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  • Writer's pictureTer Hollmann

History of Église Saint-Séverin (The Church of Saint-Séverin)

What is Église Saint-Séverin?

The Church of Saint-Séverin (Église Saint-Séverin, in French) is a Roman Catholic church in Paris that’s named after a devout hermit who cured the first king of the Franks.

The Church of Saint-Séverin

Benchaum, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Église Saint-Séverin History

At the beginning of the 6th century AD the Great King Clovis, who united the Franks, fell ill. All the finest and most skilled doctors were called in to try and heal him without success, and as a last resort they summoned a holy man, Séverin, a devout hermit who lived on the left bank of the River Seine. Legend has it Séverin placed his cloak over the king and cured him instantly.

In the 12th century, the oratory that was built over Saint Séverin’s tomb became the site of a small Romanesque church. As the population of the left bank grew, it was decided that a larger church was needed and so a new building, designed in the Gothic style, was built in the 13th century. This was expanded again in the century after due to the influx of students to the University of Paris. A bell cast in 1412, one of the oldest in Paris, still rings out to this day from the church, and in 1520 chapels were completed along the outer aisles adding more space to the interior of the church.

Église Saint-Séverin also happens to be linked to another legend involving cloaks. The church contains several magnificent stained-glass windows, one of which tells the story of Saint Martin and the beggar. Before he was a saint, Martin was a soldier in the Roman army. One day he was riding towards the gates of the city when a man emerged from out of a crowd of people and raised his arms towards Martin, imploring him for help. The man was a beggar, covered in dirt and clothed in rags. Martin drew his sword, raised it above his head, and brought it down upon his own red cloak, cutting it in two. He took the severed half of the cloak and wrapped it around the man to warm him.

When Martin went to bed that evening he had a dream in which Jesus came to him wearing the part of the cloak that he had given to the beggar. This was all the proof he needed, and from that moment on Martin dedicated his life to God. There is a relief depicting this story above the large Gothic portal under the bell tower, which was transferred from the church Saint-Pierre-aux-Boeufs before it was demolished.

Église Saint-Séverin is also famous for being the unlikely site of the first ever kidney stone removal operation in as far back as 1474. A prisoner on death row was selected to have the procedure performed on him, and King Louis XI made a promise that if the operation was successful, the prisoner would be allowed to walk free. The stones were removed and the man survived, leaving him free to walk.

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