AROUND SAINT-SULPICE

Jardin du Luxembourg

The Luco, as Parisians call these gardens, in reference to Mount Lucotitius, the name given by the Gallo-Romans to this part of Mount Sainte-Geneviève. Parisians are indeed strange people ... still using a Latin name for the district around the Luxembourg Gardens and ... keeping the name of the first owner – the Duke of Luxembourg – to name a palace and gardens in reality built by the Queen Marie de Medici. Well, the Luco is one of the largest gardens in Paris, with a large playground for kids and many quiet corners. It is a very nice garden for all seasons where people practise Tai Chi especially on Saturdays and Sundays.

As a child living on the right bank, on Sundays I was rather taken to theTuileries Gardens, which shape is very simple: a rectangle between the Louvre, the Seine, place de la Concorde and rue deRivoli.
It is only as a teenager that I discovered the Luxembourg gardens on a bright September afternoon.
On the north side, the Palais du Luxembourg which now serves as the home of the French Senate, and directly in front the terraced gardens and the octagonal pond.
This central axis extends to the south towards the Paris Observatory with the Jardins des Grands Explorateurs (Garden of Great Explorers).
On the west north side, the Musée du Luxembourg with its access on rue de Vaugirard.
Right next to it, the Orangerie where every September you can purchase the honey harvested by the beekeeping school in the Luxembourg gardens.

Landscape gardens with many trees and statues lead to the orchard gardens located at the south side along rue Auguste Comte.
And last, but not the least, on the north east side you will find the Medicis fountain.

There are several entrances and depending on the one you will choose, you will get a different view. Entering from the south or from the east, place Edmond Rostand, you will immediately see the palace. Entering from the west, rue Guynemer, you will reach the part with the playground for the kids, the petanque ground and the tennis courts.

I decided to enter into the garden from the southwest corner, porte Vavin, like a local or a beekeeper would do…

Going out of metro Vavin, turn right onto rue Vavin. The ones who rather take the bus can arrive rue Guynemer with bus lines 82 or 83.

Jardin du Luxembourg - Apiary

The entrance is located next to the Davioud Pavilion.  Named after the French architect who designed the Observatory fountain with the sculpture byCarpeaux,The Four Parts of the World, in the Observatory gardens (see the stroll in Montparmasse).
He also designed theBassinSoufflot,place Edmond Rostand, fromwhere many photographs captured the breathtaking view of the Pantheon through the water jet.


The apiary is on the right at the end of the path. There is a growing trend of urban beekeeping spreading in Paris with hundreds of beehives on Parisian rooftops like Opéra Garnier, producing Miel Béton( "Concrete Honey"). However, this is definitely not new here where the beekeeping school was created in 1856. The apiary and the plant nursery were destroyed during the Haussmann's works, but fortunately restored in 1872.

Let's continue on the left to go to thepetanqueground and then to the playground.

Jardin du Luxembourg - Playground

The playground for kids is a large fenced space with a lot of various modern activities. And there are also still the same games I played in my childhood like the old dual swing and a fun 19th carousel where children try to capture rings with a small stick. However, the 1889 mechanical horses are gone. I remember the fun I was riding these same horses at the Tuileries garden, and the squeaking noise of the springs under the energetic movement I was developing. I was certainly looking like a small Calamity Jane, far less classy than the hatted little girls photographed byAtget!

Jardin du Luxembourg
Mechanical horses
Atget – 1898/1900
(BnF)

Jardin du Luxembourg - Pony rides

The goat-cart rides for children were replaced a long time ago by donkey-cart rides replaced today by pony-rides. For how long ?

Goat-cart ride

Jardin du Luxembourg
Atget – entre 1898 et 1901
(Musée Carnavalet)

Jardin du Luxembourg - Landscape Gardens

Let's now go on the right, going south towards the orchard along rue AugusteComte. We follow winding lanes through a landscape garden with magnificent trees, vast green lawns and flowerbeds. All you want to do here is having a rest under a cedar tree or a giant sequoia, not far from the Baudelaire statue, which seems to whisper: There all is order and beauty, Luxury, peace, and pleasure.


