Churches are part of a heritage which often dates back to centuries. As a place of worship they remain a place of socializing for the worshipers. But not only for them.
For architecture lovers
Those who would look for traces of Roman art will have to make do with the tower-porch of the church Saint-Germain, with one of the towers of the church Saint-Martin-des-Champs nearby the museum Arts et Métiers and with the cloister les Oubliettes in le Marais.
In the XIIth and XIIIth centuries, more particularly under the reign of Louis XI, a pious king, many churches and hospitals are built in Paris and its surroundings. It is the triumph of Gothic architecture : Notre-Dame and the Sainte-Chapelle – built at the same epoch – are the most representative ones.
The Latin Quarter, as a result of its history, is a privileged area with a dozen of churches, most of them deserve at least a stop. They often underwent many changes such as the church Saint-Séverin with its XIIIth century portal and beautiful collection of stained-glass windows dating from the XIXth and XXth centuries. You will unavoidably pass by this church and your curiosity will take you to the ‘Tors’ pillar just behind the choir where the ribs starting from the column form a palm grove under the vaults; if you look up before going out, you will face a magnificent organ case dating from 1745. Joris-Karl Huysman devoted part of his work to Paris and the Parisian churches. He evokes Saint-Séverin in these terms : « It’s unique. There in the very intimate small corner of its choir near this tree whose trunk turns into a spiral over itself, bursts out when it touches the vault and falls down into a rain petrified with branches; the church reveals itself as being very pacifying and very gentle ». As you are heading towards Notre-Dame, you can visit as well Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre « the oldest church in Paris » and linger on its iconostasis. Converted into an barn salt during the Revolution in 1790, it will later regain a religious function. Nowadays it is dedicated to the Catholic Melkite Greek worship.
There is one that Huysman considered as being among the most beautiful churches in Paris and we draw your attention on it : it is Saint-Etienne-du-Mont. All you have to do is walk up rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève until you reach the small place named after the church. On August 2nd 1610, three months after the death of Henri IV, his first spouse Marguerite de Valois laid the first stone of this building that was rebuilt from top to bottom in the XVIth century and that beautifully represents the French art of Renaissance.
This is where lies the reliquary containing the relics of Sainte Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris who organized the resistance against the Huns in the Vth century. There too you find the tombs of Blaise Pascal and Jean Racine; and there too the mass attended by Eugène de Rastignac during the funeral of le Père Goriot (Balzac) was given. Saint-Etienne-du-Mont is the only monument in Paris to have a ‘jubé’ – a sort of gallery that separates the nave from the choir – and that is worth a visit of its own with its sculptures signed Pierre Briat who was asked by Marie de Médicis to make the two statues representing allegorical figures for the Medicis fountain in the garden of Luxembourg.
Let’s point out that in place of the present Pantheon the church Sainte-Geneviève was built between 1758 and 1790; it is the work of the architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot who drew his inspiration from the Pantheon in Rome at least for the front and the dome. The project will undergo transformations as soon as 1780, the year Soufflot died. Revisited by the spirit of the Revolution in 1791 the monument shows on its front wall « To the Great Men, the grateful homeland ». This epitaph will be suppressed then restored according to the movements of History and governments which assign to the building either a religious or a secular function. It’s only in 1885 that the church Sainte-Geneviève will definetly become the temple dedicated to its Great Men by the Republic. That year on May 22nd on the occasion of the national funeral two million people, from the Arch of Triumph to the Pantheon, followed the coffin of Victor Hugo on its way to rest alongside those of Mirabeau, Voltaire and Rousseau..
After Notre-Dame, the church Saint-Sulpice is the largest church of Paris churches, and one of the most visited since the ‘Da Vinci Code’ made it a relic of a pagan temple from the Ancient world dedicated to the goddess Isis, bringing an extra two hundred thousand visitors yearly. It is one of the most beautiful churches and you will be dazzled by the wealth of its furniture. It appears in several works of literature : in « Splendor and Misery of the Courtesans », a famous novel by Balzac. He was an inhabitant of the district Saint-Germain where many a character of « The Human Comedy » evolve.You won’t miss the frescoes of Delacroix and more particularly the one of « The fight between Jacob and the Angel » that inspired, among other writers, Anatole France for his novel « The revolt of the Angels ». The organ of the church, classified historical monument, is the biggest monument signed by Cavaillé-Coll. This is the name of a dynasty of organ builders whose name is engraved on hundred of organs in France and abroad; namely on several Paris buildings, and not the least of them : the Pantheon, Notre-Dame, La Madeleine, the church Saint-Roch. At the request of Rossini for whom he will create a small organ for an opera, Aristide (Cavaillé-Coll) comes to Paris in 1833. He wins a competition for the construction of a big organ at the royal abbey of Saint-Denis; this will bring him fame and other orders.
For music lovers of all kinds
In a letter that he wrote to his father Mozart claimed : « To my eyes and my ears organ is the king of all instruments ». Great works from the sacred repertory have been programmed in Notre-Dame for 35 years. However organ is not restricted to masses and sacred music. As a proof the XXth organ festival organized each year by the church Saint-Eustache that this past October gave us a chance to discover again « the Symphonic Dances » from Rachmaninov or the ritual dance of fire in « Wicked Love » composed by Manuel de Falla.
Do you like Brahms? Bach? Mozart? Or Vivaldi? You will easily find a concert where artists of great talent perform. You must know that la Madeleine or la Sainte-Chapelle are not the only ones to offer programs which delight music lovers of all kinds.
In this neighborhood, Saint-Séverin and Saint-Julien-Le-pauvre take up the space to advertise their musical evenings. And a stone’s throw from the Hotel Saint-Jacques, there is the small church Saint-Ephrem (heated in winter). Thanks to its remarkable acoustics you will be able to appreciate recitals given by artists who all come from the Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique de Paris.
Do not hesitate to consult the website : www.ampconcerts.com. It lists all those concerts and allows you advance booking at very reasonable prices (20 to 30 euro). Last if classical music isn’t your cup of tea, you may find what you’re looking for on www.infoconcert.com.
For an example, the Gospel Dream Ensemble performed throughout this year 2010 at ‘the artists parish’ in the church Saint-Roch, rue Saint-Honoré. It is still possible to attend one of their concerts in January 2011 at La Madeleine or at the church Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It is not rare to have Jazz as a guest for some exceptional musical moments. Following her success when she was last in Paris Liz Mc Comb was booked up again for her three concerts last December, still at the church Saint-Sulpice. The same for Rhoda Scott who very recently performed at the ‘Sunset’. It is one of the top spots in Paris for jazz. She accompanied the trombonist Sarah Morrow and the singer Jo Ann Pickens for an exceptional concert at the American church on December 20th.
Two days later the church Saint-Eustache invited us to a journey into the heart of digital, a true fairy tale during which were adapted in pixels the improvisations of a young jazzman Yaron Herman, a virtuoso pianist known to a larger audience thanks to his cover versions of pop hits from Britney Spears and Police.
And in March 2011 nearby the Centre Pompidou electronic music will be again in favor with the Ensemble Multilatérale at the church Saint-Merri that offers a ‘trash concert’. All you have to do is make your own choice..