Streets and Stories: Rue Saint-Sulpice in Saint Germain-des-Près

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Streets and Stories: Rue Saint-Sulpice in Saint Germain-des-Près
You know what is the best thing about each and every street in Paris? No matter how short, even if it’s just a block, it holds a story waiting to be discovered. The Rue Saint-Sulpice in Saint-Germain-des-Près may have been named for the church that runs alongside it, but it has its own rather racy secrets of its own. At just over 950 feet long, stretching from the heart of Odéon to the Place Saint-Sulpice, the ancient street was once swallowed up by the 16th century church, abbey and cemetery. The original church was built during the 13th century and was added onto for more than 350 years. With the nearby Abbaye de Saint-Germain-des-Près, the entire area was dedicated to the faithful and left little room for anything else. In 1641, catholic priest Jean-Jacques Olier heard that the church was falling into disrepair and came to Paris to reform the church and create a seminary. The ancient church was demolished and in 1646, Anne of Austria laid the cornerstone of what would be one of the most stunning churches in Paris. She was the wife of Louis XIII and mother of Louis XIV; the young Sun King was only four years old at the time of his father’s death. Crowned King but too young to serve, his mother was named Queen Regent. To keep herself in the favor of the country, she spent a lot of time visiting churches and religious sites. Being asked to lay the first stone was just what she needed to ingratiate herself with the people. Today the second largest church in Paris after Notre-Dame cathedral, it is the site for the many religious holidays that once took place in Notre Dame de Paris and even the national funeral of Jacques Chirac. While the outside with its mismatched towers didn’t attract much praise from the writers that frequented the district, the beautiful inside will convert even the most cynical tourists. As soon as you enter, in the Chapelle des Saints-Anges you will discover three frescos by Eugène Delacroix: Heliodorus Driven from the Temple, Jacob Wrestling the Angel, and above your head, Saint Michael Slaying the Dragon. Spending eight years on these paintings towards the end of his life, he would walk over everyday from his nearby home on Rue de Furstemberg until they were completed in 1861. Telling a friend in a letter that the project might kill him, he would live just under two years more before taking his last breath. The frescoes are stunning but the treasures of Saint Sulpice do not end there. Near the entrance, against two pillars at the end of the nave, are two holy water fonts, topped with a large shells. But these aren’t just any old shells. This pair was given to François I, King of France from 1515 to 1547, by the Republic of Venice. They were kept within the Crown treasures until 1745 when Louis XV gave them to Jean-Baptiste Languet de Gergy, the parish priest of Saint Sulpice. In 1774, French sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle would create a base for each of the Conchata Imbricata shells that would keep the maritime theme. Sea life can be seen carved on the marble base that hold up these exquisite shells. Luckily they were removed in 1793 during the French Revolution and survived the destruction that was seen all over Paris. Since 1802, they have stood at the entrance of the nave. There are so many great treasures in Paris hidden behind glass, but these two dating back more than 450 years are right there for you to reach out and touch. (And you can even get a spiritual cleansing at the same time.) Just outside the door on the Place Saint-Sulpice it is hard to miss the large fountain surrounded by the “angriest lions in Paris” as Ernest Hemingway called them. The Fontaine of the Four Cardinals by Louis Visconti was built in 1843 and on a sunny day the sun sparkles off the water making the surrounding benches one of the best seats in Paris. Visconti created the fountain with four statues of French bishops, none of which became Cardinals, but let’s not nitpick, shall we? Hemingway would sit at the nearby Café de la Mairie after walking a short distance from his home on Rue Férou with second wife Pauline Pfeiffer. With notebook in hand he would sit on the terrace overlooking Saint-Sulpice and note the pigeons that would spend their morning sitting on the bishops’ heads before moving down to the angry lions that clearly didn’t scare them. The Café de la Mairie with its prime location is a wonderful spot for a coffee in the morning and even better for the late afternoon glass of wine on a sunny day. While it is just a few blocks from Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore, on any given day you could have found one of the many expatriate writers that called the area their home. Besides Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Samuel Beckett and William Faulkner would all count the Café de la Mairie as one of their favorites. In 1951 Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus had been working on Combat, the radical…

Lead photo credit : Rue Saint-Sulpice. Image credit: Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)

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Claudine Hemingway had a deep love of Paris instilled in her at an early age from her beloved grandparents. Following in their footsteps, she is happiest strolling the historic cobblestones soaking in the architecture, art and history. Highly sought after to plan your Parisian adventure that ventures off the beaten path and digs deeper into the historic and secret Paris. Contact her at [email protected] to plan your trip. You can follow her adventure and daily Paris history lesson on Instagram @claudinebleublonderouge


  • Elizabeth
    2020-01-11 15:52:58
    Interesting albeit one of the worst-written pieces I've seen on Bonjour Paris. What is a "hamman" at No. 15????