I updated this tip just to say that I entirely agree with the opinion of Cathy Reichhardt. In French we use the word "art Sulpicien" as a definition of bad religious art.
Some like St Sulpice church, others not.
In France when one speaks about "art Sulpicien" it has often a pejorative meaning.
That's also what I felt after a second visit. The interior of the church is not really a highlight of religious art. I don't know what to say about the "Chapelle de la Vierge" from the 18th, maybe I better say nothing; it's so typically "Sulpicien".
But let's look in the other direction where one sees one of the world's finest and most famous organs, constructed by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1862. He used many materials from the church's earlier French Classical organ built by Clicquot in 1781. The sound and musical effects with five manual keyboards of this instrument are almost unparalleled.
Presently the church is most known for references in popular culture. Dan Brown was mostly wrong with the Priory of Sion. After all the Da Vinci Code is a novel. Better as what concerns the literary value are the novels of the French writers like H. Balzac with " Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes" or J.K. Huysmans with "Là-bas".
Finally I prefer the outside with the original architecture of the two towers (one hidden by works) and the beautiful fountain from 1847 by Louis Visconti
The monumental fountain of St Sulpice is of imposing size, 12 m high.
The three lower basins have an octagonal form. The second is decorated with four lions holding between their legs the arms of Paris. From the third water flows in the two lower basins through a nice system of waterfalls.
Above the basins stands a square construction with four niches for large statues of bishops which under King Louis XIV were famous as preachers. Two of them Bossuet and Fénélon are still in the memories of those who like me had to study their works at secondary school. Yes in those times we would read Bossuet and Fénélon at school and have fun at home reading Balzac!
These nostalgic souvenirs just to say that this fountain is really beautiful, actually better than what can be seen inside the St Sulpice church.
Saint-Sulpice is the second largest church in Paris after Notre-Dame. Its construction began in 1646 but it took over a century to complete it. The result is impressive: the church is 113 meters long, slightly darker than other churches in Paris. When we came in the organist was playing something that could have become the soundtrack to a Dracula movie - the effect was rather spectacular and I walked through the church in silence with my ears and eyes wide open, hair standing on end!
I was relieved to see that the church wasn't too crowded on the day we were there. Saint-Sulpice is one of the Parisian locations mentioned in Dan Brown's best-seller "The Da Vinci Code", and since then many tourists have come to Saint-Sulpice looking for the "Rose Line" and the obelisk mentioned in the book and featured in the movie starring Tom Hanks. But there are other more interesting features to be found in this church, including the murals painted by renowned French artist Eugene Delacroix.
Saint-Sulpice is open everyday and admission is free. In front of the church is Place Saint-Sulpice, ornated with the beautiful Four Bishops Fountain (Fontaine des Quatre-Eveques), where kids and pigeons take turn eating lunch :o)
I’d read the Da Vinci Code, albeit some time previously, but although I knew the Sainte Sulpice cathedral was relevant to the book, the details had slipped my memory. I found my way to the altar, where there was a brass line on the floor leading up to a stone column (photo 1) on the far side: ah yes, that was something to do with it. So I stood there struggling to dredge up memory, camera in hand and trying not to look too much like a tourist, when suddenly the strangest thing happened. Implausible as it may sound, this is true.
A well dressed man in a suit, tie, and gabardine overcoat, came up to me and started talking earnestly in French. When I persuaded him to slow to my comprehension speed, he told me that the brass line on the floor was put there in the 1700s, as part of a scientific experiment. He pointed to the window on the south, high above the floor (photo2) and told me of two holes through which the sunlight passes to land on brass markers at the solstices and equinoxes. He also told me that, with modern technology, it has since been shown to be accurate to within seconds. Then he walked away, speaking to nobody else and knowing I had understood his message. I looked carefully around - shades of the Da Vinci Code indeed! But those candlestick holders (photo 3) are about 1.5 metres tall and not to be waved about lightly.
Whatever the book says, the brass line is not actually on the Paris Meridian and, much as I’m sorry to disappoint you, was never called the ‘Rose Line’. But while there don’t forget to admire the interior of this enormous baroque church and to look at the marvellous organ (photo 4) – with luck, it may even be playing during your visit.
The impressive interior of Eglise Saint-Sulpice is dominated by Delacroix's work. The murals in the first chapel were painted between 1849 and 1861.
The Lady Chapel was painted under the supervision of Servandoni, while the Virgin and Child group behind the altar is by Pigalle.
Oh dear, I really don't like this church. It is the second largest church in Paris - second only to Notre Dame - but the contrast between the architectural mongrel that is St Sulphice and the serene Gothic perfection of Notre Dame is, at least in my mind, both stark and unflattering.
