Construction started on it in 543 A.D. It was rebuilt after the Vikings sieged and sacked Paris in 845 A.D. And all its property was turned over to the state during the Revolution and Napoleon’s rule.
But Saint Germain des Prés in the sixth arrondissement has not only survived, it’s endured.
“It’s the oldest church in Paris,” says Brian Smith, director and treasurer of American Friends for the Preservation of Saint Germain des Prés. “It’s a continuing church with a large, vibrant parish community.”
Being owned by the City of Paris does present certain difficulties, though. The city can’t afford to take care of all its historic properties, so the French formed a foundation to raise between $10-$12 million for its complete restoration. And they called on Smith, a Florida-based financier, to head an American foundation to do the same.
But the pandemic brought restoration work to a halt and caused a pause in fundraising. Consequently, though the original project is 80-85% complete, financing has slowed the work somewhat. Some projects still await final funding, so the group is once again renewing its call for active contributions.
Some of the recently completed but still yet unfunded restoration work has been done on the church’s extraordinary painted iconography. One-of-a-kind artwork depicting the 12 Apostles, the Four Evangelists of the New Testament, and the Lamb of God have been brought back to their original glory, and are available for viewing at PreserveSaintGermain.org. All are available for sponsorship.
The group is currently offering its “543 AD Founders Society” sponsorship to secure funding for the iconography of the 12 Apostles, and “The Saint Germain Society” for sponsorship of the medallions of the Four Evangelists and the Lamb of God. Another sponsorship opportunity is the “Hippolyte Flandrin Society,” which allows donors to adopt one of the Church’s 20 Flandrin panels (within 10 enormous diptychs), depicting everything from The Burning Bush to The Ascension, as well as two especially beautiful encaustic, hot-wax paintings of Christ’s entrance to Jerusalem and his agonizing march to Calvary.
An especially popular way to support the restoration work has been The Adopt-A-Star Campaign, which has provided the possibility to adopt and name one of the breathtakingly beautiful gold stars painted on Saint Germain des Prés’s famed celestial blue ceiling in the Monks’ Choir. As of November 2021, the current constellation of stars is almost entirely spoken for. However, the group is now working diligently to prepare another section of the church’s ancient ceiling so that many more stars may soon be made available for adoption by friends of this unique Historic Preservation project.
Whatever the donation amount, this is the rarest of good causes – and Smith and his associates are determined to see it through. “We’re going to keep at it until we fix the damn thing,” he says. “We’re going to preserve this if it kills us.”
Now that’s the kind of attitude that every American should be known for in Europe.
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Photographs by David Sheppe