St. Julien History

Click on the numbered links to view notes.
Use your browser's back button to return to this page.

Early History

Plan de Truschet 
and Hoyau/Plan de Bâle

The Church of St. Julien le Pauvre sits on the Left Bank of the Seine in the Latin Quarter, just across the river from Notre Dame. (See detail from the Plan de Bâle at left. Considered to be one of the oldest churches in Paris, [1] the present building has stood for over seven centuries, but it is not the first St. Julien to be built on this site. Bishop Gregory of Tours, in his History of the Franks, provides the first written evidence that a basilica and hospice for travelers stood here in the late 6th century. Gregory first mentions the basilica in Book VI, Chapter 17, where he relates an incident involving a murderer who took sanctuary there in 582, only to be murdered by his victim's relatives shortly afterwards. [2] Later, in Book IX, Chapter 6, Gregory refers to a journey he made to Paris in 580 to attend a council of bishops. He lodged at the Basilica of St. Julien the Martyr and said a midnight mass there, after the clerics of St. Julien had first removed a malodorous drunk who had fallen asleep on the floor of the sanctuary. [3] The original St. Julien for whom the church was named was a soldier who was martyred at Brioude in the Auvergne region during the 3rd century. [4] Gregory, who was from the Auvergne himself, had a personal interest in this St. Julien, and considered him one of his own patron saints. [5]

The Basilica of St. Julien the Martyr was advantageously located not far from the Petit Pont at the junction of two important roads which date back at least as far as the Roman period. One (the present-day rue Galande) led to Lyons and Italy, the other (the present-day rue St. Jacques) went to Orleans and thence to Spain. [6] When the Romans began to build the city of Lutetia here in the 1st century, they designated the road to Spain as the cardo maximus, the reference by which they laid out the grid of streets and roads in the city. [7] A large number of old Roman paving stones were dug up in the rue St. Jacques in 1927, one of which can be seen today in the courtyard outside the west entrance of the church. [8]

Archaeological evidence also shows that the basilica stood in the midst of an ancient cemetery, one of several that have been discovered on the Left Bank. Three separate excavations made during construction work in two streets very close to St. Julien (the rue Galande, 1884, and rue Dante, 1885-86 and 1901) uncovered a large number of sarcophagi and other artifacts from the Gallo-Roman and Merovingian periods. [9] Merovingian sarcophagi were also found around the walls of the present church during renovations performed on the building in 1825 and 1840. The evidence provided by these discoveries shows that the area surrounding St. Julien was used as a burial ground before the 6th century, and suggests the possibility that the basilica described by Gregory of Tours might have originated from a martyrium or memorial chapel of the Late Empire. [10]

The Middle Ages

The Basilica of St. Julien the Martyr stood until the late 9th century, when it was destroyed by the Normans. Some sources give the date of its destruction as the winter of 886, during the famous Battle of the Petit Chatelet which was fought nearby. [11] However Paris had already endured many Norman raids by this time [12], and it seems unlikely that the basilica could have survived intact until 886. The building was still in ruins when King Henri I signed a charter during the first half of the 11th century giving St. Julien and several other ruined Left Bank churches to the Bishop of Paris. [13] The church then passed into secular hands, and at the beginning of the 12th century it was jointly owned by Etienne de Vitry and Hugues de Monteler, who, in 1120, ceded St. Julien to the Abbey of Longpont, a dependent of Cluny Abbey in Burgundy. [14] The monks of Longpont founded a priory of 50 brothers on the site and rebuilt the church in the Gothic style. [15] Although no documents record the exact dates of its construction, it is generally accepted that the present St. Julien was built between 1170 and 1240.

The Middle Ages were a time of prosperity for the priory, and its favorable location was no doubt a contributing factor. The old road to Spain which passed right by St. Julien was part of an important medieval pilgrimage route to the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela, and in the 13th century, part of it was renamed the rue St. Jacques des Prêcheurs (Street of Saint James of the Preachers). [16] Thousands of pilgrims traveled this road and many of them must have visited the church and stayed at its hostel. St. Julien was not as large or splendid as some of the other churches on the pilgrimage road, nor was it listed in the medieval Pilgrim's Guide, but a Miraculous Well with healing powers which was located near the apse of the north aisle would likely have been an incentive to stop here. [17] It is also possible that the name of St. Julien the Hospitaller came to be linked to the church during this time. This St. Julien was a patron saint of travelers and ferrymen, and according to legend, he and his wife built a hospice on the banks of a river where they provided shelter and ferry service for pilgrims and other poor travelers. [18] A 14th-century stone relief, depicting a scene in which the saint and his wife ferry Christ disguised as a leper across the river, can still be seen on the wall of a building in the nearby rue Galande. [19]

