Sainte Genevieve lived in France for her entire life. In 437 AD, at age fifteen, she became a nun, and devoted herself to prayer and fasting. When Attila, the Hun, was on the way with his armies to attack the city of Paris in 451, many people decided to flee the city. Genevieve was able to convince a large group of women to join her in a desperate prayer for help. Indeed, Attila’s attack never arrived and Genevieve was credited with prayerfully and prophetically affecting the city’s deliverance.
Her long relationship with the Franc king, Clovis, resulted in his conversion to Christianity. He ordered the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul to be built over the ruins of the Roman pantheon in Paris in which Genevieve was buried in 512. She was canonized in 522. So many people visited her tomb that the chapel in which it was located was renamed the Church and Tomb of Ste. Genevieve. In 550 the famous blacksmith, St. Eloy, made a sarcophagus in which her remains were placed.
This sarcophagus was carried in a procession through Paris in 1129 to combat an epidemic of ergot poisoning. This disease is characterized by hallucinations, convulsions, diarrhea, itching, headache, nausea, and even gangrene of the fingers and toes. Known also as St. Anthony’s Fire, it is caused by eating grains that have been infected with the claviceps purpurea fungus. The epidemic ended after the procession of Ste. Genevieve’s relics.
Ste. Genevieve’s remains were placed into a new reliquary made of gold by the renowned goldsmith, Bonnard, in 1242. By the middle of the eighteenth century, in spite of her continuing fame and many visitors hoping to receive some miraculous touch upon visiting her tomb, the Church of Ste. Genevieve was badly in need of repairs. King Louis XV commissioned the building of a new domed church in her honor. The new church was commandeered by the French Revolution in 1791 and its name reverted to the Pantheon.
Ste. Genevieve’s bones were burned in disgrace by the Revolutionists at the Place de Grève in 1793, the same year that King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were executed by the guillotine. The Place de Grève is the first harbor on the Seine River in Paris. It was the site of many hangings and public executions. The Pantheon was restored to the church in 1821, secularized again in 1831. In 1885 it was re-consecrated to Ste. Genevieve although what was rescued of her remains is enshrined in the neighboring church of St. Etienne du Mont.
Sainte Genevieve is known as the patron saint of Paris and the protector against fever, plague, disaster, and according to M. de Felcourt and J. de Richoufftz, authors of France, Terre de Sainteté, the protectress against floods as well.
The Town of Ste. Genevieve:
The town of Ste. Genevieve sits on the west bank of the Mississippi River across from the heads of one of the three Catholic jurisdictions of Louisiana, Kaskaskia, which was assigned to the Jesuits until the British took it over following the French & Indian War in 1763. While exceedingly fertile from the residue deposited during frequent floods, the town of Ste. Genevieve was nicknamed “Misère” perhaps because of the prevalence of malaria there. Appealing to Ste. Genevieve as its patron saint would have been logical in this place which was fiercely Catholic, royalist, and prone to both floods, and fevers.