Parish church of Saint Jacques au Paris

Period: gothic

The earliest parish church on the site pre-dated the monastic community. This parish church is known from Latin charters as Saint-Jean-du-Mont. The canons assumed pastoral jurisdiction over the parish that remained active within the abbey precincts throughout the medieval and early modern periods. The parish thus exemplifies one way in which the abbey was inextricably linked to the world beyond the cloister.

Documentary sources reveal that the original parish church assumed a dual function upon the abbey's foundation. Although the church of Saint-Jean-du-Mont retained its role as the center of a parish community, it also served as the abbey church for the new Augustinian house. In spatial terms, the parish and canonial communities co-existed within the original parish church of Saint-Jean-du-Mont. During the construction of the Romanesque abbey in the twelfth century, the canons incorporated the nave of the original structure into their new church, and relocated the parish altar to another area on the site, possibly, though not certainly, in the sacristy.

A combination of textual and material evidence suggests that the extensive thirteenth-century abbey re-building campaign also included the construction of a new parish church. The parish was then transferred to a new site just inside the gate to the abbatial complex. The parish church received a new dedication, being called Saint-Jacques in honor of the recently acquired relic of Saint James of Persia. The relic had been acquired by Bishop Nivelon of Soissons at the sack of Constantinople in 1204, and brought back, with other relics, to the north of France. A breviary from the early thirteenth century provides the first local mention of Saint James of Persia. A charter from the abbey's cartulary documents a disagreement between two canons, one of whom is identified as the presbyter of the church of Saint-Jacques, attesting to its existence by 1280. In the fourteenth century, the new fortifications departed from their expected path in order to incorporate this now pre-existing church within the precinct.