Sainte Geneviève And The Swollen Seine

By | January 30, 2018

You might wonder what Sainte Geneviève has to do with the swollen Seine that fortunately has started to recede.

Well, to some of us, a lot.   Let me explain that it wouldn’t be the first time Sainte Genevieve pulled some celestial strings to save her beloved Paris from disaster.

Three weeks ago, I went back to Saint Etienne du Mont church behind the Pantheon to join the devoutful in paying respects to the patron saint of Paris.

After all, I happen to be one of those faith filled admirers who already felt grateful for Saint Genevieve’s help.

I had just arrived in December 1999 with 3 bulging overstuffed suitcases and 2 very dazed and confused little dachshunds.

Aimee, who was living in New York City at the time, insisted on accompanying me to help me get settled in.

As usual, my optimistic self was convinced that I would be able to find an apartment in a few days time.

Not an easy trick to do my friends in December, when Parisians are busy preparing for Christmas rather that packing up and moving out to vacate an apartment.

After installing my menagerie in a cheap hotel on cute Rue Cler, I started the very hefty task of finding a place for me to stay in the city of my dreams.

Sparing you all of the details, I did find a suitable apartment in my favorite arrondissement, the fifth.

Aimee kept one of the dachshunds with her at the crêperie while I showed up with the other to visit the apartment.

The problem was that the rather cold landlord was reluctant to consider me because of my one small dog and wanted to “think” about it.

Tired and desperate to finalize the rent, I definitely wasn’t going to inform her about the second dog!

Sainte Geneviève to my rescue!  My prayers to secure this apartment finally came true!

Within a day or two, me and my two adorable little doggies moved in.

Though not perfect by any means, it overlooked the pretty square of Jussieu in the fifth, and was close to the Seine located between Notre Dame de Paris and Saint Etienne du Mont.

A few days later, there occurred a terrible storm with severe enough winds to down  several trees in the Bois du Boulogne, but practically nothing within the city walls.

When I attended Christmas Eve mass at Saint Etienne du Mont, and the buffet afterwards,  many attributed Sainte Geneviève at having spared the city from worse wind destruction.

I marched in my first procession to honor this patron saint of Paris in 2000 and have gone back several times since.

I went back three weeks ago and it was really nice to see that her devotion continues as before and perhaps even more so, if one judges these things by the crowds.

I arrived late to the Sunday mass and the church was already overfilled with nary a seat to be had. Many had congregated outside on the steps in the cold, waiting for the mass to end and hoping to be first in line for the procession.

These processions take place around her feast day of January the third have been  annually since 885 from the same spot.

Where now occupies Saint Etienne du Mont, once stood the very powerful Abbey Sainte Geneviève.

This abbey was prominent primarily because it housed the body of the deceased Sainte up until the French Revolution.

During that time, her remains were burnt and thrown into the Seine by the anti clerical revolutionaries.

A few of her bones were saved and are now preserved in the two reliquaries that are safe guarded in the church.

The prestigious Confrererie of Sainte Geneviève has selected porters who are trusted to carry the reliquaries in procession down to Notre Dame.

I joined along side of them as they wound their way down the quite steep Rue de Montaigne Saint Geneviève towards the quai.

For me, it was another beautiful expression of our devotion to this Saint, who has been accredited to thwarting multiple threats to Paris.

She was born in 420, to a well off family in Nanterre, now a suburb of Paris, where her father was a Frank Roman officer charged with defending the expanding city of Lutetia.

A bishop, who was sailing down the Seine and had stopped in Nanterre and caught sight of little Geneviève when she was around 8 years and felt drawn to announce to the crowd that this child would someday devout her life to God.

When she was 16, she did inform her parents of her intention to lead a life of poverty and chastity.

After her father died, she inherited his position of defender civitas of Paris and moved to live with her aunt on Ile de la Cité.

By the time she was 28, she had developed a reputation for having mystical powers that caught the ruling pagan king Childeric’s eyes.

It was Sainte Geneviève that convinced the townsfolk not to flee, but to stay put and pray during rumors that Attila the Hun was preparing to descend them to ravage, pillage and destroy the city.

Her fame began to spread after Attila indeed passed up the city on his way south. Another miracle occurred in 494, when the Franks tried to starve the inhabitants of Paris by blockading the Seine downstream

Somehow Geneviève secretly got  barges of wheat snuck in and saved her people from a certain starvation and from being conquered.

