Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Occultist, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assassination on the Feast of Saint Genevieve

By John Sanidopoulos

I spent a week in Paris in October of 2016, taking in the culture and visiting the various shrines and museums of the city, and on the day I visited the Pantheon, where I saw the tombs of Voltaire, Rousseau, Zola, Hugo, Monnet, Dumas and the Curies (just to name a few) as well as an exact replica of Foucault’s pendulum, I also wanted to visit the location of the relics of Saint Genevieve behind the Pantheon, at Saint-Ètienne-du-Mont, which unfortunately was closed for the day. Staying at a hotel in the Latin Quarter, I realized the next time I would be able to visit the church was on the morning of my flight back to America. So having packed my things that morning, I rushed on an eight minute uphill walk to Saint-Ètienne-du-Mont, arriving early waiting for the priest to unlock the door at 9:00 AM, hoping I would have enough time to venerate the relics of the Patron Saint of Paris before I went to catch my flight. My goal there was three-fold: a) to venerate the relics of Saint Genevieve, b) to see the tombs of Pascal and Racine, and C) to see the location of the assassination of the Archbishop of Paris which took place in this church on January 3, 1857, which was the feast of Saint Genevieve.

After the death of Saint Genevieve, she was buried in the abbey Clovis built for her in Paris. From there, like the bodies of many saints, she certainly stayed active. In 847 the Vikings sacked her abbey, which was rebuilt in 1177 after her relics stopped a plague of ergot poisoning in 1129. In 1222, the Pope decided that the abbey was too small to accommodate all the pilgrims and the site required a full church. Work began on Saint-Ètienne-du-Mont, the future home of Saint Genevieve’s relics, though originally named for and dedicated to Saint Stephen. With the establishment of the Sorbonne nearby in 1257, the population in the Latin Quarter grew rapidly, so they just kept adding on to the church. It was finally completed in 1537.

Skip to 1744 when Louis XV becomes seriously ill during the War of Austrian Succession. He vows that if he recovers, he’ll build a church worthy of the Patroness of Paris to replace her original abbey (which by now is falling apart). He recovers and makes good on his promise. Work begins on a building just across the street from Saint-Ètienne-du-Mont - the building that’s now known as the Pantheon. The grand church is completed in 1790, just in time for the French Revolution. The following year it secularizes, as does Saint-Ètienne-du-Mont, which becomes the Temple of Filial Piety. In a macabre demonstration of the revolutionary regime's judicial authority, the Saint's bones were put on trial and condemned to public burning, their crime being the "[participation] in the propagation of error." Having been subjected to a revolutionary auto-da-fé in Paris' Place de Grève on December 3, 1793, Saint Genevieve's ashes were sanctimoniously cast into the Seine. By 1801 Saint-Ètienne-du-Mont is restored to the Catholic Church. What’s left of Saint Genevieve’s relics, some dust and the stone her coffin rested on, are enshrined in their current location there. The Pantheon flips back and forth between the church and state a few more times before finally settling as a secular crypt for French luminaries in 1885.

There’s one additional bit of lore about Saint-Ètienne-du-Mont that you won’t find in the guidebooks, but I read about in an occult book a while ago. On January 3rd, 1857, the Archbishop of Paris, Marie Dominique Auguste Sibour, was assassinated here, being the feast of Saint Genevieve.

Three years earlier, Pope Pius IX issued a papal bull that formally defined the Catholic Church’s views on the Immaculate Conception. Archbishop Sibour upheld the bull and promoted it in Paris. A ne’er-do-well priest named Jean-Louis Verger saw this as the Archbishop promoting idolatry and stabbed him to death as he lead a novena to Saint Genevieve. Verger shouted, “Down with the Goddess!” as he killed the Archbishop, a possible reference to both the Saint and his stance on the Immaculate Conception.

A former seminarian at Saint Sulpice known as Eliphas Levi supposedly witnessed the bloody incident; though it’s anyone’s guess what brought him to the church that day (or if he was telling the truth about being there in the first place). He had become a well-known Occultist after leaving the seminary. He later reported in his book The Key Of The Mysteries (which has been translated into English by Alister Crowley) that Verger approached him a year before the assassination and asked for a book of spells called the Grimoire of Pope Honorius. There, Verger believed he would find a spell powerful enough to conjure the devil, and which would help prepare himself for the murder by a series of sacrileges which are mentioned in the book. They are as follows:

"Choose a black cock, and give him the name of the spirit of
darkness which one wishes to evoke.

Kill the cock, and keep its heart, its tongue, and the first
feather of its left wing.

Dry the tongue and the heart, and reduce them to powder.

Eat no meat and drink no wine, that day.

On Tuesday, at dawn, say a mass of the angels.

Trace upon the altar itself, with the feather of the cock dipped in
the consecrated wine, certain diabolical signatures (those of Mr.
Home's pencil, and the bloody hosts of Vintras) .

On Wednesday, prepare a taper of yellow wax; rise at midnight, and
alone, in the church, begin the office of the dead.

Mingle with this office infernal evocations.

Finish the office by the light of a single taper, extinguish it
immediately, and remain without light in the church thus profaned until

On Thursday, mingle with the consecrated water the powder of the
tongue and heart of the black cock, and let the whole be swallowed by a
male lamb of nine days old...."

As Levi says, "The hand refuses to write the rest." Levi said he refused the request of Verger. But who had sent Verger to Levi? And how did he acquire the book? A few weeks after the crime, Levi was speaking with a bookseller of the occult sciences, who informed him that it was he who sent him to Levi, but when he refused he returned to the bookseller who found a copy and sold it to the priest for a hundred francs, confirming that indeed the priest intended to use it to conjure the devil.

Verger, for his part, freely admitted to murdering the archbishop and believed he would not be found guilty. He was, in fact, found guilty the very day of his trial a few week later. Ever confident, he was certain the Emperor Napoleon III would pardon him. He didn’t and Verger was dead by guillotine by the end of the month. He did have time however to confess to a priest and return to his Catholic faith.

Having spent a good thirty minutes in the church and completed my goals, I hurried back and was able to catch my cab to the airport. This had been my last stop in Paris.