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  • Writer's pictureWill von Behr, MA

A Brief History of the Saint-Eustache Church in Paris

What is Saint-Eustache?

Saint-Eustache, or the Church of St. Eustache in English, is a 16th-century Gothic church in Paris that is dedicated to the converted Roman general and revered Christian martyr, Saint Eustace.

Saint-Eustache Church

Saint-Eustache History

According to tradition, Placidus, a 2nd-century Roman General, was out hunting in pursuit of a deer when suddenly the animal turned its head towards him. Placidus was awestruck by a vision of a cross glowing between the animal’s antlers, when the voice of God instructed him to baptize both himself and his family. Following his conversion (and change of name to Eustace), a series of disastrous events befell him, including the loss of his property and seizure of his wife and children by the Romans. Although later reunited with his family, they were all subsequently condemned to death by the Emperor Hadrian for refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods, and thrown into a bronze bull lit from beneath by fire.

In the early 14th century, the parish church of Les Halles was given the relics of Saint Eustace by the abbey of Saint-Denis, and the church, unsurprisingly, was renamed in his honour. As was the case with many churches spread throughout the city, these original structures were rebuilt or expanded due to the ever-increasing populations of the surrounding area. It was in 1532 that construction on the current church began, and due to a lack of funding it took over a hundred years before it was finally consecrated.

The building’s exterior is a wonderful example of Gothic architecture, and the interior is a striking combination of Gothic plan and Renaissance decorative features. The structure also includes a Neoclassical colonnade on the west front, which you might notice is strangely inconsistent with the rest of the church. In 1655, two chapels were added to the church, however they severely undermined the structural integrity of the building and the entire façade eventually had to be rebuilt.

Saint-Eustache is closely connected to many significant historical French figures. The Sun King, Louis XIV, received his first communion in the church, whilst Madame de Pompadour (chief mistress of King Louis XV), statesman Cardinal Richelieu, and dramatist Molière were all baptized here.

There are also a number of notable artworks within the church, the best known of which is The Supper at Emmaus by Rubens, an impressive canvas depicting Christ, recently resurrected, revealing himself to two pilgrims after he blesses their bread at dinner. In the Saint Vincent de Paul Chapel you can also see The Life of Christ, a bronze triptych by New York artist Keith Haring, which was donated in 2003.

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