Saint Gervais Church – French Baroque Architecture at its Best

Saint Gervais Church  - an example of French baroque architecture at its best Saint Gervais Church - an example of French baroque architecture at its best

In a city of splendid religious edifices – Notre Dame, Sacré Coeur or Saint-Sulpice to mention but a few, it is easy to overlook the Saint Gervais church.  Yet, it is worth a visit.  Mentioned as early as the 4th century, it is considered one of the oldest in Paris.  As it stands today, the Saint Gervais church is an example of the French baroque school of architecture at its best..

Saint Gervais Church  - an example of French baroque architecture at its best
Saint Gervais Church – French baroque architecture at its best

Actually named in honor of two martyred brothers (Gervasius and Protacius) in Nero’s time, the church is also known as St. Gervais-et-St. Protais church. It is located in the Marais district (rue François Miron) where the two oldest houses in Paris still exist as well. Today, it is affiliated with the Monastic and Lay Communities of Jerusalem.

Sacred music

Once regarded as the center of sacred music, the church also houses one of the oldest organs in Paris. This organ was designed and built (1601) by the renowned organ makers in history, the Clicquot family (François-Henri, Louis-Alexandre and Robert Clicquot).

Another distinction was that the church once had harbored the clan of the famous organist at the time, François Couperin and his family for well over two centuries. (Their house still stands by the church side.) The organ used by Couperin and his descendants still works to this day.

Short history

The St. Gervais church had been once the center of financial power ruled by the powerful brotherhood of wine merchants at the time (4th century). In the 16th century, it assumed its present façade which was completed in 1620.

The church itself was begun in 1494, built along the Gothic style of the era. Like the construction of old churches then, it took years to construct the other parts. The chapels were completed in 1530 and the transept in 1578. The doorway was done between 1616 and 1620. The second row of chapels were built and finished around 1628.

Saint Gervais Church - French baroque architecture at its best
Saint Gervais Church – French baroque architecture at its best

The façade has three styles of columns – Doric at ground level, Ionic at the second floor and Corinthian on the third floor. St Gervais had been refurbished during the visit of Pope John Paul II. This included the installation of new stained glass windows. (In World War 1, a German shell fell on its roof killing 88 people and injuring others.)

Today

It is not hard for tourists to find the church itself, located in the 4th arrondissement and to the east of Hotel-de-Ville. The 4th arrondissement itself spreads out into most of Ile de la Cité, widely considered a historic center of Paris.  If you walk through the church and exit behind the altar, you’ll emerge on the picturesque rue des Barres.

There used to be an elm at the center which used to be the rallying point of the inhabitants in the area. (It was cut down during the French Revolution.) The square now serves the town hall of the 4th district.

These days, the church still attracts the curious and the faithful lured by the beauty and the sound of its organ that is replete with history as old as the city itself. The St. Gervais church, a stately representative of the renowned French baroque architecture at its best, can be included in your visit to the Marais.