FEast: Jan. 3rd
Paris, leadership, farmers
Though we can not be sure of the social class Genevieve was born into, it is likely that she was a peasant, though her family was well-known in Paris in the 5th century. Her life changed when she was only 7 years old when St. Germain visited her town. He spoke to the community, but singled Genevieve out specifically as a special person. He asked her if she wanted to live a life for her faith, which was not very ordinary at the time, and she did. He blessed her and consecrated her to that mission. He also gave her a simple medal with a cross on it to wear around her neck, and she wore it all her life.
When she was 15, she had lost both of her parents and, after officially joining religious life, went to live with her grandmother. She had no convent to join, as there were none in the area, but at her grandmother's house, she developed many spiritual practices.
She decided on a vegetarian diet, made trips to nearby cities to help with whatever she could, gave generously, and enjoyed praying in churches at night with candles. A story goes that her flame went out one night, and that she believed it was the devil trying to scare her. Unafraid - as she always seemed to be later in life, she is now often pictured confronting that very devil with a candle.
Not many understood Genevieve and her habits, however, accusing her of all sorts of things from hypocrisy, to mental illness, to fraud. People had become so jealous of her otherworldliness and unexplained virtue that some planned to try and drown her - the plan was only averted with an intervention from St. Germanus, who encouraged them to believe her. He then gave her a new role as well - to watch over and educate other young girls in the community.
In 451, Genevieve's next turning point occurred. Attila the Hun, the fierce warrior whose soldiers killed and destroyed so much, was going to attack Paris.
The citizens of Paris wanted to leave it and run, but Genevieve encouraged them to stay and pray for their safety. Not trusting her at all, accusations came forth again, claiming she was purposefully misleading them and therefore they would all die if they stayed. Some people did flee, still, but many did remain once other holy people confirmed their beliefs in Genevieve. On the day Attila was to attack, she and many other brave women gathered just outside the city gates to pray - and for no explained reason, Attila did not attack and moved his warriors elsewhere.
The city was shut down and in a panic one more when another king, Childeric, placed Paris under siege. The citizens were starving and terrified, so Genevieve snuck out of the city walls and commanded 11 boats undercover. She returned with all of them full of corn and grain for the Parisians.
Childeric, having heard about this mission, was not outraged but rather impressed by Genevieve's bravery. He wrote to her and she asked that he release his prisoners of war, which he did, despite not being a Christian or understanding her faith completely. Childeric passed away but his daughter married King Clovis, who ruled next, and he was equally impressed by Genevieve. He and his wife Clothilde, who was also Christian, became friends of Genevieve's, and she convinced him to free even more prisoners.
Before a particularly dangerous battle, King Clovis announced he would become Christian if he were to return safely - he did, and Genevieve guided him and many of his royal staff and family in their own conversions.
In return, Clovis founded a monastery for her, and Genevieve herself developed the plans for the building. When Clovis passed, and Genevieve also, 5 weeks later, Clothilde finished the church and buried Genevieve there.
The site of her burial soon became a pilgrimage spot for Christians around Europe, as many miracles were reported to have happened there. When the city was plagued in 1129 by ergotism, her shrine was carried in a procession through the streets and reportedly cured many people.
The French Revolution destroyed her relics and shrine, but many places in and around Paris can still be found that are named after and devoted to her.
Though you started lowly in your society, you became a leader because of how fearless, smart, determined, and confident you were. you were convinced you could help, and because of you, your community survived and thrived. Convince us of our own ability to lead despite our circumstances. Amen.
Because she is my Confirmation saint, Genevieve was the very first Modern Saint I painted, after I had finished my Original Divine Mercy and St. Mary icons. I wanted her to appear like the strong leader she was. The best leaders, though, I believe, are the friendly, encouraging, serious-only-when-need-be ones, and I can tell from her story that this was her leadership style as well. She is confident despite so many people doubting her, and holds light, both literally and metaphorically.