Sacré Coeur and other Paris churches

As I wrote after our Notre Dame visit, Paris is a city of many lovely churches. Without really planning to do so, we’ve ended up visiting several of them, just because we passed by and figured we might as well go inside.

A couple of days ago we went to Montmartre, a district on a hill in the north of Paris (18th arrondissement). It’s known for having been an artists’ neighborhood around the turn of the last century; the Moulin Rouge is near there too. But mostly I wanted to check it out because when we were searching for Paris apartments on AirBnB, many of the affordable ones turned up around Montmartre. We would have taken one of them, too, except friends told me it would be better to be more central. (I must say I’m very glad I listened to them, because I so love our current neighborhood!) But I was curious what could have been, so we took the 40-minute bus ride out to Montmartre.

I found the area slightly more stressful than where we live now: it was more crowded, and at least on some streets, there were a lot of discount-clothing stores, the kind where people mill about on the sidewalk, rummaging through bins piled high with cheap pullovers and racks displaying tacky boots and rhinestoned sandals. There were quiet streets too, with boulangeries and cafés that looked much like the ones in our district, but I don’t regret not staying in Montmartre!

The area right around the Basilique du Sacré Coeur was the craziest. I didn’t know before we went that the basilica is situated on the highest point in the city; I guess that’s why everyone goes?

Sacré Coeur Basilica seen from the bottom of the steps

{as always, mouse over images for notes, or click to enlarge}

I also didn’t know that Sacré Coeur is known for its aggressive “bracelet men“: guys who stand on the lower steps leading up to the basilica, who tie strings around hapless tourists’ wrists and then demand money for these bracelets. We ignored them (inured after the many touts of Istanbul!), but one of them grabbed Erik’s wrist and he had to wrench it free. It wasn’t alarming so much as annoying. Fortunately these men stayed at the bottom of the hill, so we weren’t bothered once we began climbing the steps toward the basilica.

View from near the top of the hill

Sacré Coeur Basilica

Looking up outside the entrance to Sacré Coeur Basilica

There was no photography allowed inside the church, nor talking; ushers needed to vigorously enforce both rules, as many visitors ignored the signs. We walked around the basilica with a totally silent group of French schoolchildren in front of us, and a couple of noisy American teenagers behind us!

On Wikipedia you can see one photo of the grand mosaics on the inside of the church — the mosaics and the domed ceilings reminded me of the Chora church and the Aya Sofya in Istanbul. Byzantine influence, I think it is.

Sacré Coeur Basilica from another angle

Today we went out for a walk and ended up at Saint-Sulpice, the second-largest church in the city after Notre Dame. (Once again, I didn’t know this when we visited; I found out afterward, on Wikipedia!) Apparently the church also plays a role in The Da Vinci Code.


As we walked around this fountain to get to the entrance, I remarked, “I think this is the most impressive fountain I have ever seen!” See how big it is, and how tall?

Man looking at the fountain outside Saint-Sulpice

 Inside, the church was pleasantly quiet and not too crowded.

Inside Saint-Sulpice

A chapel with candles inside Saint-Sulpice

Vaulted ceilings inside Saint-Sulpice

There were some homeless-looking men outside the main doors, and a few inside too. I felt rather glad about this, thinking it means the church offers support and sanctuary to needy members of the community. There was a poor box near the main door, into which I dropped all my coins before leaving. (In retrospect I should have put a bill, too, but it didn’t occur to me; somehow in my mind those slots are for coins only.)

Columns outside the entrance to Saint-Sulpice

Here’s one more view of that fountain outside Saint-Sulpice, taken from the front doors of the church.

Place de Saint-Sulpice with fountain

Later, wandering around the 7th arrondissement after sunset, we happened upon the imposing face of the Basilique Sainte-Clotilde.

Sainte-Clotilde Basilica at night

Sainte-Clotilde Basilica at night

The grassy square in front of it was closed, so we thought the basilica was too, until we saw a sign saying it wasn’t. We went inside and found ourselves completely alone.

Vaulted ceilings inside Sainte-Clotilde Basilica

Wall relief inside Sainte-Clotilde Basilica

Vaulted ceilings inside Sainte-Clotilde Basilica

We didn’t stay long, but the peace and silence were refreshing. When we emerged I felt as rested as if I’d had a ten-minute sit-down.

Happy early Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it! Tomorrow Erik and I will spend our holiday exploring Versailles. 🙂 It’s an hour outside of the city, so I don’t know if I’ll have time to post after we get back, but if not — I’ll see you on Friday.