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going to the chapel at saint-étienne-du-mont

. . . I walked on in the rain. I walked down past the Lycée Henri Quatre and the ancient church of St.-Étienne-du-Mont and the windswept Place du Panthéon and cut in for shelter to the right and finally came out on the lee side of the Boulevard St.-Michel and worked on down it past the Cluny and the Boulevard St.-Germain until I came to a good café that I knew on the Place St.-Michel.  —Ernest Hemingway,  A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition.

I have been going to church lately.  I have not chosen to go on a Sunday.  It has been in the morning during the week, before lunch, or sometimes after lunch and I am walking after having eaten well.

When tourists visit Paris for the first time, they will visit a church.  Often, it will be Notre-Dame de Paris or Sacré-Coeur on the hill in Montmartre or both.

When I enter a cathedral, I look specifically for particular features: the stained glass windows, the chaire, the confessional booths, the nave, the organ, and the chapels.  I admire the architectural features as well, but the afore-mentioned features—several of them—are often more accessible; they can be appreciated up close.

Notice that I wrote “cathedral” instead of “church.”  Notre-Dame de Paris and Sacré-Coeur are examples of Roman Catholic cathedrals.

Churches with the function of “cathedral” are usually specific to those Christian denominations with an episcopal hierarchy, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and some Lutheran and Methodist churches.

I discovered the cathedral Saint-Etienne-du-Mont some years ago.  I had often seen it while walking by the Panthéon on my way to rue Mouffetard or to a favorite bistro à vin, Les Pipos.  I learned that the cathedral had a cemetery with some notable persons buried there, among them Jean-Paul Marat, the French Revolution rabble rouser and pamphleteer.  (Today, he would be celebrated for his savage tweets.)

I went to the cathedral in order to walk the cemetery.  However, I learned that it has not existed for a long time, and many who had been buried there were long gone, including Marat.  During the search for Marat, I noticed the cathedral.

While I think of a cathedral, Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, for example, as a tourist destination, it is a place of worship.  It is the seat of a bishop, who leads a diocese.  It is therefore a crucial place of worship for Catholics, who gather there to attend daily Masses or to participate in the main liturgical celebrations of the Christian calendar.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Often the center of the cathedral will have three aisles, one through the center, or nave, the primary area of public observance of the Mass, and aisles to the left and right which allow access to the small chapels.  The outside aisles are separated from the nave by pillars.  One can have a sense of walking through an arcade.

The small chapels are one of my favorite features.  They are small churches along the edges of the cathedral that permit more private prayer and meditation.  Sometimes they are funded by a private party who can sometimes decorate it.

The chapels in Saint John’s Co-Cathedral in Valetta, Malta are superb examples of private sponsorship and decoration.  A chapel in Saint-Sulpice in Paris has a painting by Delacroix.

One of the most striking features of a cathedral will be its stained glass windows.  The stained glass windows in Saint-Etienne-du-Mont “covers the period from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the first quarter of the seventeenth century,” and almost all the windows are in their original location.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

The cloître du charnier, the former cemetery that I mentioned earlier, contains some stained glass that is immediate and close up.  They were designed at the beginning of the seventeenth century.  Half of the initial 24 still remain.  

It difficult not to look up when entering a cathedral.  Saint-Etienne-du-Mont is not an exception.  One day I will spend some time and learn how they are built and what each part is called.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

The organ in Saint-Etienne-du-Mont is wonderful.  The organ case is the oldest in Paris and still in its original state.  It was assembled and carved in 1631 by Jehan Buron.  Only some of the 7,000 pipes are visible.

The organ itself was badly damaged in a fire in 1760 and was rebuilt several times through the years.

Another favorite feature of a cathedral is the chaire, or pulpit, which is often situated to the side in the nave.  In some cathedrals they are extra-ordinary in design.

[Dans une église, un temple] Tribune généralement surmontée d’un dais, d’où un prêtre, un pasteur fait des lectures, parle aux fidèles. Chaire évangélique; chaire à prêcher.  —Dictionnaire TLFI

The chaire in Saint-Etienne-du-Mont is superb.  It was carved in 1651 by Lestocard who based it on some drawings by La Hire.  It represents Samson and seven feminine figures which symbolize “cardinal and theological virtues.”  Around the pulpit are panels that tell the story of Saint Stephen.

Note:  Stand outside the cathedral and face it.  Walk to the left corner.  Slightly around it, which will be on the north side, are some steps leading to a side entrance.  Woody Allen used these steps in the movie Midnight in Paris.  Gil sits on them before the yellow Peugeot Landaulet approaches on the rue de la Montagne-Saint-Geneviève.  He gets in and is transported back to the 1920’s.

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