Jardin du Luxembourg
Atget – 1899 / 1900
(BnF)

Jardin du Luxembourg - Orchard

We now arrive near the orchard along the lycée Montaigne. It is home to over 600 varieties of apples and pears, many very old with poetic names, all trained in complex growing styles such as espaliers, palmettes or pyramids. Since its creation in 1809, free public classes in gardening are provided.

Jardin du Luxembourg - Queens of France

Let's now walk toward the palace, leaving behind us the Jardin des Explorateurs along avenue de l'Observatoire.

We arrive on the terraces overlooking the flower beds around the basin. Around this central space, the twenty “Queens of France and Illustrious Women” as chosen by King Louis Philippe, form a little bit old fashioned round dance. To name a few, the statue of Marie de Medici, on the western side. Just after, Marguerite of Angouleme, Queen of Navarre and sister of King Francis I; she seems to pose with her left forefinger under her chin; her right arm around her waist and her right hand, holding a bouquet of daisies and resting on her left hip.

Jardin du Luxembourg – Marguerite of Angoulême
Atget -
(INHA)

Let's go down the steps toward the basin where kids are playing with sailboats.

Jardin du Luxembourg
Atget
(BnF)

Jardin du Luxembourg - Basin

Though I am associating this stroll with photos taken byAtget, other pictures come to mind. Like the ones taken by great photographers as Boubat and Brassaï, especially the ones of the garden under the snow. Like many others, they all photographed the octagonal basin; at different times, but with the same figure of a child, either leaning forward over the edge of the basin or standing, their gaze fixed on their sailing boat.

Enfants près du bassin du
jardin du Luxembourg

Atget – juin 1899
(Musée Carnavalet)

Boubat mainly photographed couples of lovers; such as the one kissing in front of a small sailboat looking ready for a trip to Kythera. These small painted and varnished sailboats have been on hire since 1881. Today of all colors and carrying the banner of a country or a pirate, they are still in vogue in the age of the tablet and video games.

Sailing boats hire – Jardin du Luxembourg
Atget - 1899
(BnF)

Let’s now go back up to the terraces and walk toward the east side of the garden.

Luxembourg Garden and Palace
Atget – June 1899
(BnF)

Jardin du Luxembourg - The Dancing Fauna

Near place Edmond Rostand, you cannot miss the light figure of the dancing fauna, perfectly balanced on one foot.

Statue in the park – Jardin du Luxembourg
Atget - 1902

Jardin du Luxembourg - Medici fountain

Let’s now walk up the alley running along rue de Médicis. On our left, the former Fontaine du Regard added to the back of the Medici Fountain. Initially the Fontaine du Regard was leaning against a wall at the corner of rue Vaugirard and was moved when rue de Rennes was created. Since then, water no longer flows from the swan’s beak.

Former Fontaine du Regard
(Medici Fountain)
Leda and the swan
Atget - 1910
(Musée Carnavalet)

We now arrive in front of the Medici fountain. We can see the giant Polyphemus, in greenish bronze, thus perfectly expressing his envy, leaning over the couple of white marble that forms the shepherd Acis and the nymph Galatea.

The fountain commissioned by Marie de Medici was originally a simple cave composed of three empty niches. When it was relocated during the construction of the Rue de Médicis, the architect Alphonse de Gisors was also working on the enlargement of the palace. He then enhanced the fountain with a new decor and brought an extremely romantic touch to the whole.

Medici Fountain - Jardin du Luxembourg
Atget - 1908
(INHA)

Jardin du Luxembourg - The Triumph of Silenus

We are now walking in front of the Palace toward rue Guynemer where we will exit from the garden and go to rue Bonaparte.
Before exiting, we can see on our left an impressive bronze statue by Jules Dalou,depicting quite a wacky scene with Silenus, adoptive father of Dyonisos.The drunkard is staggering on a donkey, crumbling under the weight of the naked and paunchy satyr. And a whole group of men, women and children is holding the god at arm's-length to prevent him from falling.

Jardin du Luxembourg
The triumph of Silenus
Atget - 1903
(BnF)

Rue Bonaparte

We now exit the garden to go to the Saint-Sulpice square by the Bonaparte Street.

