Saint-Sulpice is a huge, Late Baroque parish church located in the fashionable neighborhood of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. It recently became even more popular with tourists than usual thanks to its prominent role in the novel The Da Vinci Code, which is dicussed below.
History of St-Sulpice
Saint Sulpicius, the patron of the church, was a 7th-century bishop of Bourges noted for his piety and his resistance to the tyranny of the Merovingian kings.
The Church of St-Sulpice was founded by the Society of St-Sulpice to replace a small Gothic church. It was built over a century in several phases, with the various architects contributing different designs.
Construction began in 1646, was expanded on a larger scale in 1670, stalled from 1678 to 1719, then resumed under Gilles-Marie Oppenordt and was mostly complete by 1745.
The west front was designed by the Florentine architect Giovanni Servandoni until 1766. The north tower was built by Chalgrin in 1778-80, but construction was abandoned before the south tower was completed.
A wealthy and fashionable church on the Left Bank, Saint-Sulpice went on to host the christenings of none-too-devout Marquis de Sade and Charles Baudelaire as well as the wedding of author Victor Hugo.
During the Revolution, the Church of St-Sulpice was damaged and turned into a Temple of Victory. It was restored and redecorated in the 19th century with the help of Eugène Delacroix.
What to See at St-Sulpice
Known as the "Cathedral of the Rive Gauche," Saint-Sulpice is one of the largest churches in Paris. The facade is austere for a Baroque edifice and has a slightly lopsided appearance, as the south tower was never finished (the north tower rises to 73m; the south to 68m). Its Italianate design with open colonaddes looks like a cut-out from the Roman Colosseum.
In the church square, a fountain by Visconti (1844) bears sculptures of four bishops of the Louis XIV era: Fenelon, Massillon, Bossuet, and Flechier.
Inside, the main attractions of St-Sulpice are the Delacroix frescoes (1855-61) in the Chapelle des Anges (Chapel of the Angels), on the right inside the entrance. Subjects include Jacob wrestling with the angel, St. Michael defeating the devil, and Heliodorus being driven from the temple. More of the artist's work can be seen at Paris' Musée Delacroix.
Another masterpiece of St-Sulpice is Servandoni's Rococo Chapelle de la Madone (Chapel of the Madonna), with a Pigalle statue of the Virgin.
The fifth chapel contains the tomb of Curé Languet de Gergy (d.1750), who founded the world's first pediatric hospital and oversaw the completion of St-Sulpice. The tomb was designed by Michel-Ange Slodtz, who trained in Rome. Representing the Christian's defeat of death, it shows an angel yanking back the curtain of immortality.
The church's organ (1781) is one of the world's largest, with 6,588 pipes, and has been played by musicians like Marcel Dupré and Charles-Mari Widor. St-Sulpice is still known for its music today, and frequent concerts are held here. The organ was constructed by Aristide Cavaille-Coll, the case was designed by Chalgrin, and the statues were made by Clodion. It is located at the west end of the nave and provides the setting for a violent attack in The Da Vinci Code.
Da Vinci Code fans will especially be interested in the meridian line or gnomon, a narrow brass strip that the monk uses as a reference point in his quest for the Grail. Look for one end near the middle of the nave on the right side, near a stone statue with a Latin inscription. From there, it runs north across the nave and transept to an obelisk next to the statue of St. Peter.
The meridian line is a fascinating astronomical instrument of the 18th century, used to study the planets and determine the date of Easter each year. The sun's rays enter the church through a small opening in the south transept and rest on the line at various points throughout the year. On the winter solstice, the rays hit the obelisk; on the spring and autumn equinoxes, the bronze table. The obelisk bears a Latin inscription that doesn't quote Job, but describes the use of the meridian line. See below for more details provided by the church.
In The Da Vinci Code
Saint-Sulpice plays an important role in the popular novel The Da Vinci Code. In chapters 19 and 22 of the book, an albino monk-assassin named Silas pays a visit to Saint-Sulpice, based on instructions Saunière revealed to Silas at gunpoint in the Louvre. The monk searches for a keystone believed to unlock the secret of the Holy Grail.
The book goes on to explain that the original zero-longitude line passed through Paris, along this Rose Line, before being moved to Greenwich, England.
Silas follows the line to the obelisk, and gets an unpleasant surprise - the instructions were actually a well-rehearsed lie designed the guard the secret of the Grail. In the designated spot, Silas finds only a reference to a verse in the Book of Job which reads "Hitherto shalt thou go and no further." Silas attacks the sole occupant of the church, Sister Sandrine, as she attempts to phone for help.
In the wake of the popularity of The Da Vinci Code, the church of Saint-Sulpice posted the following note in English:
Well, The Da Vinci Code version makes a good story. But even the facts are not without interest, in providing an example of the cooperation of science and religion. It would not be unreasonable to expect the church was built on a pagan temple; this was a regular practice. However, it seems unlikely that the sundial, especially if known to be pagan, would have been preserved or reconstructed in the new church building.
Quick Facts on St-Sulpice
|Names:||Èglise Saint-Sulpice · Saint-Sulpice Church · St-Sulpice|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||48.850903° N, 2.334847° E|
|Lodging:||View hotels near St-Sulpice|
- Official Website of Saint-Sulpice (French only)
- Delia Gray-Durant, Blue Guide Paris, 11th ed. (London: Somerset Books, 2007), 74-76.
- Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code.
- Eglise St-Sulpice - Fodor's Paris
- A Da Vinci Code Tour - Fodors.com
- St-Sulpice - Frommer's Paris
Map of St-Sulpice, Paris
Below is a location map and aerial view of St-Sulpice. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.