Saint-Sulpice Church

Paris, France

Saint-Sulpice is a huge Late Baroque parish church. It recently became even more popular with tourists than usual thanks to its prominent role in the novel The Da Vinci Code.

Saint Sulpicius, the patron of the church, was a 7th-century bishop of Bourges noted for his piety and his resistance to the tyranny of the Merovingian kings. The Church of St-Sulpice was founded by the Society of St-Sulpice to replace a small Gothic church. It was built over a century in several phases, with the various architects contributing different designs.

Construction began in 1646, was expanded on a larger scale in 1670, stalled from 1678 to 1719, then resumed under Gilles-Marie Oppenordt and was mostly complete by 1745. The west front was designed by the Florentine architect Giovanni Servandoni until 1766. The north tower was built by Chalgrin in 1778-80, but construction was abandoned before the south tower was completed.

During the Revolution, the Church of St-Sulpice was damaged and turned into a Temple of Victory. It was restored and redecorated in the 19th century with the help of Eugène Delacroix.

Known as the 'Cathedral of the Rive Gauche,' Saint-Sulpice is one of the largest churches in Paris. The facade is austere for a Baroque edifice and has a slightly lopsided appearance, as the south tower was never finished. Its Italianate design with open colonaddes looks like a cut-out from the Roman Colosseum.

In the church square, a fountain by Visconti (1844) bears sculptures of four bishops of the Louis XIV era: Fenelon, Massillon, Bossuet, and Flechier.

Inside, the main attractions of St-Sulpice are the Delacroix frescoes (1855-61) in the Chapelle des Anges (Chapel of the Angels), on the right inside the entrance. Subjects include Jacob wrestling with the angel, St. Michael defeating the devil, and Heliodorus being driven from the temple. More of the artist's work can be seen at Paris' Musée Delacroix. Another masterpiece of St-Sulpice is Servandoni's Rococo Chapelle de la Madone (Chapel of the Madonna), with a Pigalle statue of the Virgin.

The church's organ (1781) is one of the world's largest, with 6,588 pipes, and has been played by musicians like Marcel Dupré and Charles-Mari Widor. St-Sulpice is still known for its music today, and frequent concerts are held here. The organ was constructed by Aristide Cavaille-Coll, the case was designed by Chalgrin, and the statues were made by Clodion. It is located at the west end of the nave and provides the setting for a violent attack in The Da Vinci Code.

Saint-Sulpice plays an important role in the popular novel The Da Vinci Code. In chapters 19 and 22 of the book, an albino monk-assassin named Silas pays a visit to Saint-Sulpice, based on instructions Saunière revealed to Silas at gunpoint in the Louvre. The monk searches for a keystone believed to unlock the secret of the Holy Grail.

Da Vinci Code fans will especially be interested in the meridian line or gnomon, a narrow brass strip that the monk uses as a reference point in his quest for the Grail. Look for one end near the middle of the nave on the right side, near a stone statue with a Latin inscription. From there, it runs north across the nave and transept to an obelisk next to the statue of St. Peter.

The meridian line is a fascinating astronomical instrument of the 18th century, used to study the planets and determine the date of Easter each year. The sun's rays enter the church through a small opening in the south transept and rest on the line at various points throughout the year. On the winter solstice, the rays hit the obelisk; on the spring and autumn equinoxes, the bronze table. The obelisk bears a Latin inscription that doesn't quote Job, but describes the use of the meridian line.

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