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Though there is a vita that purports to be written by a contemporary, Genevieve's history cannot be separated from her hagiography, which describes her as a peasant girl of Nanterre who was encouraged by Saint Germain of Auxerre. She went to live with her godmother Lutetia in Paris, where she became admired for the extremes of her piety and her devotion to works of charity, which included her severe corporal austerities, and a vegetarian diet which allowed her to sup but twice in the week. "These mortifications she continued for over thirty years, till her ecclesiastical superiors thought it their duty to make her diminish her austerities," the Catholic Encyclopedia reports.
Like many of her Celtic neighbors, Genevieve had frequent communication with the other world and reported her visions and prophesies, until her enemies conspired to drown her; through the intervention of Germain of Auxerre, their animosity was finally overcome. The bishop of the city appointed her to look after the welfare of the virgins dedicated to God, and by her instruction and example she led them to a high degree of sanctity. Genevieve's presence in Paris was credited with averting Attila and his army, who went on to besiege Orléans instead. During Childeric's siege of Paris, Genevieve passed through the siege lines in a boat, bringing grain to the starving city.
Church of Sainte-Geneviève, Paris
Genevieve died in 512. When it was complete, Clovis' church dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul at Mont-lès-Paris received her remains. Under the care of the Benedictines, numerous miracles wrought at her tomb caused the church to be rededicated in her name, and people enriched it with their gifts. In 847 it was plundered by the Vikings and was partially rebuilt, but was completed only in 1177. The saint's relics were carried in procession yearly to the cathedral, and Mme de Sévigné gives a description of the pageant in one of her letters.
This church having fallen into decay once more, Louis XV ordered a new church worthy of the patron saint of Paris; the Marquis of Marigny was entrusted with the construction, and he gave the task to his protégé Jacques-Germain Soufflot, but completed after Soufflot's death by his pupil, Jean-Baptiste Rondelet . The Revolution broke out before it was dedicated, and it was taken over in 1791, under the name of the Panthéon, by the National Constituent Assembly, to be a burial place for distinguished Frenchmen. Though her remains had been publicly burnt at the Place des Greves in 1793, the Panthéon was restored to Catholic purposes in 1821, secularized again as a national mausoleum in 1831 and once more in 1852. Then, though the Communards dispersed the remaining relics, the Pantheon was finally reconsecrated to Genevieve in 1885.
Canons of Ste. Genevieve
About 1619 Louis XIII named Cardinal François de La Rochefoucauld abbot of St. Genevieve's. The canons had been lax and the cardinal selected Charles Faure to reform them. This holy man was born in 1594, and entered the canons regular at Senlis. He was remarkable for his piety, and, when ordained, succeeded after a hard struggle in reforming the abbey. Many of the houses of the canons regular adopted his reform. In 1634, he and a dozen companions took charge of Sainte-Geneviève-du-Mont of Paris. This became the mother-house of a new congregation, the Canons Regular of Ste. Genevieve , which spread widely over France.
Another institute called after the saint was the Daughters of St. Genevieve , founded at Paris, in 1636, by Francesca de Blosset , with the object of nursing the sick and teaching young girls. A somewhat similar institute, popularly known as the Miramiones , had been founded under the invocation of the Holy Trinity, in 1611, by Marie Bonneau de Rubella Beauharnais de Miramion. These two institutes were united in 1665, and the associates called the Canonesses of St. Genevieve . The members took no vows, but merely promised obedience to the rules as long as they remained in the institute. Suppressed during the Revolution, it was revived in 1806 by Jeanne-Claude Jacoulet under the name of the Sisters of the Holy Family .
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