|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Antiques And Arts News||Home|
( Originally Published 1963 )
One of the places that I would want to include on any visit to Paris, if I had any time at all, would be the Church of Saint Sulpice. This famous church is located in the same district we have been exploring when we visited the Quartier de la Monnaie, for both the Mint, the Church of Saint Germaine-des-Pr6s and this church are located in the same arrondissement. As this arrondissenaent extends from the Seine all the way to the Boulevard de Montparnasse, it also includes the Luxembourg Gardens.
If we had walked another two blocks down the Rue Bonaparte, after we got to the Church of Saint Germaindes-Pres yesterday, we would have walked right straight into the Place St. Sulpice. If, on the other hand, we had continued down the Rue de Seine after we reached the Boulevard St. Germain, we would have walked right straight into the front of the Luxembourg Palace. In order to get to the church of St. Sulpice by way of the Rue de Seine, all we would have had to do would have been to turn one short block to the right after we reached the Rue St. Sulpice. This is an even narrower street than the Rue de Seine and will bring us right into the rear of the church. And now, something about the church itself.
We are told that the Church of Saint Sulpice was started in 1646 by an architect by the name of Le Vau and that it was not finally completed until some one hundred thirty-four years later, after six different architects had worked on it. As in the case of so many other churches in Paris, this church was built because the church which originally served this quarter-which happened to be the church of Saint Germain-des-Pr6s-had become too small for its congregation. As the church of Saint Germain-desPres is not a large church, for two of them could easily fit into Notre-Dame, tower and all, there was, therefore, a very good reason for building another church so close to it. Anyway, by the year 1733, all that remained to be built of Saint Sulpice's was the facade, and then it was decided, as so often happens in churches that are a long time in the building -and the wonder is that it did not happen more often-to change its style. The interior had been built in the Jesuit style, but when the Italian architect Servandoni was commissioned to build the facade, he built it in the classical style, and that is the facade you see there now-with certain exceptions.
As originally designed by Servandoni, a huge pediment crowned the top of the facade, and both towers were of equal height. But the pediment was destroyed by lightning and never rebuilt, and only the base of the left-hand tower is still the same as it was originally designed, and the righthand tower was never even completed. The net effect on the beholder of this facade is, in consequence, none too pleasing. And yet, I would not say that the Church of Saint Sulpice is not an imposing church, for no mere illustration could possibly give one an idea of the width and height of its tremendous facade. All one can do when one stands in front of it, is to stand there in awe.
I have no information as to just how high this facade is, but the inside of the church is just two feet short of being one hundred feet high, and since this facade con sists of two galleries, one above the other, has no pediment or other crowning feature, and is, in addition one hundred eighty-seven feet wide, the effect that this huge mass of masonry produces on one is simply stupendous. But just the same, from an artistic point of view, the overall effect is, otherwise, disappointing. The two towers, which, in addition to being o1= unequal height, are cylindrical at the top, have been described as "niggardly and too far apart" (Nagel's Travel Guide to Paris). Strange to say, I get exactly the same feeling of spindliness when I look at the facade of Westminster Abbey, though there I would say that the towers are too close together, probably because the facade is too high in proportion to its width. Nevertheless, Saint Sulpice's is the largest church in Paris, next to Notre-Dame.
The interior of Saint Sulpice, which is three hundred ninety-four feet long, one hundred eighty-seven feet wide and ninety-eight feet high, is, needless to say, impressive, but for the details of it I would rather have you consult your guide book. Many of the frescoes in this church were painted by Delacroix, who, as I already mentioned, had his studio on the nearby Place du Furstenberg. We do not generally think of this talented painter as a painter of murals, so that these paintings should be of particular interest to the lover of art. Also of interest are the two benitiers or holy water vessels, which consist of giant seashells and were a gift from the Republic of Venice to Francis I. But to the lover of music, the chief attraction of Saint Sulpice will always be its famous organ and choir. Its organ is the largest in Europe, and both the music and the choir have been praised by French writers for generations. I am sure that there are people who would want to, attend a service there just for that.
As far as historical incidents are concerned, there isn't too much I can tell you about this church either. On October 14, 1822, Victor Hugo was married here to 1'ldele Foucher. It was to her that he had addressed some of his first verses. It was during this wedding that Victor Hugo's brother Eugene who, unfortunately, was also in love with Adele, went mad and had to be sent to an asylum from which he never returned. Thirty-two years before that, on December 29, 1790, Camille Desmoulins had married Lucile Duplessis in the same church. One of his schoolmates at the College o!: Louis-le-Grand, where both of them were studying law, had been one Maximilien Robespierre, and it was he who had come along with them as a witness when they applied for their marriage license_ Three years later, this same Robespierre sent both of them to the guillotine.
