The Church of Saint-Séverin is a Roman Catholic church in the Latin Quarter and one of the most beautiful temples in Paris. Built in the 13th century, it is one of the oldest churches that remain standing on the Left Bank.The lively tourist street near the church, Rue Saint-Séverin, is known for restaurants, bookstores and shops.
Séverin of Paris lived on the banks of Seine during the first half of the 5th century. A small Romanesque church was erected on his tomb around the 11th century. As a result of the rapidly growing community on the Left Bank, a new, Gothic structure with a nave containing lateral aisles was built in the 13th century.
After the church was seriously damaged by a 1448 fire during the Hundred Years’ War, archpriest Guillaume d’Estouteville rebuilt it in the late Gothic style, adding a new aisle to the north. In 1489, a semicircular apse was added at the eastern end with an ambulatory complete with columns, including the strangely coiled central pillar.
Additional space was provided by constructing chapels along the outer aisles. After their completion in 1520, the church took on the general appearance it still has today. In 1643, a second sacristy was added, and royal architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart built the Communion chapel on the church’s southeast corner 30 years later. Another ten years later, the decorator Charles le Brun modified the design of the choir, removing the rood screen and providing the apse columns with marble facing.
Until 1790 Saint-Séverin was the seat of the southern archdeaconry of the pre-revolutionary diocese of Paris. In 1956 it was the scene of a demonstration by Christian conscripts against the war in Algeria.
The church’s external features include some fine gargoyles and flying buttresses. Inside you can admire both ancient stained glass and a set of seven modern windows by Jean René Bazaine, inspired by the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church, around the ambulatory. There is also a flamboyant rose window above the west entrance.
The bells include the oldest one remaining in Paris, cast in 1412; their ringing is recalled in a well-known poem in praise of Paris by Alan Seeger. The relief of the Gothic portal under the bell tower depicts St Martin dividing his cloak. It was transferred from the demolished church of St-Pierre-aux-boeufs. The construction of the marble choir was made possible by donations from Anne, Duchess of Montpensier, a cousin of Louis XIV.