We pass by the No 88, rue Bonaparte, with its listed gate, where lived Abbé Gregoire, today in the Pantheon since 1989. During the French Revolution, he pleaded to the Constituent Assembly the full equality of the Jewish rights and the abolition of slavery. We refer to him in our walk in the northern Marais where he founded the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers (Arts and Crafts Conservatory), as he wanted to improve the industry and to pass on the know-how.

Gate – 88, rue Bonaparte
Atget
(BnF)

Place Saint-Sulpice

We have now arrived at Place Saint-Sulpice. I will simply reuse the words of the writer Georges Perec who in 1974 observed the place for three days in the Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris.

There are many things in place Saint-Sulpice; for instance: a district council building, a financial building, a police station, three cafés, one of which sells tobacco and stamps, a movie theater, a church on which Le Vau, Gittard, Oppenord, Servandoni and Chalgrin have all worked, and which is dedicated to a chaplain of Clotaire II, who was bishop of Bourges from 624 to 644 and whom we celebrate on 17 January, a publisher, a funeral parlor, a travel agency, a bus stop, a tailor, a hotel, a fountain decorated with the statues of four great Christian orators (Bossuet, Fénelon, Fléchier, and Massillon), a newsstand, a seller of pious objects, a parking lot, a beauty parlor, and many other things as well.

A great number, if not the majority, of these things have been described, inventoried, photographed, talked about, or registered. My intention in the pages that follow was to describe the rest instead: that which is generally not taken note of, that which is not noticed, that which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens other than the weather, people, cars, and clouds."

(Translation : Marc Lowenthal)


Since Atget, much time has passed and since 1974, many people, cars and clouds have also passed. The tall church built in the 17th century still towers above the fountain; the administrative buildings still provide services.

Colonne Morris
Place Saint-Sulpice

Atget – 1910 / 1912
(BnF)

Newsstand Place Saint-Sulpice
Atget- 1910 / 1912
(BnF)

Of the three bistros, from which Pérec observed this very Parisian place, only one remains: the Café de la Mairie at the corner of Rue des Canettes.This is also where Antoine (Fabrice Lucchini) meets Catherine (Judith Henry) in the movie La Discrète (The Discreet). However, one may wonder whether this Italian style square could still be a place today to observe the simple daily life, so much the place has become so chic. 

Corner Place Saint-Sulpice and rue des Canettes
Atget
(Musée Carnavalet)

Before Georges Pérec, the writer Joris-Karl Huysmans also observed the square, from a wine shop at the corner of Rue du Vieux-Colombier and Rue Bonaparte, in a less systematic way though.
His character of Downstream (Avau l'eau) also watches people in their daily activities. Through the window, he can see "the corner of the Rue Saint-Sulpice,a terrible corner exposed to the winds that swept down the Rue Férou and likewise occupied by a wine-shop with a clientele of thirsty choristers. Fascinated by that part of the square, he watched passers-by clutching their hats in the wind and reeling past the big red-brown omnibuses to La Villette drawn up on the curb in front of the church. »

These omnibuses referred were the last to be in service until January 1913.

Omnibus La Villette / Saint-Sulpice
Atget – 1898
(Musée Carnavalet)

If J.K Huysmans found that with "a ray of sunshine, and the square looked delightful”, the church was for him "an abominable construction".
Time goes by and certainly tastes also change. Personally I cannot think I'll find anyone today who would have such a harsh judgment on this church. Even Parisians have a particular fondness for it.
Servandoni's antique facade remains an architecture reference, though the church is unfinished compared to the initial project. A triangular pediment was to surmount the upper portico and the towers, especially the one on the right, have not been completed.

The architect was also unable to complete a large semi circular square, due to the presence of the very first seminary close to the church. The 1754 building at n°6 of the square can provide an idea of the overall architecture he had in mind. Finally, the Fountain of the Four Bishops replaced the first seminary, finally demolished in 1808 and moved to where stands today the Public Finance building.

Saint-Sulpice fountain
Atget – 1898
(BnF)

Church of Saint-Sulpice

Near the entrance to the church, two giant clam shells serve as holy water fonts. Offered by the Republic of Venice to King Francis I, they rest on marble bases decorated with crabs, octopus, corals and starfish sculpted by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle.

