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Abbey of St Genevieve

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Title: Abbey of St Genevieve  
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Subject: Clovis I, Clotilde, Basilica of St Denis, Pierre François le Courayer, November 27
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Abbey of St Genevieve

The Abbey of St Genevieve (Abbaye-Sainte-Geneviève) was a French monastery in Paris, suppressed at the time of the French Revolution.

Front of the Church of the Abbey of Sainte-Geneviève, in Paris, in a 19th-century engraving of an 18th-century view.


The Abbey, close to the Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont and the present Panthéon (its rebuilt abbey church), was said to have been founded in 502 by King Clovis I and his queen, Clotilde, in the name of the Holy Apostles, jointly dedicated to Peter and Paul. Later Saint Geneviève was in the habit of coming to pray, taking a route commemorated by the name rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève. At her death in 512, her remains were interred at the abbey church, near the tomb of Clovis.

In 1147 secular canons officiated in the church. King Louis VII of France and Pope Eugene III, having witnessed some disorders, determined to restore discipline. At the request of Suger and Bernard of Clairvaux, Gildwin, the first Abbot of St-Victor, sent Odo, the prior of his abbey. There were difficulties, but order finally prevailed and some of the canons joined the reform, the Abbey becoming a house of Canons Regular.

Among these was the young William of Paris. At the request of Absalon, Bishop of Roskilde in Denmark, who when a student at Ste-Geneviève's had known him, William was sent to that country to reform Eskilsø Abbey, a monastery of canons in the Isle of Eskil. He founded another monastery, which he dedicated to the Holy Paraclete. He died in 1206, and was canonized by Pope Honorius III. It was natural that close relations should exist between Ste-Geneviève and its foundations in Denmark. Peter Sunesen, a young man who made his profession at the abbey, became Bishop of Roskilde; Valdemar, brother of Cnut the Great, died at Ste-Geneviève; and Abbot Stephen of Tournai wrote to William and his friends to obtain lead for the roof of his abbey.

Like the Abbey of St-Victor, Ste-Geneviève became a celebrated seat of learning and the site of a great medieval library. St-Victor, Ste-Geneviève, and Notre-Dame were the cradles of the University of Paris. Peter de Ferrière, Abbot of St-Victor, was at one time prior of Epinay, a priory of Ste-Geneviève; William of Auxerre, a professed canon of St-Victor in 1254, held the office of cellarer, and became Abbot of Ste-Geneviève; and Marcel, successively canon at St-Victor and Ste-Geneviève, was in 1198 made Abbot of Cisoing.

In later centuries this abbey fell into the hands of abbots in commendam. In the early seventeenth century Cardinal de La Rochefoucauld undertook the reforms required by the Council of Trent. He brought from Senlis Charles Faure (d. 1644),[1] who had already restored the canonical rule in the ancient Abbey of Silvanect. Once more the Rule of St. Augustine was faithfully observed at Ste-Geneviève's which became the mother-house of the Gallican Congrégation de France, an associatiuon of the Augustinian abbeys called the Génovéfains.

The Tour Clovis

By the middle of the seventeenth century the abbot-general of the congregation had under his jurisdiction more than one hundred abbeys and priories. Men like Fronteau, chancellor of the university and author of many works, Laleman, Chapponel, Reginier, Chengot, Beurier, du Moulinet, founder of the national library, and Augustine Hay, a Scotsman who wrote the Scotia sacra and officiated at Holyrood, Scotland, in 1687, were sons of the French congregation. The astronomer Alexandre Guy Pingré was librarian of Sainte-Geneviève.

In the mid-18th century, a project of reconstruction was begun. An immense abbey church over the old crypt was built, to designs by Jacques-Germain Soufflot; in part rebuilt, it serves today as the Panthéon.


When in 1790 the revolutionary assembly declared all religious vows void, and evicted all of the residents of the monasteries, there were thirty-nine canons at Ste-Geneviève's. This was the end of the abbey and school. To run the new rue Clovis through the site, the building was demolished shortly after 1800, except for the bell tower, called the Tour Clovis. The Lycée Henri-IV, built in part with elements of the abbey buildings, occupies the site.


  1. ^ "About the Augustinian Canons". Archived from the original on 4 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 

  The entry cites:

    • Bonnard, Histoire de l'abbaye de St-Victor de Paris (1907)
    • Gautier, Adam de St-Victor (Paris, 1858)
    • Marion, Histoire de l'Eglise (Paris, 1908)
    • Vuillemin, Vie de S. Pierre Fourier (Paris, 1897)

Further reading

  • Sophie Peltier-Le Dinh, Danielle Michel-Chich, André Arnold-Peltier, Le Lycée Henri-IV, entre potaches et moines copistes, Éditions PIPPA, collection Itinérances (ISBN 978-2-916506-16-6) 14€90 (photos)

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