Église SaintSulpice in Paris
Saint-Sulpice is a Roman Catholic church in Paris, France, on the east side of the Place Saint-Sulpice, in the Luxembourg Quarter of the VIe arrondissement. At 113 metres long, 58 metres in width and 34 metres tall, it is only slightly smaller than Notre-Dame and thus the second largest church in the city. It is dedicated to Sulpitius the Pious. During the 18th century, an elaborate gnomon, the Gnomon of Saint-Sulpice, was constructed in the church.
The present church is the second building on the site, erected over a Romanesque church originally constructed during the 13th century. Additions were made over the centuries, up to 1631. The new building was founded in 1646 by parish priest Jean-Jacques Olier (1608–1657) who had established the Society of Saint-Sulpice, a clerical congregation, and a seminary attached to the church.
Work continued for about 140 years: The church was mostly completed in 1732; the chancel is the work of Christophe Gamard, Louis Le Vau and Daniel Gittard, but the work was completed by Gilles-Marie Oppenord, a student of François Mansart, in 1714-1745.
The façade is an unorthodox essay of 1732 by Giovanni Niccolò Servandoni in which a double Ionic colonnade, Ionic order over Roman Doric with loggias behind them unify the bases of the corner towers with the façade; this fully classicising statement was made at the height of the Rococo. Its revolutionary character was recognised two decades later by the architect and teacher Jacques-François Blondel, who illustrated the elevation of the façade in his Architecture française, remarking, "The entire merit of this building lies in the architecture itself... and its greatness of scale, which opens a practically new road for our French architects." It has been modified by Jean Chalgrin and others. Large arched windows fill the vast interior with natural light. The result is a simple two-storey west front with three tiers of elegant columns. The overall harmony of the building is, some say, only marred by the mismatched two towers; one, to the neoclassical design of Jean François Chalgrin, was added shortly before the French Revolution but its matching tower was never begun, and the former tower remains.
At either side of the front door are two enormous shells given to King Francis I by the Venetian Republic. The two shells rest on rock-like bases, sculpted by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle.
Nineteenth-century redecorations to the interior, after some Revolutionary damage when Saint-Sulpice became a Temple of Victory, include the murals of Eugène Delacroix, that adorn the walls of the side chapel. The most famous of these are Jacob Wrestling with the Angel and Heliodorus Driven from the Temple. Jules Massenet set an act of Manon at fashionable Saint-Sulpice.
Another point of interest dating from the time of Saint-Sulpice serving as a Temple of Victory is a printed sign over the center door of the main entrance. One can still barely make out the printed words ‘’Le Peuple Francais Reconnoit L’Etre Suprême Et L’Immortalité de L’Âme’’, The people of France recognize the supreme being and the immortality of the soul. Further questions of interest are the fate of the frieze that this must have replaced, the persons responsible for placing this manifesto and the reasons that it has been left in place.
The Marquis de Sade and Charles Baudelaire were baptized in Saint-Sulpice (1740 and 1821, respectively), and the church also saw the marriage of Victor Hugo to Adèle Foucher (1822). Louise Élisabeth de Bourbon and Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans, grand daughters of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan are buried in the church. Louise de Lorraine, duchesse de Bouillon was buried here in 1788, wife of Charles Godefroy de La Tour d'Auvergne.
The Great Organ
The church has a long-standing tradition of talented organists that dates back to the eighteenth century (see below). In 1862, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll reconstructed and improved the existing organ built by François-Henri Clicquot. The case was designed by Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin and built by Monsieur Joudot.
Though using many materials from Clicquot's French Classical organ, it is considered to be Cavaillé-Coll's magnum opus, featuring 102 speaking stops, and is perhaps the most impressive instrument of the romantic French symphonic-organ era.
Its organists have also been renowned, starting with Nicolas Séjan in the 18th century, and continuing with Charles-Marie Widor (organist 1870-1933) and Marcel Dupré (organist 1934-1971), both great organists and composers of organ music. Thus for over a century (1870–1971), Saint-Sulpice employed only two organists, and much credit is due to these two individuals for preserving the instrument and protecting it from the ravages of changes in taste and fashion which resulted in the destruction of many of Cavaillé-Coll's other masterpieces. The current organists are titulaire Daniel Roth (since 1985) and assistant titulaire Sophie-Véronique Cauchefer-Choplin.
