The city is filled with historic churches — they make you feel like a stroll in Paris is a walk through history. In every quartier of every arrondissement the spires & towers of churches are like beacons guiding you on your promenade.
Most visitors know about the Notre Dame Cathedral and maybe even Sacre-Coeur, the big white dome on top of Montmartre. But these just scratch the surface of the fascinating & historic religious structures of Paris. We've selected a few our favorites to bring to your attention. They are all worth a visit.
The church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was once the richest in France; it's also the oldest church in Paris. The roots of the place go back to Clovis I, the first king of all the Franks, whose son Childebert built an abbey in what were then fields outside the gates of the medieval city, in about the year 550.
This was back in the days when French rulers had all the great names. None of that Nicolas or Jacques or François, but kingly monikers like Chlothar the Old, Chlodio the Longhair, and Clovis the Lazy. The abbey is long gone, replaced by the current church, parts of which dates from the 12th century.
It remains a prominent landmark today as it towers above the 6th Arrondissement. In the church you'll find the tomb of Descartes. Saint-Germain today is also the venue for the occasional classical music concert. If there is a performance while you're in Paris, it's well worth attending.
• Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 75006
This 17th-century church, very near Jardin du Luxembourg, is located on a place with a beautiful fountain. Like other Paris churches, construction took place over a long period — 140 years, to be exact — using a number of different architects. That's one of the reasons why it has its distinctive mismatched towers.
Saint-Sulpice has a number of points of fame. It contains the largest fresco painted by Delacroix – Jacob Wrestling with the Angel. Appropriately, Delacroix himself wrestled with this painting for many years before he could finally complete it. The chapel that contains the painting is immediately to your right when you walk in. It's a bit dark in there, and it's not well lit, but it's worth visiting.
The church also has a fascinating giant sundial, or gnomon, built right into the structure and casting its light on the tiled floor. The church's massive pipe organ was originally built by noted organ builder François-Henri Clicquot in 1758 and rebuilt 100 years later using the original materials.
Recently the church became famous once again as a location in the book and film The Da Vinci Code. As it turns out, the filmmakers could not obtain permission to shoot inside the church, so they created a giant replica on a sound stage.
• 2 rue Garanciere, 75006
Église Saint-Ephrem-le-Syriaque is the third church built on this site. The first one arose here around 1335, built by the Bishop of Arras, for Italian students at the nearby College of the Lombards. The college changed hands in 1677 and Irish priests built a second church on the site.
The present church was built in 1733, but ceased religious activities in 1825. It was finally purchased by the City of Paris one hundred years later and granted to the Syrian Catholic Church. Today it is also the site of many classical music concerts, and it's easy to buy tickets online.
• Rue des Carmes, 75005
L'Église Saint-Eustache is another church that took a century to build. Completed in 1632, this Gothic masterpiece was located in the midst of the famous Paris food market, Les Halles, where for centuries butchers, fishmongers, shops, restaurants, and ordinary Parisians bought their food. In fact, the church is still sometimes referred to as Saint-Eustache Les Halles.
The market is long gone, replaced now by a sort of convention center, but the church remains, as majestic as ever. The south facade is a mind-boggling example of Gothic design and engineering. The interior arches seem to touch the sky. During the French Revolution, Saint-Eustache found use as a barn and storage shed. Today it's restored to its original magnificence. Rarely, but occasionally, classical music is performed here.
• 2 rue du Jour, 75001
Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre shares a similar history with other Paris churches — construction started, stopped, and then, over the centuries, modifications were made. It was begun in about 1167 but construction halted about 70 years later. It wasn't until the mid 17th century that more work was undertaken. Some parts were demolished, a new facade was built.
The building was almost razed during the Revolutionary Period, but underwent considerable renovation in the mid-1800s. So, the church is a mix of styles and periods, including the use of materials taken from other churches.
• Rue Galande, 75005
First built in 1294, Église des Billettes also ranks among the oldest Paris churches. In 1299, Philip IV of France turned the church over to the Brothers of Notre Dame Charity Hospital and the church became a place of pilgrimage.
With money from the donations of pilgrims, the Brothers rebuilt the church in 1405 and added a monastery twenty years later. Today, only that monastery remains. The current church was built in the mid-18th century, just in time, it seems, for the French Revolution!
Though the church was sold to private individuals by the Revolutionaires, it was acquired by the City of Paris in 1808, under orders of Napoleon. At that time it was given to the Lutheran church, who still owns the building today. Most of the interior is the result of mid-19th century renovations. There are some classical music concerts performed here, especially during the holiday season and in the warmer months.
• 24 Rue des Archives, 75004
• Notre Dame Cathedral…
• La Sainte Chapelle…
• Église de la Madeleine…
• Sacre-Coeur Paris…
• Other Historic Churches…
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