Originally a Roman Catholic place of worship, Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre was built in stages from the 12th to the 19th century, and granted to Eastern Catholic Melkite community in 1889. Its original design was modified several times, and the resulting church is significantly smaller in size than originally planned.
The new building, inspired by either the Notre Dame Cathedral or the Saint Pierre de Montmartre church, was begun ca. 1165-1170. The building effort was supported by the Clunaic monastic community of Longpont, and their enterprise resulted in the completion of the choir and, most likely, the nave (ca. 1210-1220). According to 16th century chronicler Étienne Pasquier, the site was connected with the University of Paris foundation, serving as a site for its School of Theology and Arts, and, after the resulting split between the faculties, only as the School of Arts.
All early construction seems to have stopped ca. 1250. In 1651, following several centuries of neglect, two of the original bays in the nave were demolished, and a northwestern facade was added; the northern aisle was preserved, and two of its bays serves as a sacristy. After more than a century, during the French Revolution, the building was listed for demolition, and suffered more damage as a result. Before the second half of the 19th century, Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre underwent restoration under the direction of architect Franz Christian Gau.
In 1889, under the Third French Republic, the church was awarded to the Melkite (Arab and Middle Eastern) community in Paris. In preparation for this, significant restoration was again carried out. The arrangement was criticized by writer Joris-Karl Huysmans, who objected to introducing non-traditional forms to an old scenery: "This intrusion of the Levant into Saint-Séverin parish is [...] in absolute disagreement with the surroundings.
On April 14, 1921, Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre was a venue for one of the last major performance art experiments in the history of the Dada avant-garde trend. Deemed a "Dada excursion", the event involved writers Tristan Tzara, André Breton, Philippe Soupault, as well as artist Francis Picabia. The group printed a pamphlet which read: "Today, at 15:00 hours, in the garden of St-Julien-le-Pauvre church, Dada [...] extends a free invitation to its friends and enemies to join it in visiting the church's buildings. It will not be an anticlerical demonstration, as one would be inclined to believe, but rather a new interpretation of nature applied this time not to art, but to life." As they distributed copies, they shouted insulting or provocative slogans to passers-by: "Be dirty!... One must trim his nose as one trims his hair!... One must wash her breasts like she washes facecloths..."
The "Dada excursion", conceived as a manner to revive the public's awareness of Dada, failed to gain needed attention, and, together with a mock trial of reactionary writer Maurice Barrès held later in the year, helped create a rift between Tzara's group and the future Surrealists Breton and Picabia.