This impressive instrument is perhaps the summit of Cavaillé-Coll's craftmanship and genius. The sound and musical effects achieved in this instrument are almost unparalleled. Widor's compositional efforts for the organ were intended to produce orchestral and symphonic timbres, reaching the limits of the instrument's range. Albert Schweitzer, his student and collaborator-- despite initiating an "Orgelbewegung," or organ reform movement, which deplored many nineteenth-century developments-- called this organ the most beautiful in the world. More recently, Stephen Bicknell concurred, pointing out that the full ensemble of many large organs is dominated by a few powerful stops; but at S. Sulpice many ranks, each of moderate power, contribute to a sound of dazzling complexity. With five manuals— keyboards— and boasting two 32-foot stops, organists at St. Sulpice have an incredibly rich palette of sounds at their disposal.
Aside from a re-arrangement of the manual keyboards c. 1900, the installation of an electric blower and the addition of two Pedal stops upon Widor's retirement in 1934 (Principal 16' and Principal 8' donated by Societe Cavaille-Coll), the organ is maintained today almost exactly as Cavaillé-Coll left it.
In Saint-Sulpice sunday organ recitals are held on a regular basis (Auditions du Dimanche, following the High Mass, usually from 11:30 till 12:05 clock, during the subsequent mas, a visit of the organ loft possible).
List of organists
- Nicolas Pescheur ???? - 1603
- Vincent Coppeau
- Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers 1640 - 1714
- Louis-Nicolas Clérambault 1714 - 1749
- César-François Clérambault 1749 - 1761
- Evrard-Dominique Clérambault 1761 - 1772
- Claude-Étienne Luce 1772 - 1783
- Nicolas Séjan 1783 - 1819
- Louis-Nicolas Séjan 1819-1849
- Georges Schmitt 1849-1863
- Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély 1863 - 1869
- Charles-Marie Widor 1870 - 1933
- Marcel Dupré 1934 - 1971
- Jean-Jacques Grunenwald 1973 - 1982
- Daniel Roth 1985 - current
The Choir Organ
The church is also home to a fine choir organ.
"Built by Daublaine and Callinet in 1844, the Choir organ of St. Sulpice was restored and enlarged by Cavaillé-Coll in 1857 to provide the church with a strong instrument capable of accompanying the large ceremonies of the Seminary. It was again restored in 1903 by Mutin and has been preserved in that condition to the present day." - JAV Recordings
This organ allowed C.M. Widor to compose his Mass for two organs and two choirs. Combining the Great Organ with the Choir Organ, he created a beautiful example of antiphony.
In 1727 Jean-Baptiste Languet de Gergy, then priest of Saint-Sulpice, requested the construction of a gnomon in the church as part of its new construction, to help him determine the time of the equinoxes and hence of Easter. A meridian line of brass was inlaid across the floor and ascending a white marble obelisk, nearly eleven metres high, at the top of which is a sphere surmounted by a cross. The obelisk is dated 1743.
In the south transept window a small opening with a lens was set up, so that a ray of sunlight shines onto the brass line. At noon on the winter solstice (21 December), the ray of light touches the brass line on the obelisk. At noon on the equinoxes (21 March and 21 September), the ray touches an oval plate of copper in the floor near the altar.
Constructed by the English clock-maker and astronomer Henry Sully, the gnomon was also used for various scientific measurements: This rational use may have protected Saint-Sulpice from being destroyed during the French Revolution.
References in popular culture
Act III, scene ii of Massenet's Manon takes place in Saint-Sulpice, where Manon convinces des Grieux to run away with her once more. Abbé Herrera from Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes by Honoré de Balzac celebrated Mass in the church and lived nearby in the rue Cassette. The fashionable public side of Saint-Sulpice inspired Joris-Karl Huysmans perversely to set action there in his 1891 novel Là-Bas, dealing with Satanism. Earlier, the ritual magician "Eliphas Levi" (born Alphonse Louis Constant) attended the seminary attached to the church, though this training had little to do with his later career. Saint-Sulpice is also one of the locations featured in Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code and the movie made from it; the background for Brown's use of this setting is explored below.
