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  • Writer's pictureTer Hollmann

History of Église Saint-Sulpice (The Church of Saint-Sulpice)

What is the Église Saint-Sulpice?

Église Saint-Sulpice (The Church of Saint-Sulpice) is an Italianate Roman Catholic church with an asymmetrical façade that houses murals by Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix.

Église Saint-Sulpice

Église Saint-Sulpice History

One of the most striking things about the Église Saint-Sulpice is the fact that the two towers on the west façade are asymmetrical. Florentine architect Giovanni Servandoni won a competition to build the façade in 1732, but when he died 34 years later, it remained incomplete. In 1778, Jean Chalgrin, the designer of the Arc de Triomphe, built the north tower, however its southern counterpart was still left unfinished after the eruption of the French Revolution put a stop to the work.

Église Saint-Sulpice is the second largest church in Paris after Notre Dame and has many varied claims to fame: Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables, married Adele Foucher in the church in the 19th century; the Marquis de Sade, the infamous aristocrat known for his erotic literary works, was baptized here in the 18th century; and the poet Charles Baudelaire was also baptized here in the century thereafter. However, these days it’s probably best known as a key plot point in Dan Brown’s bestselling thriller The Da Vinci Code.

Église Saint-Sulpice contains a gnomon, a device designed to cast a shadow, like a sundial, which is formed of a standing obelisk and a brass line running along the floor of the church. It was built by Herbert Sully in the 18th century at the request of the priests who wanted to be able to calculate the equinoxes and the solstices. It can also be used to calculate the exact date of Easter each year. In Brown’s novel, the monk Silas comes to the church in search of the Paris Meridian or Rose line to help him find the Holy Grail. Although fictitious, since the actual meridian line or zero longitude runs about 100 metres east of the church, tourism nonetheless increased substantially following the publication of Brown’s thriller.

The church is also adorned with murals by Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix, including the vigorous Jacob Wrestling with the Angel and Heliodorus Driven from the Temple. In the domed Chapelle de la Vierge you can also find the Virgin and Child, which was sculpted by celebrated 18th-century artist Jean-Baptiste Pigalle.

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