St Sulpice Church’s eclectic architecture

St Sulpice Church - Eclectic facade and mismatched towers
Eclectic facade and mismatched towers

St Sulpice is located half-way between Saint Germain des Prés Church and the Luxembourg Palace, and is the second largest church in Paris (120m high) after Notre-Dame Cathedral.

It replaces the Church of St-Sulpicius, which the abbots of Saint-Germain-des-Prés built for their labourers in the 14th century.

The Rive Gauche was then essentially rural and dotted with a handful of hamlets scattered among fields and vineyards.

The small parish church was eventually demolished in 1634 as the area developed.

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

The building’s eclectic architecture therefore reflects 140 years of on-off work, where the original plans were altered or simply dropped.

St Sulpice Church - Impressive nave
Impressive nave

That said, progress might have been slow, but the most prestigious architects of the time contributed to its construction.

Louis le Vau started the chancel in 1636. Gilles-Marie Oppenord, a student of Francois Mansard completed it in 1745.

Giovanni Servandoni built the unusual Rococo facade and its double colonnade with Doric columns and loggias on the upper section and Ionic columns on the lower level.

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

Chalgrin had just enough time though to rebuild the Neo-Classical left tower before the French Revolution broke out. 

As a result, St Sulpice Church boasts two mismatched belfries crowned with balustrades.

The Temple of Victory

The church escaped demolition and was converted into a Temple of Victory at the Revolution because of its exceptional dimensions.

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 Sulpice Church Font sculpted by Pigalle
Font sculpted by Pigalle

The best artists of the 19th century contributed to the church’s re-decoration and embellishment.

As a result, St Sulpice boasts a wealth of architectural and ornamental masterpieces.

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 rock-shaped bases for the main fonts which are made from giant shells (authentic bénitiers), a gift of the Venetian Republic to King Francois I.

Gnomon of St Sulpice and the Da Vinci Code

St Sulpice Church is also one of one of the few religious establishments that have a gnomon (the section of the sundial that casts the shadow.)

Gnomon of St Sulpice Church
Gnomon of St Sulpice Church

The clock-maker-astronomer Henry Sully built it in 1727, at the request of the priest who 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 St Sulpice Church.

However, sorry to disappoint you but this is pure fiction!

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

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

Finally, St Sulpice is also renowned for its great organ, one of the finest in France.

St Sulpice Church - Rostrum

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.

He also improved and enlarged the choir organ that was built in 1844.

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

The played when 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  CC BY-SA 3.0

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