Paris Wanderlust: Merovingian Architecture — Does It Even Exist in Paris?

Merovingian Architecture — Does It Even Exist in Paris?

For almost 500 years, Celtic Lutetia was a colony of the Roman Empire. It wasn’t even the most major colony in Gaul — Lyon was more significant.

Toward the end of Roman control, from the 3rd to 5th centuries, the Gallo-Roman culture underwent major changes: the introduction of Christianity, the invasion of Germanic tribes (including Franks and Attila and his merry Huns), and the defeat of the occupying Romans, chased out of Paris by Frankish ruler Clovis I.

Clovis I, founder of the Merovingian dynasty, professed allegiance to Christianity, a conversion of convenience. His successors of the Merovingian dynasty (5th to 8th centuries) built many Christian structures, including two basilicas, a cathedral, and monasteries.

However — in short — no architecture from the Merovingian dynasty has survived. None. With one tiny exception . . .


If you enter Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés — itself one of the oldest structures in Paris — look about midway up at a structure called a triforium. You’ll see marble Merovingian columns. A few tiny finger bones remain of a once-whole body. The small Merovingian columns have been repurposed to form an arcade below Romanesque arches and Gothic heights.

An architectural mashup at the birth of French Gothic. Talk about your layered history.

Why didn’t Merovingian edifices survive in their entirety? During the 9th century, Vikings invaded and destroyed (several times) the ancient church of Saint-Germain. Vikings also wrecked the basilica on Montagne Sainte-Geneviève and Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés. As for the Merovingian Basilica of St-Denis, it was rebuilt in Early Gothic style to accommodate the throngs of pilgrims worshiping the relics of Denis, beheaded martyr-saint of Paris.

I’m not sure what happened to the Merovingian monasteries. But if they were destroyed during the 9th century, Vikings might be a safe bet.

Next: Romanesque Paris — Hybrid Creatures

Camille Martin

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