Monday, November 4, 2013

49. The City of Churches

I found Paris to be - amongst other things - a city of beautiful churches. And the most beautiful weren't even on the tourist map. Wandering the streets, quite often I would happen onto a old neglected church - the doors were always open - and sneaking inside I would find a treasure trove of marble and gold and timber and stone - all left unattended - and in many cases I would have the building to myself to explore and ogle.
Of course there was Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur and a couple of others - but they were packed with tourists and - in my opinion - lacked the beauty and serenity of the deserted churches.
Here are a few of the many that I discovered ...
L'église de la Madeleine - a church with a very checked history ... Originally the site belonged to the Jewish community of Paris, until 1182 that is, when the RC church seized the synagogue that stood on the site and consecrated it a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene !!!!
Then came the Revolution and the State seized the building and designed a temple to the glory of Napoleon's army.
The later on the RC church took back procession ... and it is now an active parish church and - so I hear – the site for the more fashionable Parisian weddings and funerals !!! …

A little story I found … After the execution of Louis XVI his body was immediately transported to the old Church of the Madeleine (demolished in 1799), since the legislation in force forbade burial of his remains beside those of his father, the Dauphin Louis de France, at Sens. Two curates who had sworn fealty to the Revolution held a short memorial service at the church. One of them, Damoureau, stated in evidence:
“ Arriving at the cemetery, I called for silence. A detachment of Gendarmes showed us the body. It was clothed in a white vest and grey silk breeches with matching stockings. We chanted Vespers and the service for the dead. In pursuance of an executive order, the body lying in its open coffin was thrown on to a bed of quicklime at the bottom of the pit and covered by one of earth, the whole being firmly and thoroughly tamped down. Louis XVI's head was placed at his feet. ”
On another night I returned to the church for a full performance of Verdi’s Requiem.
Three huge combined choirs plus the Orchestre Sinfonietta de Paris presented this most beautiful piece of music. The church was packed with a very appreciative audience and the sound of Verdi’s music in this vast interior was just superb. I floated home on the late Metro afterwards.
Another grand building - both inside and out - is The Église Saint-Augustin de Paris (Church of St. Augustine). 
It was built between 1860-1871 in an eclectic and vaguely Byzantine style. It is almost 100 metres in length, with a dome height of 80 metres, and was one of the first sizable buildings in Paris constructed about a metal frame
Next came la Saint Chappell - this is a royal medieval Gothic chapel, located in the heart of Paris. This church is famous for its 13th century stained glass windows and somewhat “over the top” wall and ceiling decorations.
Begun sometime after 1239 and consecrated in 1248, it was commissioned by King Louis IX to house his collection of Passion Relics - including Christ's Crown of Thorns - one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom.
And after that I found the Eglise de la Sainte Trinite . The church is a building of the Second Empire Period and was built between 1861 and 1867 at a cost of almost 5 million francs. 
Another beautiful church is Eglise Saint Paul Saint Louis. The first stone of the present building was laid by Louis XIII in 1627 for the Jesuits and the first mass celebrated in 1641.



But my biggest find by far was again by accident ... on my way to the Centre Pompidou – had my map upside down and end up nowhere near where I should have been, rounded a corner to be met with an interesting looking church – very uninteresting at the front as the building was undergoing some renovation works - however I decided to have a peak inside – opened the old door and woweee what a vision … leaving all the others that I have swooned over – including Notre Dame – way back at the starting post.
This is the , built between 1532 and 1632. It is situated at the entrance to Paris's ancient markets (Les Halles) and is considered a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture.
During the French Revolution the church, like most churches in Paris, was desecrated, looted, and used for a time as a barn. The church was restored after the Revolution had run its course and remains in use today. Several impressive paintings by Rubens remain in the church today.
The church is over 100m in length, and its interior is an impressive 33.45m high to the vaulting.
With 8,000 pipes, the organ is reputed to be the largest pipe organ in France, surpassing the organ Notre Dame.
Several impressive paintings by Rubens adorn the church walls ...
These “insignificant” tourist sights are extraordinary – they don’t draw the tourists and yet they are just magnificent … there were just a handful of other tourists there taking pics + a couple of faithful at prayer – including one old dear sitting in one of the side chapels with all her shopping bags – including the proverbial loaf – and listing to her transistor radio to what I could only imagine to be a Paris talk-back program ( Jac de Laws maybe ) … so I had the place practically to myself – no security checks to get in, no guards, no entrance fee, no crowds – and yet beauty beyond the more promoted sites.
On my last night in Paris I returned to Saint Eustache to listen to an organ recital by Zuzana Magdalena Maria Mausen-Ferjenčíková ( and try repeating that after a couple of wines ...) from Bratislava. She is quite tiny in stature but boy-oh-boy did she thump that machine into shape !!!. The program was compositions by contemporary German composer Jean Guillon.
The grand organ is now played on a state of the arts keyboard situated on ground level - but the sound coming out of those pipes way up high was magnificent and a fitting finale for my stay in Paris. 

One more small museum to show you then we leave Paris behind ...