References to the church of Saint-Sulpice are found in the so-called Dossiers Secrets that were planted in the Bibliothèque Nationale in the 1960s. The documents are alleged to be records of a 900-year-old secret society called the Priory of Sion. Serious researchers have concluded that they were in fact forgeries created for the purpose of a surrealist hoax by Pierre Plantard, a French pretender to the throne. As part of the story though, Plantard alleged that the letters "P" and "S" in the stained glass windows at one end of the church's transept are a reference to the Priory of Sion. In fact, the initials SP refer to Saint Pierre and Saint Sulpice, who are the patron saints of this church.
The Dossiers Secrets also include a document titled Le Serpent Rouge - Notes sur Saint-Germain-des-Prés et de Saint-Sulpice de Paris. Here is found a series of thirteen prose poems containing allusions to the interior of Saint-Sulpice. The wording is deliberately obscure throughout, but clearly some secret is supposedly encoded in the interior of the church. The reader is told that in order to "put the scattered stones together again" (?!) one must "look for the line of the meridian while going from east to west, then looking from south to north, finally in all directions to obtain the desired solution, place yourself in front of the fourteen stones marked with a cross".
Bill Putnam and John Edwin Wood comment: "If you stand on the meridian line in Saint-Sulpice and look to the north and south you see the rose windows of the north and south transepts with the letters P and S incorporated into their designs. The fourteen stones marked with a cross are the stations of the cross." The poems also mention the goddess Isis, without ever clarifying how this deity is supposed to fit into the picture.
In Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince's The Templar Revelation (1997), Saint-Sulpice is noted as being:
This passage is probably the primary source for similar claims made in Dan Brown's 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code, an international bestseller that brought crowds of tourists to Saint-Sulpice. Some of this book's claims about the church are among the criticisms of The Da Vinci Code. Chapters 19 and 22 of the novel echo the erroneous notions that the Sulpice meridian is the same as the Paris meridian (in the novel called "the Rose Line"), that the church was built on the site of a pagan temple, and that the seminary attached to the church was unorthodox. Dan Brown further elaborates by making the brass meridian "a vestige of a pagan temple that had once stood on this very spot" (Brown, chapter 22). In actuality, the meridian line on the floor of Saint-Sulpice is not a part of the Paris meridian, which passes about 100 meters (yards) east of it, and was set in 1666. Quoting Putnam and Wood: "The meridian line in the church was installed in 1727 by the English clock maker and astronomer Henry Sully at the request of the then priest Jean-Baptiste de Gergy, so that he could fix the date of Easter".
The Da Vinci Code also alleged that the church was associated with the Priory of Sion, called a shadowy organization guarding some secret (usually taken to be that the line of Merovingian kings survives into modern times; further embellishment would make the Merovingians descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene). In Brown's novel, one villain comes to the church in search of the "keystone" revealing the location of the Holy Grail; he locates a hollow space under the floor next to the obelisk and breaks a tile to obtain the keystone, but the stone he finds turns out to be a decoy created by the Priory of Sion. In the years following the publication of the novel, tourists would sometimes be seen knocking on the floor near the obelisk, searching for hollow spaces.
This note has been on display in the church:
In 2005, the Catholic Church refused Ron Howard permission to film inside Saint-Sulpice when he was making The Da Vinci Code. The scenes set in the church that appear in the finished movie are not shot on location. According to an article in the British magazine 3D World, a computer-generated virtual set was used. Photographs taken inside the church were used to create texturemaps, but no detailed measurements were taken.
Gnomon of Saint-Sulpice
- Da Vinci Declassified, 2006 The Learning Channel video documentary
- Daniel Roth, titular organist at St. Sulpice since 1985
- Incredible photographies of the Saint-Sulpice church
- Brief History + Photo Essay of the rooftops & lost rooms of Eglise Saint Sulpice
- Further information on the St Sulpice Organ