Pictures from Past and Present:
Church of Saint-Laurent

John E. Rybolt, C.M., Ph.D.

In 583, Gregory of Tours mentioned this monastic church, begun as a chapel. It overlooked a Roman road, now the Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis. The present church, whose choir was dedicated in 1429, replaces an earlier one. Only the old tower remains from the twelfth-century church. The fifteenth-century church has been enlarged and reconstructed several times. During the revolutionary period, it was used as a Temple of Reason, then a Temple of Old Age (1798). It was restored to the Catholic Church in 1802. The monastic enclosure was removed when the Boulevard Magenta was put through in the nineteenth century, and its neo-Gothic façade dates only from 1865, built to fit the building to the new street.

Saint-Laurent was the parish church of Vincent de Paul from 1632 to 1660, and of Louise de Marillac from 1641 to 1660. Although she had requested burial at Saint-Lazare, the pastor overrode Louise’s wishes, and she was buried in the chapel of the Visitation in this church where she came to pray and to make her Easter Communion with the other sisters. Her remains lay here for 95 years, until 1755, when her body was transferred to the motherhouse. Marking the spot is the simple wooden cross with the words Spes Unica [“(Hail, O Cross, our) Only Hope”], from the hymn Vexilla Regis, the monument she requested in her will.

Several modern paintings and stained glass windows show Saint Vincent blessing Saint Louise and the first Daughters of Charity, and Saint Vincent performing works of mercy (galley convicts, slaves in Algiers, etc.) A small plaque also reads: “1660. Saint Vincent de Paul, founder of the priests of the Mission and of the Sisters of Charity, often visited the Church of Saint-Laurent, his parish church.” On one of his many visits to Parisian churches during his long stay, Pius VII came to Saint-Laurent in 1804.

Guillaume de Lestocq (d. 1661), pastor of Saint-Laurent from 1627 to 1661, came with Adrien Le Bon (1577?-1651), the prior of Saint-Lazare, to offer the property of Saint-Lazare to Monsieur Vincent. After repeated and lengthy discussion and discernment, they succeeded. Lestocq assisted Louise on her deathbed and celebrated her funeral, since Vincent de Paul was ill and confined to his room. Lestocq would also send confessors from the parish to the Daughters’ motherhouse. A later pastor, Nicholas Gobillon (1626-1706), revered Louise de Marillac and wrote her first biography. To the right of the church is a small park, the Square Saint-Laurent, which marks the site of one section of the parish cemetery. Many of the earliest Daughters of Charity were buried, however, on the north side in another section opened in 1662, adjacent to the chapel where Louise herself was interred. Their remains were removed beginning in 1804 and placed in the catacombs of Paris. This removal was occasioned by public health concerns all through the city in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

During the sack of Saint-Lazare, revolutionaries burst into its house chapel. Finding a reliquary of Saint Vincent, four of them brought it reverently to Saint-Laurent for safekeeping. They then returned to the task at hand — looting and pillaging.