Paris offered us one more fierce lashing yesterday, rain gushing through gutters and gargoyles before settling down into something approximating April weather (it is in fact mid-June). Romantic songs notwithstanding, one does not go to Paris for the weather certainly not this summer anyway. Since our last few days were more or less on our own (barring a wonderful morning service at the American Cathedral – a beautiful welcoming place thanks to Dean Laird and her terrific staff and superb choir), I had time to follow my own quirky passions.
This began (the day before) with my usual Paris pilgrimage to the Cluny Museum – the best collection of medieval artifacts in Paris. Among the things I love about the Cluny (so called because it was the Paris home of the Commendatory Abbots of Cluny – who would in my opinion have been better employed tending to matters back at their Abbey in Burgundy) is that it was built to be lived in and so the exhibits seem to belong in a way they often do not in regular museums. Back in the mists of time, before Christ, there were Roman baths in this place, and very impressive ones too which one can still see. Over the centuries the building has undergone many changes. Today, standing close to the Sorbonne, it remains a superb example of blended Gothic and Renaissance domestic architecture.
Most visitors to the Cluny Continue reading Last Days in Paris
Those of you following the international news will know that this is a rough month to be in France, whether as a pilgrim or a tourist. (What is the difference? According to Phil Cousineau in his terrific book The Art of Pilgrimage, it has something to do with the difference between passing through a place and allowing a place to pass through you).
Not only has the weather been wretched, with the Seine river overflowing its banks from Paris to Rouen and beyond due to the heaviest June rainfall since the 1870s, but also because of the French Unions’ decision to stage one of their (in)famous month-long strikes – so far only go-slows – thus holding the rest of Europe’s transportation systems hostage. It’s tempting to complain! But, as usual, France manages to redeem itself Continue reading Pre-Pilgrimage Prep
Let’s get this right. The métro station at Abbesses in Montmartre is one of only three in Paris with the original glass roof. There are of course several métro stations in Paris that still have the original iron work. Thanks Chloe for the clarification!
While everyone has heard of Sacré-Cœur as “THE” Church to visit in Montmartre, few have probably taken time to check out the Church of Saint John down the hill right by the wonderful Art Nouveau Métro Station (I believe the last of the original ones in Paris).
There are no shortage of amazing churches in Paris but this one has its own unique charm – truly Art Nouveau with Continue reading Not Sacré-Cœur!
…lies a magical little neighborhood on a hill overlooking but somehow slightly apart from the great city of Paris spread out beneath it. The Pagan Romans called the place Mons Mars after their god of war, which conveniently converted into Montmartre, the Hill of the Martyr with the advent of Christianity. So long before there were windmills and vineyards on this hill, long before “commune freedom fighters” and artists moved in, long before the white wedding cake called Sacre Coeur was built (you either love it or hate it!), Montmartre was a place of pilgrimage. For it was here on top of this hill that one of France’s most notable Christian Martyrs and first Bishop of Paris Denis was beheaded by the Romans. Legend has it that he then picked up his severed head, dusted it off and proceeded to walk down the hill towards a presumably more congenial neighborhood where he laid his bones. Some 9 centuries later another great Bishop of Paris, Suger built the first great Gothic cathedral in France, Saint Denis, in his honor and where today his relics still lie along with those of many of the kings and queens of France.
But that’s only the beginning Continue reading Montmartre – Beyond the Windmills and the White Wedding Cake . . .
Far from the Madding Crowd at 65 Rue D’Orsay inside the American Church are two amazingly beautiful windows designed in the late 1920s by the great Louis Comfort Tiffany. Who knew? Well some folk obviously do but when we visited this afternoon the place was deserted. Actually it was locked but my buddy and I must have looked so woebegone since we had made a “pilgrimage” on foot all the way from the far end of the Latin Quarter to visit these windows that the guardienne took pity on us and let us in. There we spent a few wonderful Continue reading Hidden Treasures in Paris
May 30th. Joan of Arc’s saint’s day – that was yesterday and I’m sorry Joan, I forgot. To be fair it was absolutely lashing with rain in Paris and if it had been this wet in Rouen 585 years ago those bastards who sent you to the stake (unfortunately the English) would never have got that fire going. But here she is, exonerated from the charges of witchcraft (just because she beat the English) and heresy (because she claimed to have heard voices from God – and also beat the English) standing tall holding her banner emblazoned with the Cross of Lorraine in no less a place than Notre Dame de Paris. A woman of true courage and integrity born in a time when women were supposed to have neither. She was only 19.
Entering La Sainte-Chapelle (The Holy Chapel) is like stepping into a glass jewel box studded with brilliantly colored gems. This stunning wonder of 13th century architecture and artistry (consecrated in 1248) was once part of the royal palace, though today it is hidden behind a cluster of 18th century administrative buildings on the Île de la Cité in Paris.
Built by King Louis IX to house his precious collection of holy relics, the Sainte-Chapelle is itself the ultimate holy reliquary (the containers, usually made of precious metals and jewels, were designed to hold the bones of Christian saints and martyrs). In 1239, Louis (1214-1270, the only French King to be designed a saint) acquired one of the greatest of holy relics, the Crown of Thorns, allegedly worn Continue reading The Ultimate Reliquary – la Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France