She became close friends with the wife of  Clovis, and along with her is accredited with eventually getting him to be baptised, making him the first Christian king of France.

After her death in 502, she was continuously sought after to intercede whenever the population felt threatened by floods, famine or disease.

In 1129, a procession of Geneviève and her help was again  credited with stopping an epidemic of ergot poisoning cause by a fungus that contaminated rye grains.

As we reached the banks of the Seine, we turned right and passed by the famous Tour d’Argent restaurant.

Pausing in front of the statue of the saint on Pont du Tournelle, the archbishop of Paris offered a prayer to Sainte Geneviève asking her to intercede with the rising Seine and prevent flooding.

Having crossed over into Ile Saint Louis, we continued towards Notre Dame.  All along the way women dressed in period attire passed out brioche to passersby.

We stopped briefly in the garden in back of the cathedral for more prayers and waited at the doors of Notre Dame waiting to be greeted by the resident priest.

Enjoy the lovely bells that rang loud and clear announcing our arrival and  the return of the relics of Paris’s  beloved Saint.

For those of you who are not Catholic or Orthodox Christians, and who may ask why the faithful turn to the Saints for help, my response is rather simple.

It really isn’t all that different from you asking your friends or relatives to pray for you or others.

The Saints who once walked the earth, earned their sainthood by helping people, and therefore are just as available though deceased to intervene in prayers and help for causes they “specialise” in.

Yesterday, I went out again to capture some photos of the Seine swirling around the thighs of  Zouave.

The Zouave is a statue of a member of an ancient French infantry that now is famously used to predict rising levels of the Seine.

Whenever the water reaches his feet, they usually close the lover banks of the Seine.  When it reaches his knees, river traffic is generally closed.

At his thighs, seen in the photo, a flood watch is declared and there have been spills into the 16th arrondissement.

In 1910, it reached his shoulders, and the  city did flood, mostly along areas that bordered the Seine.

As you can see the bateaux mouches are floating far from their moorings, as are the peniches(barges) that are always parked neck to neck along the river.

For me and other Parisians, this looks really strange to see all of this.  I had witnessed similar flooding of the Tino Rossi park in the fifth in 2016 and last Sunday caught flooding of the same areas.







The cafe bar barge opposite Notre Dame looked strained, pulling against the ropes that still kept it tied.







Many barge owners were busy securing their vessels due to the same problems, fearful that the violent currents would rupture ties and set sail the barge off in the river.







There were loads of folks like myself perched on the bridges taking pictures of the swollen Seine.  The seagulls were having a heyday diving and circling above.

Ducks looked impervious as usual to the high levels and were enjoying the free rides on the swift current  and waves  much like you would on a water slide.

It is still raining off and on and of course there is that almost constant winter drizzle that moistens your skin as you walk.

Flooding has been fairly widespread in the surrounding eastern parts of Ile de France reaching down into Burgundy.

Many wheat and colza(canola) fields have been submerged, ruining crops. Yet mighty Paris is staying dry for the most part.

Sainte Geneviève is certainly keeping her eye out for her beloved city.  She prayed and fought many times to save this beautiful city and the tradition of celebrating her interventions and Sainthood is very much well and alive!







3 thoughts on “Sainte Geneviève And The Swollen Seine

  1. Isham Smith

    Cherry, All the different dog breeds I’ve had over the years , the dachshund has been the best!
    Cherry I definitely believe in devin interventions.
    Just 2 days ago my Neighbor house had a small fire that spread through the dry grass To my house luckily somebody passing down the road saw it and call the fire department. The fire had just started to scorch the side of our house .that was a close call.I do believe devine intervention was at work here.
    Hugs to you

    1. Cherry Post author

      I agree in totality Isham about Dachshunds and I miss my little one so very much. How frightening to have learned that the fire was starting to burn your house! Yes, it certainly was Divine intervention for someone to have called the fire department. Will you have to replace any of the side? Hopefully insurance will cover any damages! Hugs

  2. Isham Smith

    Cherry, miraculously the fire department put out the fire just as it had reached the house . I believe all I’ll have to do is repaint a small area .
    I like the short videos .
    Hug to you


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