We visited St. Gervais for their 12:30 prayer office, taking seats on the stools that line the long Gothic nave, and looking up to the soaring vaults of stone, the glittering stain glass high above the altar. The robed nuns and monks entered silently and knelt in the chancel. Soon they were singing in three parts; the lessons were read; a short homily preached about Saint Denis (was it his feast day?); a nun played an ethereal melody on a flute.
Located on the Right Bank across the Seine from Notre-Dame, the 6th-century church on this site was dedicated to the 1st-century Roman martyrs Gervais and Protais, whose relics were brought to Paris by St. Germaine. Today’s recently restored church dates to the 17th century. Located behind the Hotel de Ville (the Town Hall), public trials were held in the square fronting the church in the Middle Ages.
The church is home to the Brothers and Sisters of Jerusalem, a monastic order serving the community, founded in 1975 by Fr. Pierre-Marie Delfieux and Cardinal Francois Marty. The order seeks to bring the contemplative spirituality of the desert into the heart of the city, particularly for the working populace. Monks and nuns hold part-time jobs and rent their housing. They offer daily Mass and sing the morning, noon, and evening offices, chanting through Flamboyant Gothic vaults beneath vivid stained glass. They follow rules of love, prayer, work, hospitality, and silence as well the traditional ones – chastity, obedience, and poverty. Lay orders defined by interests, ages, and professions, form the Family of Jerusalem. The order has communities at Vézeley, Blois, Strasbourg, and Magdala as well.
In the central apsidal chapel behind the high altar the Sacrament is reserved, exposed in a monstrance for adoration 30 minutes before services.
As the noon office ended I followed the nuns to the side aisle and gave them a copy of my little book, Offerings, which has a scene in the church; my thanksgiving, I said.
I left thankful for the grace to return to the soaring white stone of St. Gervais, to join this dedicated community in their praises of God.
Sts-Gervais-et-Protais, The Monastic Communities of Jerusalem
13, rue des Barres, Paris
Open daily; Tuesday – Saturday: Morning Prayer 7 a.m. (Saturday 8 a.m.); Midday Prayer 12:30; Evening Prayer and Mass 6 p.m.; Sunday: Office of the Resurrection 8 a.m., Mass 11 a.m..
All services preceded by 30 minutes of silent prayer and adoration. No public liturgies are offered on Mondays, but the church is open.
Sources Vives de Jérusalem (bookstore behind the church, northeast exit)
10 rue des Barres
Tuesday-Friday 9:30 a.m. -12, 2-8 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. – 12, 2-8 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.; after Mass to 1 p.m.