Tag Archives: St Martin de Tours

Paris Wanderlust: The Prettiest Church in Paris

The Prettiest Church in Paris

Years ago, a couple lent me their apartment in Paris for six weeks. During my sojourn, I crammed in as many museums, parks, and architecture as I could.

When I saw the couple afterward, the wife asked me which church in Paris I thought was the prettiest. I couldn’t answer! At that time, churches didn’t interest me as much as the Picasso Museum or Art Nouveau architecture.

Now I have an answer for her: St-Séverin is the prettiest church in Paris. Specifically, its grove of “palm tree” columns behind the altar, against a backdrop of contemporary stained glass.

Eglise St-Séverin: From Gothic to Flamboyant Gothic

Of the 13th-century Gothic incarnation of St-Séverin, only the bell tower and the first part of the nave survived. Atop the bell tower sits a lantern, whose light could be seen from the Seine.

A fire broke out in St-St-Séverin in 1448 during the Hundred Years War, and most of the church was destroyed. The Gothic church was rebuilt in the new Flamboyant style of Late Gothic architecture. The entrance gained a large rose window, which puts the flame in Flamboyant.

Only the upper half of the rose window is visible (St-Séverin’s “hidden treasure”), as the lower half is obscured by the organ pipes. Below: the vaulted ceiling of St-Séverin, looking west toward the organ and rose window.

In the new nave, the Flamboyant Gothic style is evident in the flame-like and curvilinear shapes in the window and arch tracery.

Detail: a double lancet window in the triforium displays delicate tracery in the shapes of trefoils and flames.

Below, the semi-circular apse with 14th-century stained glass, double ambulatory (aisles) and twisted column behind the altar:

14th-century stained glass

The top portion displays the flame-like and curved shapes characteristic of the Flamboyant Gothic:

“Palm trees” and modern stained glass

Like a grove of palm trees, columns in the double ambulatory of the apse splay into a complex interplay of vault ribs. The use of star-burst decorative ribbing is also characteristic of the Flamboyant Gothic.

That torqued column is genius.

The apse features modern stained-glass windows (1970) by Jean René Bazaine.

The organ and its cabinet

St-Séverin’s 1748 organ is housed in a fine carved wood cabinet. I hear that French Baroque music sounds really good on it . . .

Bits & bobs

Inside St-Séverin, a medieval well has survived, its water illuminated and glassed over.

Before encountering the relief below, I hadn’t ever seen a depiction of the circumcision of Jesus. Seems like I’d remember. Interestingly, a Catholic bishop performs the honors of the mohel. The monkish figure upper right appears green around the gills.

Gargoyles of St-Séverin:

Tour St-Jacques

Tour St-Jacques sticks out like a flamboyant thumb. Once part of an early 16th-century Flamboyant Gothic church, the bell tower is the only structure to have survived the French Revolution.

The church was called St-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie (St James of the Butchers) because its main patrons were the butchers selling at the nearby market (now Les Halles).

Below, the elaborate tracery of the bell tower screams Flamboyant:

Next: Medieval Paris, from Castles to Hostels

Camille Martin