Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (Lyon 1824 – Paris 1898), Saint Genevieve provisioning Paris, 1893-98, oil on canvas, Paris, Panthéon
The life of the Parisian virgin Genevieve is narrated in "Vita Genovefae," written about twenty years after her death. She was born in Nanterre, near Paris, around 422. At the age of 15, Genevieve consecrated herself to God, becoming part of a group of virgins devoted to God who, while wearing a habit that distinguishes them from other women, did not live in the convent, but in their homes, dedicating themselves to works of charity and penance.
In 451, Paris was under threat from Attila's Huns, and the Parisians were on the run. Genevieve convinced them to stay in the city, trusting in the protection of the heaven. However, not everyone agreed with Genevieve, to the point that the virgin risked being lynched. After the threat of the Huns, Genevieve had to face the scourge of famine. She got on a boat and along the Seine she got grains from the peasants, which she then distributed generously. Having become friends with King Childeric and King Clovis, she used her position to obtain grace for numerous political prisoners. She died around 502. A modest wooden oratory was erected on her tomb, which was the first nucleus of a famous abbey, transformed into a basilica by King Louis XV. After the French Revolution, the church was transformed into a mausoleum for the important personalities of the nation. After several attempts to reverting it to a church, in 1885 - with the burial of Victor Hugo - it was resolved to definitively suppress the church of Saint Genevieve: it was decided for the perennial secular destination of the Panthéon.
In the Panthéon, precisely because Genevieve had been proclaimed patroness saint of Paris, numerous paintings telling her life are executed at the end of the 19th century. The one we chose presents the saint coming down from the boat with which she went to look for food to feed the people of Paris. Genevieve is at the centre of the canvas; the importance of her figure is further enhanced both by the white of her dress, which stands out among all the surrounding colours, and by the fact that all the other characters are facing her.
Infuse in us, O Father, the spirit of intelligence and love
that you poured into St. Genevieve, your servant,
so that trying to serve you and resembling her,
we get through her heavenly intercession to please you on earth
with our faith and our whole life.
Through Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Lord and our God,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
For ever and ever. Amen!