Church of Saint-Sulpice
Giant clam shell offered by the Republic of Venice to King Francis I

Atget - (BnF)

Located to the right of the entrance, the chapel decorated by Eugène Delacroix is worth a visit on its own.
The three masterpieces have recently regained their colours after an extensive restoration campaign. Delacroix was commissioned by the parish of Saint-Sulpice to decorate the chapel of the Holy Angels. For this major ten-year project, completed in 1861, Delacroix set up his workshop, now quite a moving museum, near the church on rue de Furstenberg.
For each of the three in situ murals, Delacroix represented a fighting Angel.
A soldier Angel for the one on the ceiling: Saint Michael vanquishing the demon.
A fighter Angel on the left wall: Jacob wrestling with the Angel.
An avenging Angel on the right wall: Heliodorusdriven from the temple.

After having enjoyed the very subtle colours of the murals, visiting the fifth Chapel can be of a violent contrast. We can wonder if the spooky monument was made for a sinister character? Indeed, Eugène Atgetindicated on his photo that the priest denied the holy sacraments to Adrienne Lecouvreur, a great actress of the Comédie Française. She had to be furtively buried in a swamp land (today Champ de Mars). This revolted Voltaire who wrote a bitter poem:

Shall Frenchmen never know what they require,
But damn capriciously what they admire?
Must laws with manners jar? Must every mind
In France, be made by superstition blind?
Wherefore should England be the only clime
Where to think freely is not deemed a crime?


(Translation William Fleming)

The monument is all to the glory of the priest getting immortality represented by an angel pushing away death.

Saint-Sulpice – Slodtz's funerary monument of Languet de Gergy who denied funeral to Adrienne Lecouvreur in 1730

Atget
(INHA)

We are now heading towards the central nave with the majestic pulpit.

Saint–Sulpice

Pulpit offered to the church by Mr le Duc D’Aiguillon (1788)
Atget - (BnF)

Let's go now toward the north transept, where stands the celestial clock, now quite famous since Dan Brown's Da Vinci code. Indeed, the white marble obelisk with signs of zodiac and a brass ball at the top is quite intriguing and opens the door to many questions.
However, a clear notice provides scientific information. The Paris Observatory installed here this astronomical tool in 1743 to measure the position of the sun according to the time of the year. On the ground, a brass wire connects the obelisk to a bronze plate. The south transept window is pierced with a hole. The ray of the sun enters by this hole and by moving over the graduations, gives the noon hour according to the solstices and equinoxes.
The explanation seems sufficient for the Cartesian minds who can move away. Others, preferring dark secrets continue looking at the symbols in the form of fish and lizards from all angles, not sure that precisely there is no angle...

Let's go now behind the Sanctuary, where is situated the Chapel of the Virgin.
During my last visit, a Mass was given there and I could feel the place all vibrated with the fervour of the prayers.
Flooded with light, the white marble sculpture of the Virgin with Child by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle seems to float in the chapel framed by paintings by Van Loo, recently restored.

Chapel of the Virgin

Church of Saint-Sulpice
Atget
(Musée Carnavalet)

In front of a chapel nearby, my attention was drawn by several faithful with bottles getting their supply of holy water from an impressive container.


Just before the south transept, let’s enter in the sacristy, open to the public. It deserves quite a visit especially for the carved Louis XV wood panels, recently renovated.


Sacristy – Church of Saint-Sulpice
Place Saint Sulpice
Atget – Vers 1900
(Musée Carnavalet)

When leaving the church, if you are not afraid to commit the sin of gluttony, there are plenty of temptations for a sweet break in the area. Just to name a few:

- Place Saint-Sulpice, the chocolates made by Patrick Roger are to die for, he is one of the best chocolatier in Paris.

- Nearby, rue Bonaparte, PierreHermé is the pope of the macaroons,

- And further on boulevard Saint-Germain, at the end of rue Bonaparte, taste a bit of Heaven with a hot chocolate at Les Deux Magots.

Texte / Photos : Martine Combes

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