I spent a long time staring at St Sulphice to try and work out what architectural style to ascribe to it ... and, in desperation, consulted Wikipedia (which charitably describes it as an 'unorthodox essay', which must be architectural code for 'a dog's breakfast'). It tells me that it was designed by Giovanni Niccolò Servandoni with a "double Ionic colonnade over Roman Doric with loggias behind them unify the bases of the corner towers with the façade; this fully classicising statement was made at the height of the Rococo". That explains it then - 'Rococo' is dangerously close to 'Baroque' in my book, and I am violently allergic to both!
I also dislike the church's interior (admittedly not quite as much as the exterior) but it does, however, boast one interesting feature: a gnomon. Much though this may sound like a resident goblin, it is in fact a device for calculating the dates of Easter. This is achieved through the alignment of a sunbeam shining through a lens set into one of the windows, a brass meridian line inlaid into the floor and an obelisk at noon on winter solstice (21 December) in a manner that I don't begin to understand. If this all sounds very much like mystic symbolism in the vein of Dan Brown novels, then it will come as no surprise to know that St Sulphice is the setting for one of the early scenes in the Da Vinci Code movie, although permission was refused for filming to take place here, so the setting was recreated using CG graphics. The mere thought of that hideous architecture in combination with Tom Hanks' unfortunate mullet haircut is just too much aesthetic overload for a soul to bear!
And, finally, the million dollar question: who was St Sulphice anyway? Well, St Sulphicius (also known as Pius) was Bishop of Bourges in the 7th century.
But I really like the square on which it stands ...
P.S. Just to further endorse its 'unorthodox' credentials, you may be interested to know that the Marquis de Sade was baptised in this church.
Update (October 2011): Our resident VT organist, dnwitte, informs me that St Sulphice is the place of pilgrimage for organists visiting Paris and also has the best resident organist in the city - maybe next time I should consider visiting blindfold???
St. Sulpice is one of those saints whose biography makes him appear indeed saintly. His father opposed the idea of him entering the monastic life and required him to oversee the family farm. He spent his spare time in devotional life and service to the poor and only became a monk at the age of 40. Thus he is the patron saint of delayed vocations.
The church here was constructed in the 17th C over the ruins of an earlier 12th C building and is a magnificent example of classical church architecture. However its most recent claim to fame results from the novel ‘The DaVinci Code.’ To disavow what it calls ‘fanciful allegations in a recent best selling novel’ there is a sign on the wall - in English no less - explaining that the brass inlay in the floor was done in conjunction with the Paris Observatory and has never been called the ‘Rose-line’ and does not coincide with the meridian line in Paris. It concludes with the statement: ‘Please also note that the letters ‘P’ and ‘S’ in the small round windows at both ends of the transept refer to Peter and Sulpice, the patron saints of the church, not an imaginary ‘Priory of Sion.’
I remember Hemingways description of this square in A Moveable Feast. I recently read The Da Vinci Code in which the church played a significant role. The fountain with the four Bishops on it is stunning and the church is quite charming with its mismatched towers on the front. The streets surrounding Saint-Sulpice are full of nice shops.
Dedicated to the Archbishop of Bourges, St Sulpicius, the church was built as parish church in the 6 C and was subsequently modified.
Saint-Sulpice is dominated by its two towers, out of which the left one is taller and more decorated than the right one which was never finished.
Place St-Sulpice in front of the church has in the middle the Fontaine des Quatre Points Cardinals erected by Visconti in 1844.
This church is a key visit on the Da Vinci trail though is really worth a visit in its own right if you like art. Having read the DVC I was interested in the Rose line and other bits as described in the book but was really stunned with the fantastic sculptures and works by Delacriox. Delacroix has many amazing frescoes in the Chapelle des Anges (Chapel of the Angels). The chapel is the first on your right as you enter and is a must see in Paris.
My guide advised that work on the church began in 1646 with work on the bell towers continuing until 1780. The church has one of the world's largest organs, comprising 6,700 pipes which may give you a "so what" feeling until you see it - it's fairly impressive.
While you are here, if the need arises, you can also try to find the spot where a certain bady did a bit of digging in the DVC.
Admission is free and the place is open from 7.30am to 7.30pm every day.
St Suplice was always a fine place to visit, but is now even more firmly back on the tourist agenda due to the popularity of Dan Brown's book "The Da Vinci code".
Whilst anyone with even a very basic theological knowledge would know that it is a load of complete twaddle, this has not stopped thousands being taken in by this elaborate con. Even more were no doubt taken in by the moronic film of the same name.
