In 451AD, Attila the Hun and his forces threatened the city of Paris. When word of his impending invasion reached the city, the citizens of Paris wanted to flee. All except one. According to legend, a young nun named Genevieve convinced everyone to stay. She then led them in a prayer marathon to ask God to spare their city. Which is exactly what happened. Attila ended up bypassing Paris altogether and attacked the city of Orleans instead. It is likely that Attila made this decision because 5th century Orleans was a far richer and more strategically important city, but in Paris it was seen as a miracle. Genevieve was hailed as the saviour of the city, and she was later venerated as one its patron saints.
Today, depictions of Saint Genevieve can be found all over the city. One statue in particular stands out, and it can be found on the Pont de la Tournelle. This statue of Saint Genevieve is a relatively new addition to Paris, having been built in 1928, and it is famous for its height. This Genevieve towers over her surroundings, strong and imposing. At her feet, a small child stands cradled between her hands. The child is meant to symbolize the city of Paris, which is safe under the protection of Genevieve.
Interestingly, the statue is facing east, meaning that the majority of Paris stands at her back. This was done on purpose, as Genevieve is facing the direction of Attila’s would be invasion. However, not everyone was happy with this bit of symbolism. In fact, the artist, Paul Landowski, was so horrified by the placement of his statue, he immediately petitioned the city to have Genevieve turned around. His request was denied, and to this day, Genevieve still faces the east. Centuries may have passed, but she remains on guard as the city’s defender. As for Landowski? He went on to create one of the most famous statues in the world: Christ the Redeemer.
FIND ME HINT
The statue of Saint Genevieve can be found on the south end of the Pont de la Tournelle. Be sure to view her from the east. Otherwise all you will see is a large stone column.
Want more FIND ME? Click HERE.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.