Besides receiving a share of the pilgrimage traffic, St. Julien also had the good fortune to be located in the midst of the University of Paris, an institution that had its beginnings in the 12th century when Master Peter Abelard left the Cathedral School of Notre Dame and began holding classes on the Left Bank. Other teachers and their students flocked to the district to form their own schools, and from this rather informal educational system evolved the celebrated University, which received its official charter from King Philippe II around the year 1200. [20] The rue du Fouarre, just east of St. Julien, was the location of the Faculty of Arts, one of the three divisions of the University. [21] Its students were divided into four "Nations" according to their national origins, and all of the "Nations" had schools on this street, which were located in houses owned and rented out by the priory. [22] The poet Dante mentions the street in Canto X:138 of his Paradiso, and according to a popular tradition, he even attended lectures at the University and prayed at St. Julien, which served as the parish church of the masters and students. [23]

In addition to its role as a religious center, St. Julien was used as a classroom and an assembly hall by the University. Lectures in philosophy and the humanities took place in the church, and for many years, the General Assemblies of the University and the election of the Rector were held there. [24] St. Julien also hosted the meetings of local tradesmen's organizations. The corporations of the paper merchants, iron founders, and roof tilers used the church as their headquarters, as did the Confraternité de Notre-Dame-des-Vertus. The carpenters and masons established themselves in the little Chapel of St. Blaise and St. Louis, which stood just south of St. Julien and had an entrance on the rue Galande. [25]

The Priory of St. Julien owned some 38 houses in the four streets that formed the boundaries of its enclosure (rue Galande, rue du Fouarre, rue de la Bucherie, and rue St. Julien le Pauvre) and it earned income by renting rooms to the students and faculty. [26] But over time, the center of the University moved south towards Mt. Ste. Genevieve, and the priory's fortunes took a downward turn. As the students and teachers left the neighborhood, revenues dropped off considerably, and the church and its surrounding rental properties became run-down. [27] A student riot during the election of the Rector in 1524 inflicted a great deal of damage on the church, and as a result the elections had to be moved to the Church of the Mathurins on the rue St. Jacques. Neglect also took its toll. By 1651, the building had deteriorated so badly that the Gothic portal and two bays of the nave and south aisle were torn down, and a Neoclassical facade was put up in their place. [28]

Later History

A few years later, in 1655, the Priory of St. Julien was dissolved. The current prior, Pierre Meliand, and Cardinal Mazarin, Administrator of Longpont Abbey, ceded the church and all the other properties belonging to the priory to the Hôtel Dieu, the ancient charity hospital of Paris. [29] Originally the Hôtel Dieu stood on the Île de la Cité near Notre Dame, but by the mid-17th century, the overcrowded hospital had expanded across the Seine to the Left Bank into several large annexes built along the river. [30] Having established a foothold on the Left Bank, the Hôtel Dieu was eager to add the old priory to its holdings. As part of the contract, the hospital promised that worship services would continue to be held "in perpetuity" at St. Julien, as the church was still in use by several guilds and confreries, but the actual responsibility for maintaining the services and appointing the chaplain fell to the Parish of St. Severin, as this was the parish in which St. Julien was located. [31] St. Julien became, for all practical purposes, a simple chapel dependent on its prosperous neighbor St. Severin, a somewhat ironic turn of events considering that the Church of St. Severin is thought to have originated from a small oratory dependent on the ancient Basilica of St. Julien the Martyr. [32]

This arrangement lasted until the French Revolution, when all church property was seized by the State and converted to secular uses. In 1793 St. Julien was closed to worship and turned into a salt warehouse. [33] When the Emperor Napoleon I returned St. Julien to the Hôtel Dieu in 1805, the hospital allowed it to remain a warehouse for another 20 years. But after the demolition of its other chapels on the Île de la Cité, the Hôtel Dieu decided to repair St. Julien for use as a replacement, and in 1826 the church was reconsecrated and restored to worship. [34] It then became the chapel of the Augustinian Sisters, a nursing order which had served the Hôtel Dieu since the 7th century, and the novices of the order took their vows before its high altar. [35] During this time St. Julien also served as a mortuary chapel for some of the unfortunate patients who died in the hospital, as well as a baptistry for some of the infants born there. [36]

Some fifty years later, around 1877, the Hôtel Dieu moved into a newly constructed facility on the other side of the Île de la Cité, and the old hospital building was completely demolished. [37] The small church on the Left Bank was no longer of much use to the Hôtel Dieu after the relocation, so once again St. Julien was deconsecrated. Soon afterwards, it was threatened by the urban renewal projects of Baron Haussmann, but at the last minute, St. Julien was declared an historic monument and saved. [38] For a time, the City of Paris considered turning the church into a museum, but in 1889, St. Julien was instead reconsecrated and assigned to the Melkites, a congregation of Eastern Catholics who observe the Byzantine Rite and have their own Patriarch, but are still in communion with the Pope in Rome. [39] It remains a Melkite church to the present day. After the last of the old annexes of the Hôtel Dieu were finally torn down in 1909 [40], the vacant area north of the church was turned into a little park, the Square René Viviani, which opened to the public in 1928. [41]

Notes Sources St. Julien Home

Unless otherwise credited the photos and other content on these webpages are Copyright © the author and may not be reproduced without permission.

St. Julien le Pauvre St. Julien le Pauvre
Webmaster: A. Snow
This site last updated 05/24/2004.