It was also in the seminary which used to be connected with this church that Ernest Renan studied for the priesthood before he decided that he wanted to become a scholar and moved into a modest lodging house across from the church. It was in this seminary too, but in a building which stood there before the present one, that the r'1bb6 Prevost (1697-1763) placed the scene where the chevalier de Grieux first fell in love with Marion Lescaut. In those days that was a long ways from the desolate sand dunes of South Carolina where lie ultimately buried her. But you can learn more about this by reading the book-and you can also see the opera. And now, let us take a few strolls through the adjacent streets.
It has occasionally been remarked that the quarter around the Church of Saint Sulpice is a small town in itself,for so far nothing of the bustling outside world seems to have penetrated it. It has its own small trades, consisting mostly of religious articles, which are manufactured in the district, church equipment, and bookstores dealing in books of a devotional nature. It is also known for certain kinds of cakes, which can be obtained only in this quarter. All this, plus the fact that most of its streets are winding, has given this quarter an atmosphere that is almost provincial.
In front of the church is the not too large Place St. Sulpice, in the center of which you will find the Fountain of the Four Orators. It is a massive fountain, and fits the church, and was built by Visconti, the same architect who built Napoleon's tomb at the Invalides. It is sometimes flumourously referred to as the fountain of the four cardinal points because none of the bishops commemorated there ever became cardinals. The bishops shown are Bossrret, Fenelon, Flechier and Massillon. However, the only one of these that I know anything about is Bossuet (1627-1704) whom I already mentioned in connection with the Palais-Royal as having been the preacher who preached the funeral oration at the funeral of Henrietta Marie as well as that for her daughter Henriette-Ann of France. It was also he who preached the funeral oration at the funeral of the Great Conde.
When we are at the Place St. Sulpice, we are also within a few steps of the streets on which Alexander Dumas, pere, lodged the heroes of his trilogy, The Three Musketeers, Forty Years After and Ten Years Too Late, and if you will listen closely, you can still hear their rapiers strike against their tall boots as they stride about. D'Artagnan lived on the short Rue Servandoni which leads off from the east side of the church. Athos lived on the parallel Rue Ffton, which starts right at the square, to the right of the church. Both of these streets end within a few feet of the Luxembourg Palace, which is not too far away. Aramis lived on the Rue Vaugirard, which here bends around the beginning of the Luxembourg Gardens, and from his window he could look right into the park. The giant Porthos, on the other hand, lived on the Rue de Vieux Colombier, which means the "Street of the Old Dove-cots," and runs the short distance between the Place St. Sulpice and that point on the Carrefour de Croix-Rouge where the Rue du Cherche-Midi runs into this traffic circle. Victor Hugo knew the latter well, for his parents lived on that street for many years, and that was probably the reason why he was married at St. Sulpice's.
If you followed the Rue St. Sulpice, which is a continuation of the Rue de Vieux-Colombier, to the east, you would come to the Carrefour de 1'Odeon, where we also were yesterday. If you really were good on your feet and knew your way about, you could, no doubt, have taken in the Church of Saint Sulpice on your tour through the Quartier de la Monnaie. Only, please, don't try to take in the Luxembourg Gardens at the same time. It would be much too far to walk for one day.
And this, I think, just about concludes our list of the places which you could visit on your first trip to Paris. There are many others, of course, and some of them are not too far from where we are right now. But many of these places will take much delving into history. What I have described to you in these articles are, at least, the places you can see. After having seen these, you will, no doubt, want to come back and see others. As you know, there is a saying about the Trevi Fountain in Rome, that if you throw a coin into it, you will come back to Rome same other time to throw in another. There is no such saying about Paris.. But who, after once having trodden the streets of this magnificent city, does not leave it with regret and with the firm resolve to come back to it again.
So, tomorrow is going to be our last day in Paris. Checking-out time in the Paris hotels is at noon, probably because the boat trains come in at noon, unless you come in from London. Your own boat train will leave the Ciare St. Lazare at five P. M. I am not going to tell you how you should spend these last few hours in Paris, except, perhaps, to remind you that it would be a calamity if you missed that train. Perhaps you can spend part of this time at the Cafe de la Paix. In any case, you are going to come back to Paris sooner or later anyway, and when you do, and see me sitting there at my usual sidewalk table, around six in the afternoon, carefully observing those splendid Parisiennes as they flit by on their way to the Metro and home, you can say to your companion-and it might even be your husband-"Oh, look! George. There is that nice man I met here last year."