Paris - Ile De France

St Sulpice Church - Da Vinci Code - History

This page was updated on: Thursday, June 15, 2017 at: 1:51 pm

The Church of St. Sulpicius

St Sulpice Church is located a stone's throw from Saint Germain des Prés Church.

Seven centuries ago, this enclave of the Rive Gauche was quite out-centered and rural.

Indeed, there were just a handful of hamlets scattered among fields and vineyards.

The inhabitants worked the land for the Abbey of Saint-Germain, but had to walk quite a distance to attend mass at the abbey.

The abbots therefore founded a small parish church in order to serve this little community.

They dedicated the church to St. Sulpicius, who was Bishop of Bourges in 621.

This church, enlarged and transformed over the next three centuries, was eventually demolished in 1634.

An eclectic architecture

Construction of the current St Sulpice started in 1646, but it was not completed until 1732 because of the lack of funds!

St Sulpice's architecture therefore reflects 140 years of on-off work under the direction of the most prestigious architects of the time.

Many of the original plans were abandoned or altered and it shows!

Louis le Vau started the construction of the chancel in 1636.

Gilles-Marie Oppenord, a student of Francois Mansard completed it in 1745.

Giovanni Servandoni created the unusual Rococo facade and its double colonnade.

Finally, MacLaurin then Chalgrin, the architect of the Arc de Triomphe, altered it later!

St Sulpice Church therefore boasts two mismatched belfries!

They are indeed crowned with balustrades, while Doric columns and loggias adorn the facade's upper floor colonnade, and Ionic columns the lower level!

However, this eclectic architecture was not planned.

It simply turned out that Chalgrin had just enough time to rebuild the Neo-Classical left tower before the French Revolution broke out!

The Temple of Victory

The years that followed didn't really allow for the embellishment of churches.

Many were pulled down or served as stone quarries or were simply left to fall into ruins!

Not only it's a miracle that St Sulpice Church should have been spared during this troubled period of French History, but it also endured minor damage!

In fact, it escaped destruction because of its exceptional dimensions.

St Sulpice is indeed the second largest church in Paris (120m high) after Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The revolutionaries therefore converted it into a Temple of Victory!

The only remaining trace of that conversion is a faint inscription on the entrance's interior lintel that reads:

"Le Peuple Francais Reconnoit L’Etre Suprême Et L’Immortalité de L’Âme

The people of France recognizes the supreme being and the immortality of the soul".

St Sulpice Church's wealth of art objects

St Suplice Church contains also a wealth of architectural and ornamental masterpieces.

The best artists of the 19th century indeed contributed to its re-decoration and embellishment!

Eugène Delacroix painted the lateral chapels' superb murals.

These include the superb Jacob wrestling with the Angel and Heliodorus driven from the Temple.

Jean-Baptiste Pigalle sculpted the statue of the Virgin and Child for the Chapelle de la Vierge.

He also sculpted the unusual rock-shaped bases for the fonts that frame the main entrance.

These fonts consist of two giant shells (authentic bénitiers), a gift of the Venetian Republic to King Francois I.

Gnomon of St Sulpice Church and the Da Vinci Code

St Sulpice Church is also known for being one of the few religious establishments to have a gnomon.

A gnomon is the section of the sundial that casts the shadow.

The clock-maker-astronomer Henry Sully built this gnomon in 1727, at the request of the priest of St Sulpice.

The priest indeed wanted to accurately calculate the Winter and Summer solstices and the equinoxes.

You'll find a brass line inlaid into the marble floor and on the shaft of a 11m high marble obelisk topped with a cross.

A small opening placed in the south transept window allows the sunlight to shine onto the brass line.

This line was wrongly associated with the Paris Meridian, because of the Da Vinci Code!

The Paris Meridian, or Rose Line as it is known in the book, supposedly runs through Saint Sulpice Church.

However, this is pure fiction!

You'll discover the zero longitude line of the Paris Meridan in the Parc Montsouris .

It also stands in the Observatoire de Paris (sadly the building is not open to the public anymore).

St Sulpice Church's organ, one of the finest in France

St Sulpice Church is also renowned for its organ, which is considered one of the finest in France.

The master organ-maker Francois-Henri Clicquot built it in 1776 and Chalgrin designed the case.

Aristide Cavaillé-Coll rebuilt and improved it in 1862.

However, St Sulpice Church has also a choir organ.

This second instrument, built in 1844, was improved and enlarged by Cavaillé-Coll in 1857 and restored in 1903.

The unique quality sound of the organs, and the church's unique acoustic, attracted the best organists of France.

St Sulpice Church is undoubtedly stunning, but it is also a prestigious parish church.

This is indeed where Victor Hugo was married, the writers Marquis de Sade and Charles Baudelaire baptized and Madame de Montespan and two grand daughters of King Louis XIV buried!

Finally, you can't leave St Sulpice without admiring its superb fountain.

Louis Visconti designed the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice, which is considered a masterpiece of the French Renaissance.

Directions: 6th District
Metro:  Saint-Sulpice on Line 4
Coordinates: Lat 48.850942 - Long 2.334443

Source Photo Wikimedia Commons: Gnomon by Daniele Raffo, 2006 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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