NEWSLETTER

SAINT AND DISASTERS

Saint Genèvieve (c. 422–512) is known as the “Patron Saint of Paris” then later as the “Patron Saint of Disasters and Fevers” with her name invoked by Catholic faithful in times of disasters such as droughts, floods, and pestilence. Genevieve was born in 422 AD. She first became known in 451 AD, when the army of Atilla the Hun, which had already pillaged the neighboring cities of Treves, Metz and Reims, was threatening the city of Paris.

The Parisians were already planning to abandon the city, but they were persuaded to resist and prepare for the impending invasion by Genevieve. Some of the them have actually evacuated but Genevieve brought the remaining women outside the city walls to face the enemy. Attila then surprisingly bypassed Paris and attacked Orleans instead.

Then in 461, the city was threatened again by the Salian Franks, led by Childeric I (436-481). This siege of the city lasted ten years, cutting off food supply to the city. Geneviève organized a way to feed the people. She led an expedition that brought in wheat to the hungry city from the neighboring regions of Brie and Champagne on a flotilla of eleven barges that somehow slipped through the enemy lines.

When the siege ended and after hearing about what she did, Childeric sent for her and, out of admiration, 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 this and later made her one of his counselors. Genevieve died on January 3, 512 AD and her burial ground inside the church of Sts. Peter and Paul became a pilgrimage site with numerous miracles and cures attributed to her intercession. But it was in 1129, during a severe epidemic of ergot poisoning that swept France, that Bishop Stephen of Paris ordered her casket to be paraded around the city.

It was said that thousands were cured when they saw or touched the casket. The following year, Pope Innocent II visited Paris and ordered an annual feast to celebrate the miracle. There are no records as to when Genevieve was declared a Saint. She probably was declared as one by a local bishop by virtue of popular devotion. She is typically depicted as a shepherdess or a peasant girl holding a candle and bringing bread.