Thursday, 27 December 2012

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios: "Something Fishy Going On"

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
by Sab Will,  wannabe offbeat Paris street guru

The title says it all: quirks and curiosities. And as luck would have it, Paris is packed with them; you just have to know where to look!

In this on-going series I offer you some hand picked, photographed and commented oddities which particularly interested me, and I hope will do the same for you.

I'm an avid collector of such items so any comments and suggestions you may have would be very welcome. So, without further ado, let's get straight onto...

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
1st Arrondissement: Quirk 10 ~ "Something Fishy Going On"

How many of you will have noticed the rather curious small stone carving above an insignificant green door on the side of the Saint Eustache church?

It looks like a fish, and at a stretch a banana, the significance of which we shall see shortly.

In fact this modest entrance leads us to the Sainte-Agnès crypt and the shield harks back to the origins of the crypt and its accompanying chapel, which is no more.

Let's go back to the times of the crusades and Philippe Auguste of France, about to embark on another adventure with Richard I, king of England.

The French king was in debt to a certain Jean Alais, 13th century citizen and leader of an acting troop, who'd given him a big loan. The king's solution was to levy a small tax, in favour of his creditor, of one denier, the old French money at the time, for every basket of fish sold at Les Halles, even then a bustling market place.

This was a good move, and Jean Alais quickly made his fortune, so much so that he ended up feeling somewhat guilty about it. To make amends he constructed a chapel for the traders, in the honour of Saint Agnès.

Time went by, the place was extended and modified, but eventually demolished in the 16th century to allow construction of a new church, the splendid, if uncompleted Saint Eustache, which we can still admire today. The crypt is all that remains.

For some time the old chapel's basement was neglected and fell into a sorry state. At some point it was converted into a warehouse, as was the trend of the day.

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According to an old edition of Parigramme's 'Unexplored Paris', about twenty years ago it was used to ripen bananas! I told you I'd get to that banana reference in the end. Not that I think the stone plaque was really meant to represent the curvy yellow (or green) fruit at the time it was placed.

Exhibitions and talks are held in the crypt, during which you can admire some of the relics discovered when a priest decided to clean up the place. He found a wall constructed from bit of stonework - capitals and columns - from previous chapels dating back to the 14th, 13th and 12th centuries.

The inscription starts 'Jean Alais fecit 1213...' which mean some thing like 'Jean Alais made it' in Latin. I couldn't work out  what the rest says I'm afraid. I haven't made it to the crypt yet, but plan to do so as soon as I spot an opening - let me know if you have and if it still smells of fish (or bananas)!

* Sab Will runs Photo and Curios Tours in Paris, and also manages a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. He writes an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, runs a Meetup group for Paris lovers, interviews Paris personalities and reviews Paris books (on this blog), and even contributes to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what he gets up to out there...

© 2012 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and offers always welcome!

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