Saint Genevieve stands as one of the first defining characters of the course of the history of Paris – most notably for mobilizing what is modern day Paris to pray so hard that the force of their psychic energy compelled the Huns to change their minds about destroying the settlement. Well, this is one account of the story that is honoured today under the feast day of the patron saint of Paris.
Under this account, we learn that we owe the survival of Paris in large part to Saint Genevieve who urged residents of what is now Paris not to flee from the encroaching, notoriously menacing Huns but to rather pray. The account further goes on to assert that thanks to the concerted faith of Parisians, under the leadership of Genevieve, the city was saved from destruction – and Genevieve eventually earned the title she holds today as Patron Saint of the CIty.
Well, whether the spiritual prowess of Genevieve is overrated has been hotly contested in the past with several contesting theories being offered to explain the change of direction on the part of the Huns.
I personally prefer for the more magical, improbable story – if only for the lessons that it holds. Indeed, there are several points of inspiration to draw from the tale – be it inspiration drawn from hearing about a powerful woman take the lead to save the day – something like Angela Merkel today. Or, be they lessons on the importance of courage in the face of danger and of belief. The magical account definitely does it for me – more than that the Huns were afraid of contracting cholera from the unhygienic franks.
If one looks at the history of Paris since – there are traces of the same Genevievian magic running through the story of the city – from protesting women fighting for better economic conditions to the close encounters that Paris has had with possible destruction as a result of war and other threats and her ability to rise out of those difficult times unshaken.
The motto of the city hints at this lesson of the day in its own way : “Fluctuat nec mergitur” – roughly translated ‘the one who rises with the wave is not swallowed by it’. This, to me, is precisely the essence of the story of Genevieve. Her alleged story speaks to the concept of rising up instead of being overwhelmed by threatening circumstances. Not being swallowed up. That, I guess is what the city of Paris has done through its different ages – emerge triumphant in the face of threats. And, this is the fantastical version of this city I prefer to hold. WIth Saint Genevieve as an inspiring vegetarian girl who ran the world in her day.