(Saint Sulpice’s Church)
Place de Saint-Sulpice, Paris, France [ Map ]
Saint-Sulpice is the second largest church in Paris (after Notre Dame Cathedral). The building was constructed from the mid-seventeenth century on the site of an earlier Catholic church. Major restoration works have recently been completed to the exterior of the north tower and to the interior of the c. 1730 sacristy.
Some of the notable features of Saint-Sulpice include its massive neoclassical facade (Giovanni Nicolo Servandoni, 1733); the forecourt fountain (Visconti, 1844); the Great Organ (1781, rebuilt by Cavaillé-Coll in 1862); murals painted by Eugene Delacroix (c. 1861) in the Chapel of the Angels; a gnomon (1743) for astronomical measurement and observations; unusual holy water fonts in the form of sea shells sculpted by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1745-1785); and a statue of the Virgin and Child (Pigalle, c. 1761).
On 13 May 1856, the Paris bishops gave their consent to Eymard’s plan for the establishment of a Society of the Blessed Sacrament. In the presence of Bishop de Tripoli and the Superior of the Sulpician Order (Fr Joseph Carrière), Archbishop Marie-Dominique Sibour praised the proposed work and told Eymard and Raymond De Cuers: ‘As of today, you are my children’.
Eymard later dated the establishment of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation to that precise moment on 13 May 1856.
Saint-Sulpice is significant in the history of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation as the place where Eymard and De Cuers gave thanks to God as soon as they had received the bishops’ approval on 13 May 1856. Full of joy at receiving the blessing of the bishops, the two priests immediately went to Saint-Sulpice to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and to give thanks before the statue of the Virgin Mary.
A statue of the Virgin and Child by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714-1785) is located within the Lady Chapel (La chapelle de la Vierge) in the apse of the church (behind the altar and sanctuary). This work was sculpted by Pigalle during the restoration of the Lady Chapel in c. 1761 and is presumably the statue that Eymard and De Cuers’ would have visited on 13 May 1856.
Some years later, between 5-14 July 1861, Eymard preached a novena to the Sacred Heart at Saint-Sulpice. He spoke about the Eucharistic heart of Jesus, ‘of his love’ and of ‘the ingratitude of human beings’ and ‘the scarcity of faithful and devoted persons who give themselves totally to him’.
Among those who witnessed Eymard’s preaching at Saint-Sulpice in July 1861 was Marguerite Guillot. She wrote in her diary:
We went to hear him. Everywhere, he was lighting the fire of love for the Blessed Sacrament.
The church was full . . . those around us were saying: ‘He speaks well! Who is he? We never heard this kind of preaching about the Blessed Sacrament.’
Saint-Sulpice is of wider historical significance as the foundation place of the small but influential society of Catholic priests known as the Society of St Sulpice (or Sulpicians), which was established in 1641 by Jean Jacques Olier (1608-1657). Sulpicians are a unique community of priests whose mission is the teaching of other priests.
The Great Organ of Saint-Sulpice dates back to 1781 (Francois-Henri Clicquot) and was rebuilt by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1862. Recognised as one of the largest and finest instruments of its kind, the Great Organ has been associated with world-renowned musicians and organist-composers including César Franck (1822-1890) and Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921). Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) was titular organist from 1870 to 1933. Widor was succeeded by Marcel Dupré (1886-1971), who held the position from 1934 until his death in 1971.
Saint-Sulpice is also significant for its associations with other prominent historical figures, not all of whom were notable for their adherence to the teachings of Catholicism. The Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) was baptised at Saint-Sulpice in 1740, as was Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) in 1821. Victor Hugo (1802-1885), the author of Les Misérables, married Adèle Foucher at Saint-Sulpice in 1822.
St Eugene de Mazenod was a frequent visitor to Saint-Sulpice during his seminary studies between 1808 and 1811, and later as a professor at the nearby Seminary of Saint-Sulpice which until 1803 had occupied the present forecourt of the church.
In recent years, Saint-Sulpice featured prominently in the plot of Dan Brown’s bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code. The church has since attracted large numbers of Da Vinci Code tourists. Although there is no denying that Saint Sulpice enjoys a rich and colourful history, it is important to note that the central storyline in the The Da Vinci Code is fiction, not fact.
Guided tours of Saint-Sulpice are regularly offered (including in English) and can be held at other times by prior arrangement. Refer to the official site Église Saint-Sulpice for times.
The Great Organ is usually played on Sundays at the 11:00am Mass, preceded by a fifteen-minute organ prelude and followed by a demonstration of the organ by the titular organist. Refer to the official site Église Saint-Sulpice for times.
Église Saint-Sulpice : official site [French].
Splendour of St Sulpice: Restoring an Eighteenth Century Sacristy’ by Bertrand du Vignaud: World Monuments Fund [English] (PDF: 884 KB)
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll [English, also French and German]
Saint-Sulpice Great Organ: Organs of Paris website