres et tes soupirs
ont produit du fruit au centuple.
Prie pour ta cite, o sainte Genevieve,
et pour ceux qui venerent avec amour ta sainte memoire.
Kondakion ton 2.
Pour l'amour du Seigneur, o sainte Genevieve,
tu as pris en haine le desir de repos,
ayant eclaire ton esprit par le jeune,
car tu as vaincu les betes avec force.
Mais par tes prieres tu as ecrase l'agitation des ennemis.
also several icons on this site
-has a large version of Fr Gregory Kroug's (Paris) icon which prints nicely