The pages of church history – which are filled with that great procession of holy men, women and children whose saintly lives have shown forth the love of Christ – contain the stories of many formidable women. Led by the most venerated of all saints, St. Mary the Theotokos, the list includes young Virgin Martyrs (Ss. Agnes, Barbara, Katherine), wise and holy nuns (Saints Scholastica, Hilda, Walburga), queens and empresses (S. Clothilda, Empress Theodora), loving and persistent mothers (Ss. Helena, Monica). Included in this list is St. Genevieve, whose feast day we celebrate on January 3. Honored by bishops, confided in by kings, respected by invaders, entreated by those in great need, and venerated by generations of Parisians who hold her as a patron of their city, St. Genevieve was a most formidable woman!
Born around 420 in the town of Nanterre, outside Paris, Genevieve spent her girlhood tending sheep for her poor parents. As a child, she met St. Germanus, bishop of Auxere, as he passed through her village. The bishop recognized the holiness of this special child, and he maintained a close friendship with her for the rest of his life. At the age of 15 Genevieve took vows as a nun and dedicated herself to a life of prayer and service. When her parents died soon after, she moved to Paris and continued her works of mercy.
When Frankish troops, under their king, Childeric, besieged Paris, Genevieve slipped out of the city by the river to procure provisions for the starving Parisians. Learning of the bravery of this young woman, Childeric showed great respect for her and, at her request, spared the lives of many prisoners. When Attila led his army of Huns to sack Paris, Genevieve exhorted the people to fast and pray constantly rather than flee, and the Huns left the city unharmed.
Clovis, the violent Frankish king who had expanded his rule over Gaul, was converted to Christianity through the persuasive encouragement of his wife, Queen Clothilda. With her further encouragement, Clovis sought counsel from Genevieve. When she fell asleep in the Lord around the year 500, Clovis had her relics enshrined in the Church of Ss. Peter and Paul, which he had built. Many miracles occurred at this shrine through the years and the name was eventually changed to St. Genevieve’s (unfortunately, this church was “secularized” at the time of the French revolution and is now known as the Pantheon).
Citizens of Paris continued to appeal to St. Genevieve for intercession in Heaven. They carried her shrine in procession in times of great tribulation, such as when they were delivered from an epidemic in the year 1129. May we also be aided in our times of need by the prayers of this formidable woman.
Holy Genevieve, pray for us.