Parks Hugging Gothic Churches
Two parks at Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Saint-Germain-des-Prés is one of the oldest churches in Paris. Its medieval Romanesque tower, dating from 1000, is the oldest structure of that church.
On the grounds surrounding this church are two parks with treasures of their own.
Gothic Ruins and a Picasso: Square Laurent Prache
There’s something compelling and mysterious about ruins, like these fragments of Gothic tracery and arches in the gardens of Square Laurent Prache:
These fragments were salvaged from the destroyed abbey adjacent to Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés. During the French Revolution, the abbey was appropriated, and the monks expelled or executed. The abbey was repurposed as a factory for saltpetre, an ingredient in gunpowder. When a fire broke out, the explosion destroyed the abbey. Today, parts of the monk’s former residence rise from the garden bed next to the church.
The park is also home to Picasso’s Dora, in the likeness of his companion. Picasso dedicated the sculpture to poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had died of influenza during the 1918 pandemic, complicated by a head wound he received as an infantry officer during World War I.
For the love of ceramics: Square Félix Desruelles
The other park adjacent to the ancient church, Square Félix Desruelles, holds two treasures relating to the art of ceramics.
Sèvres showcase at the 1900 Universal Expo
The monumental and colourful ceramic wall on the edge of the park celebrates Sèvres, the national ceramics industry. Created by Sèvres for the 1900 Paris Expo, it decorated the facade of the Palais des Manufactures Nationales. When that structure was demolished, the Sèvres monument was salvaged and moved to the Square Félix Desruelles.
The detail below shows the monument’s range of colours and the depth created by the friezes and the recessed semicircle.
Statue of Bernard Palissy, polymath and artist of ceramic critters
The bronze statue below memorializes Bernard Palissy, 16th-century polymath and ceramics artist. Palissy wears a potter’s apron over his gentleman’s doublet and puffed trunk hose:
Palissy created ornate oval platters in a rustic style, decorated with life-like creatures such as lizards, moths, frogs, snakes, and crustaceans. He often took casts of dead animals to sculpt them more precisely. Below, Palissy holds one of his ceramic platters with a snake at the center:
Just as saints are depicted with “attributes” associated with their lives, Palissy is surrounded by objects symbolizing his artistry as well as his vast and varied knowledge.
Behind Palissy’s right foot lies a kiln. Next to his left foot are crystals, indicating his interest in geology, and a large mollusk shell, representing his knowledge of natural history.
The kicker about the shell? It refers to Palissy’s innovative and science-based thinking about the origin of fossils.
Palissy bows his head in sadness. An outspoken Huguenot (French Protestant), he died miserably, imprisoned in the Bastille for his religious beliefs.
Square René Viviani
(next to Église St-Julien-le-Pauvre)
This hospitable square is adjacent to Église St-Julien-le-Pauvre, the 12th-century Gothic church built around the same time as the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
Viviani Fountain, full of tenderness and sadness, speaks to the sculptor’s artistic rendering of his pain as a Holocaust survivor into figures of exquisite, transcendent emotion.
At the entrance to a shady slice of heaven with park benches stand ancient stones piled up like cairns:
These venerable old stones were removed from Notre Dame during 19th-century renovations by Viollet-le-Duc.
Next door are the gardens of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, where you can stroll by a 12th-century stone well with a wooden wheel that has aged to the color of the grey stones.
The well is accessible from both sides of its jagged wall, which appears to have been sledgehammered. French Revolution?
The locust tree below may not look like much, but it’s the oldest tree in Paris. It was planted in 1601 by the gardener of Henri IV. Its hoary old branches are propped up by planks, but its leaves appear as young as spring shoots. On display here is Paris’ veneration of arbres remarquables.
(next to Église Saint-Severin)
(next to Église Saint-Médard)
Next: New Parks on Old Rails