Paris - Ile De France Section

Saint Louis en l'Isle Church - Ile Saint-Louis

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Saint-Louis-en-l'Isle, the parish church of the affluent Ile Saint-Louis

Saint Louis en l'Isle Church was built in 1623, but soon proved too small for the increasing population of the Ile Saint-Louis.

Demolition began in 1642 and the architect Francois Le Vau drew up the plans for the new church. However, the foundations were not started before 1645 because of the lack of funds.

The Archbishop of Paris eventually laid the first stone on October 1, 1664 and Le Duc took over in 1676 after the death of Le Vau.

The altar was dedicated on August 20, 1679 but a section of the 'old' church was kept during the works for the services; the roof collapsed in 1701 during a violent storm.

The architects Bullet and Doucet respectively took over after the death of Le Duc in 1702.

The nave, started that same year, was completed in 1723 and the transept and the dome 2 years later.

Saint Louis en l'Isle Church dedicated to King Louis IX

John Caulet, the Archbishop of Grenoble, consecrated the church under the name of Saint Louis en l’Isle on July 14, 1726.

It is indeed dedicated to Louis IX, who was canonised in 1297 under the name of Saint Louis of France.

The king was indeed known for his virtues and extreme piety. It is said that in 1269 he retreated on the Ile aux Vaches (the future Ile Saint-Louis) to pray and meditate before embarking for the 8th Crusade.

He died of the plague off the shores of Carthage (Tunis). Saint Louis en l'Isle Church is therefore twined with the Cathedral of Carthage.

Saint Louis en l'Isle Church post Revolution

The church was closed during the French Revolution, the furniture looted, the statues broken and the metal objects melted.

However, the revolutionaries spared the statues of Sainte-Geneviève (the patron saint of Paris) and the Virgin Mary.

They even transposed them into representations of Liberté et Egalité - Freedom and Equality!

The Church was sold as national property in 1798 but a parishioner acquired it and left the former parish priest celebrate religious services in secret.

Pope Pius VII celebrated a Mass in Saint Louis en l’Isle Church on March 10, 1805, while in Paris for the coronation of Napoleon I.

The walls were covered with Gobelin tapestries to conceal the damage committed during the Revolution! A slab placed behind the altar commemorates the event.

The City of Paris bought the church in 1817 and the old priest officiated until 1821.

A wealth of Baroque decoration

Saint Louis en l'Isle's exterior is not especially attractive.

Its 30m high bell tower replaces the original tower struck by lightning in 1740. Its round-shaped openings allow it to withstand the strong drafts that often blow along the river Seine.

The only elegant feature is the clock that adorns it!

The interior, on the other hand, is quite amazing.

Louis Auguste Napoleon Bossuet, the nephew of the bishop of Meaux, became priest of Saint Louis en l'Isle Church in 1864.

He spent much of his fortune funding the church's lavish Baroque decoration.

Bossuet indeed acquired many paintings and sculptures recovered from the churches closed or pulled down at the Revolution.

These paintings include superb woodwork and gold work and a 14th century alabaster low relief depicting the Birth of the Virgin Mary.

One of his finest acquisitions was a superb embroidery from the Abbaye de Longchamp. The abbey, founded by the sister of King Saint-Louis, was destroyed at the Revolution.

He also purchased the 8 small paintings on wood that adorn the Chapelle des Fonts Baptismaux. Created in the 16th century, they represent the Life of Christ.

The most sought after of these paintings on wood is the icon of Notre-Dame du Secours Perpétuel.

It depicts the Christ in the arms of the Virgin and Notre-Dame watching the archangels Gabriel and Michael who hold the instruments of the Passion.

The City of Paris financed some of the chapel's stained-glass windows and commissioned Bernard Aubertin with the creation of the magnificent Baroque organ.

This instrument turns Saint Louis en l'Isle Church in one of the most renowned venues of Sacred Music in the capital.

Saint Louis en l'Isle Church's prestigious parishioners

The prestigious parish church has always attracted the rich and famous.

Jean Racine baptized his son in 1678; the architects Champaigne (who contributed to the decoration and was buried in the church) and Le Vau (the architect of Versailles) were married there.

Later in history, Madame Curie and the late president Georges Pompidou , who both lived on the island, worshiped in Saint-Louis-en-l'Isle.

Saint Louis en l'Isle Church was listed Historical Monument on May 20, 1915.

Directions: 4th district
Metro: Cité on Line 4 or Sully-Morland and Pont-Marie on Line 7
Coordinates Saint Louis en l'Isle Church: Lat 48.851317 - Long 2.357686

Tip: The Ile Saint-Louis is linked to the Ile de la Cité, so both can be visited at once.

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