To a large extent the history of Europe is built and carved in the stone and marbles of its churches. Visiting churches, old and new, conserved and renovated takes the visitors in the past times of the men who lived in these places and of their spiritual lives. Churches were the center of spirituality and the power, the places of gathering and the heart of the social life. From a certain point of view it is a paradox that in the country that defined better than any other in the democratic world the separation of powers between state and religion it is still the churches that seem to focus in their enclosures and than radiate outside the voices of the past and the spirit of the French history and culture. There are many such places in Paris, here are three of them we have visited in our most recent trips.

Eglise de la Madeleine is located in the very heart of Paris, but somehow we did not visit it in any of our previous trips here, maybe because it was for many year under renovation. The first projects date from the 18th century but they were interrupted by the French Revolution. Napoleon decided to build on the place a temple to the glory of its army and the classical temple design of architect Pierre-Alexandre Vignon was used after the Restauration to complete the building. Its purpose changed again, at some point it was targeted as a monument of repentence for the Revolution and of national reconciliation, until it was finally consecrated as a church dedicated to Mary-Magdalene in 1842.



I confess that I was never overwhelmed by the exterior (and now having learned more about the history I understand the reasons of the hybrid feeling the building gives) and now having visited the interior I was not enthusiastic either. The arched structure and the altar dominated by Charles Marochetti’s sculpture of Mary from Migdal lifted by the angels have charm and harmony and are the most remarkable aspects in the church. There is surprisingly little documentation about the church inside (and I had left my DK guide home), so I could not discover the tomb of Chopin.



I owe the visit to the Basilique de Saint-Denis to a friend that I met on this occasion for the first time. I know Jean for a few years from the Internet lists, I have read and written recently about his travel book in his birth region of Ardeal, and I was eager to meet him on the occasion of our trip to Paris. He was so kind to come to Paris from his Normandy place of living and we spent a very pleasant afternoon visiting this place of importance in the history of France which he also was seeing for the first time.



If England has Westminster Abbey as place or coronation and burial for most of its kings and queens, the French monarchy had historically divided the roles. Kinds were crowned in the cathedral of Reims, and most of them (all but three) were buried in the Abbey (or Royal Cathedral) of Saint-Denis, a Northern suburb of Paris. Most of the tombs were desecrated during the French revolution, but the burial monuments survived and they are a testimony in stone for the royal history of France.



Saint Denis is a patron saint of France, and the church is built on his burial place. The first church was raised by king Dagobert in the 7th century. The current structure is a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles and its building started in the 11th century. As in many other monuments of its kind in France or in the rest of Europe later constructions and renovations were added in the centuries that passed.



Liliana, Jean and myself spend a few hours walking through the church, stopping near many of the monuments, recalling and remembering the stories of the kings and queens which we had learned in school, and from the readings of the classical French historical novels. Here is for example the monument of Philippe Le Beau, the king who reigned at the beginning of the 14th century during the period which saw the end of the order of the Templars, described in Maurice Druon’s cycle Les Rois Maudits.  It is interesting that many of the statues represented the royalties lying nude.



Here is the impressing monument of Francois Ier, the king that was educated and then hosted Leonardo da Vinci, and who turned France into an European power.



Henri the IInd and Catherine de Medicis lye and pray into eternity.



Le Roi Soleil - Louis XIV has only a bust, frankly of more modest dimensions than I expected.



Here are the monuments of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette sculptured by Edme Gaulle and Pierre Petitot.



Actually they were lucky if so it can be said, as after their execution they were buried in a place that was known and when the Restoration came they were properly buried with all honors – two of the only six French royals who enjoy the privilege of having their mortal remains recognized.



The glass works in the church, many dating as far as from the 12th century are exquisite.



A few more interesting details – here are fragments from the original marble dales that covers the floor of the church.



Many statues of kings have a lion carved at their feet – symbol of force.



Many statues of queens have dogs carved at their feet, symbols of fidelity.



Here is a couple of friars reading and commenting the holy books for the enjoyment of the royals buried around them.



The third church I will write about is L’Eglise des Halles dedicated to Saint-Eustache. It is located in the center of Paris, in the area of the Halles. A chapel existed here since the end of the 12th century, and the current structure dates from the 15th and 16th century combining Gothic elements with the Renaissance style.



The first impression in the interior is the abrupt vertical dimensions, impression created by the relative small surface and the 33 meters ceiling.



There are a few remarkable paintings inside. Here is a Descent from the Cross by Luca Giordano.



The Disciples of Emaus by Rubens is considered the most valuable work in the church.



The French politician Jean-Baptiste Colbert is buried here and his funerary monument is one of the most beautiful in the church.



I also like some of the glass work, unfortunately I could not find details about it.



Outside the church in the Rene Cassin square we admired the sculpture L’Ecoute belonging to Henri de Miller. You can relate it also to the proportions of the church, here photographed from one of the sides.