Many like to visit this church, which is the venue for one of the book's central scenes. If you look in one of the transcepts there is a typed notice (not sure if it is still there) which refutes the idea that the church was formally a pagan place of worship, that the brass line running across the church is an ancient 'rose line', and the inter-linked 'PS' on the stained glass windows are not a reference to a mysterious ' Priory of Sion'. The notice can't even bring itself to mention the book by name.
Whether you have read the book or not, the church is well worth a visit if you are in the Latin Quarter area.
No, I'm not going to get into the whole DaVinci Code aspect of Saint-Sulpice. In fact I'm not even going to get into much of what is common knowledge and can be found in many sources about Saint-Sulpice. Instead, I'll relate a little story first of how we discovered Saint-Sulpice and then answer the question from the title of this tip. If you're ready let's go.
After having spent a long day walking up the steps to Sacre Coeur, walking through and around Sacre Coeur, catching the Metro to somewhere near (we thought) the Musee d' Orsay, spending 3 hours at the Musee d'Orsay and then walking through the St. Germain area some more it was almost 8:00 p.m. we were getting hungry (I guess we had skipped lunch somehow). Wandering the streets looking for one of our guidebooks recommended places we came by this fairly large structure with lights shining on it and being the tourist we were looked to see where we were on the map and guess where we were? Too late to tour we snapped a couple of pictures and then went to eat at Cafe de la Mairie (another tip).
Now the word definition and a little history lesson: In 1727 Languet de Gergy, then priest of Saint-Sulpice, requested the construction of a Gnomon. The gnomon is - ready for this - the part of a sundial that casts the shadow. Gnomon being an ancient Greek word meaning "indicator" or one that reveals. It was put in the church as part of its new construction, to help determine the time of the equinoxes and hence of Easter.
Constructed by the English clock-maker and astronomer Henry Sully, the gnomon was also used for various scientific measurements: This rational use may have protected Saint-Sulpice from being destroyed during the French Revolution where for a brief time St. Sulpice was known by the revolutionaries as the Temple of Victory.
This 17th century baroque/neoclassical beauty was a church of note long before Mr. Brown figured it into his book. Only slightly smaller than Notre Dame, it was the place of the notorious Marquis de Sade's christening and Victor Hugo's wedding. The current structure, built on the site of a former church, dates from 1646-1745 with a facade that appears strangely out of balance due to a mismatched pair of towers: one was never completed. Interior restoration in the mid 1800's repaired damage occurring during the French Revolution when it was briefly a Temple of Victory, and additional interior and exterior cleaning and repair was performed and completed in the past decade.
• One of the largest organs in the world with 6,500 pipes, 102 stops and five keyboards
• Frescos by Eugène Delacroix
• Beautiful Chapel of the Madonna designed by Florentine architect, Jean-Nicholas Servandoni, (who also designed the west facade) and sculpture of the Virgin by French artist, Jean-Baptiste Pigalle
• Gnomon: an astronomical device that operates much like a sundial, determined the exact date of Easter each year, and was employed in several other French and Italian churches. This one gained some notoriety due to its fictional role in the Da Vinci Code.
• Macabre tomb of curate Jean-Baptiste Languet de Gergy, commissioner of the gnomon, by René-Michel/Michel Ange Slodtz
The church is open daily from 7:30 AM - 7:30 PM and hosts regular organ and music recitals. This link has concert information in both French and English:
This link for background about the church itself is only in French but online translation sites can help you figure it out:
Please be respectful in dress and conduct, and do your looking about when services are not in process.
Although I actively dislike the architecture of St Sulphice church, I do find the large square on which it is located much more to my liking. It has pleasing proportions in keeping with the grandiose proportions of the church and an equally large fountain to match, making it one of Paris' more imposing squares.
The fountain is a nice piece of mid 19th century sculpture, and features a bishop at each corner (none of whom ever made it to cardinal). On a hot summer's day, the sight and sound of the water is particularly soothing, especially if you can bag a seat in the shade on one of the adjacent benches.
Living in a city that has relatively few public spaces, I really relish the way that Europeans utilise parks and squares as a place to congregate and while away their leisure time. I imagine that the square would be especially lovely in late spring, when the horse chestnut trees are in flower (apparently the 'candles' on the ones in this square are pink rather than white).
Not only was the church a great place to visit with a wonderful fountain in front, but the organ music is great. On one morning the organist played the last movement from Beethoven's 9th symphony. Later that day there was a free Bach organi concert. Featured in the DaVinci Code, it was kind of neat seeing the meridian line through the church as well as the candle sticks supposedly used by a bad buy to wack a nun. Apparently the fact they weigh several hundred pounds is cause for amusement by the priests at the Church