Monday, 10 December 2012

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios: "Spot The Church"

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 2 ~ "Spot The Church"

We're looking at the Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois church in the 1st arrondissement, right opposite the imposing Colonnade du Louvre, so called, I assume, because it does certainly have a lot of colonnes.

Left or right for a quick prayer?

Now this was the church frequented by the Kings of France who inhabited the Louvre, for obvious practical reasons, and as such represented a major architectural conterpoint to the aforementioned desperately symetrical columns of the Colonnade, a rather flat picture of which I'm including here (it was a grey old day!).

The perfectly symmetrical 'Colonnade du Louvre'
Anyway, that's not even half the story, as it were. Have a look at the first picture again, the one of the church. Yes, but ahah! - where exactly is the church - to the middle, the left, the right, or is everything we see here our Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois? Good question.

Back in the second half of the 19th century, the city planner and butcherer of neighbourhoods, Baron Haussmann, had a problem. A big problem. There was a desire in certain quarters to create a monumental thoroughfare from the Louvre we see above right the way to Place de la Nation, a good way past La Bastille. This would have required the demolishing of said church. Haussmann did not allow this to be done in the end, but the reasons for this were not quite as innocent as they might at first appear.

"A spire for a spire,
a roof for a roof..."

You may have heard of the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre. This was when in 1572 Catherine de Médicis, who held the real power during the reign of her son, Charles IX, massacred a few thousand protestants (her being Catholic of course). Now this event didn't do much to appease feelings between the two rival factions, and the signal for the start of the killing was the carillon ringing out from the bell tower of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois.

To the right...
Napoleon's architectural bulldog, Baron Haussmann, was protestant. He would have been seen as the one destroying such a symbolic place, and could possibly have been accused of vengeance by the Catholics, which might have sparked off a whole load more trouble.

He hesitated... and did nothing. Well, that's not quite true. What I should have told you far earlier is that what you saw in the first picture is not all the church. In fact, only the bit on the right of the tall tower is.

What he did in the end was commission a more or less symetrical building to be built as a counterbalance, as it was terribly vexing to the eye, when gazing eastward from the Louvre, to see this dreadfully lop-sided composition in front of one.

To the left...
And so we have the result: an almost but not perfect mirror reflection of the church in an imaginary line drawn between the front door of the colonnade and Nation where the sadly renounced grand avenue would have gone.

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A final quirk? Oh yes. The other building is a mairie - the 1st arrondissement's town hall, in fact, and isn't it delicious to see the civil world of the republic echoing (or aping?) the 'spiritual' realm? With the two resolutely separately by a flipping great bell tower in the middle, which we might imaging would ring out in symbolic protest if the church ever again dared to poke their finger into matters of state. And vice versa too perhaps.

There is one more difference though, apart from the suspiciously Haussmannian silhouette to the mairie on the left; the Town Hall gets a pretty flag, while the House of God has to make do with the odd headless saint or two.

* 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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