Genovefa, Saint
Alternate Name:
Birth Date:
ca. 420
Death Date:
ca. 509
Nanterre (Nemetedorum)
Social Status:

Probably an aristocrat, given references to wealth in all vitae, e.g. her collection of revenues from country estates and authority in dealing with clergy


References to women who live and worship with her

Ecclesiastical Relationships:

According to all her vitae, she was a protegé of Bishop Germanus of Auxerre and Bishop Lupus of Troyes. She was veiled by Bishop Vilicus, possibly of Bourges. She also discovered the remains of Saint Denis--supposedly first bishop of Paris--which she translated to a shrine built for him. This episode is an ambiguous statement about her ecclesiastical position vis-a-vis the bishops of Paris, who are otherwise not mentioned in her legend.

Secular Affiliations:

An associate of Clovis, first king of the Franks who made his capital at Paris. According to her vitae, Clovis and his wife Clothild built the church of the Holy Apostles (also known as Peter and Paul and, later, as Saint-Geneviève) where they also buried her. Both Clovis and Clothild were buried there along with some of their children. Later Merovingians used other Paris churches for their mausolea and subsequent Frankish/French rulers favored Saint-Denis.

Feast Day:
January 3
Patron of:
Founder of:
Charitable Works:
Distributed bread to beseiged Parisians

All that remains of her is a cenotaph at the Sainte Etienne, near the Bibliotheque-Ste-Geneviève, near the site of her church at Mont-Ste-Geneviève (now site of the Pantheon.) French revolutionaries put her relics on trial in 1798 after which they burned the relics and tossed the ashes into the Seine.

Brief Profile:

According to her 6th-century vita by an anonymous monk, Genovefa was born in Nanterre, about 7 kilometers north of Paris. She was discovered by Germanus and Lupus who were en route to battle heretics in Britain. After her parents' death she moved to Paris where her godmother lived and began to live as a vowed woman. She supposedly performed many miracles, including staving off the attacking Huns with prayer, saving boatmen on the Seine, and bringing food to starving Parisians during Childeric's seige. She is credited with finding the lost relics of Saint Denis and building a shrine in his honor. Later in life, she seems to have divided her time between Paris, Saint-Denis, and visits to cities in the larger diocese of Sens. The vitae do not indicate whether she practiced a particular rule or actually lived in a community of vowed women. The aim of the vitae was clearly to establish her authority as a thaumaturge and pseudo-bishop. She was buried in a shrine sponsored by Clovis and Clothild; the latter may have commissioned her first vita. Later documents credit Genovefa's relics with staving off flood and curing Parisians of fever, possibly ergotism.

Lisa Bitel