Tag Archives: Saint Germain l’Auxerrois

Powerwalking down to Pont Neuf – Part 3

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Last time, in Part 2, I told you about Saint Germain l’Auxerrois but the time before, in Part 1, I explained about Pont Neuf actually being the oldest bridge in Paris. After leaving Saint Germain, you turn left along the Seine to the bridge. Halfway across, there is an equestrian statue in honour of Henry IV and wonderful views on either side.  Turn right after the bridge and you’ll go past the bouquinistes selling their second-hand books and anything else they think tourists might be interested in.

A little further on, you’ll see what is probably the most unusual fire station in Paris – it’s a river boat! Paris actually has a surprising number of fire stations.  There are two in our neighbourhood alone. As soon as the weather permits, they take their fire trucks out in the street to clean them. I personally think they want to show off their uniforms as well! Last Sunday, when we were going to the market, there was a fireman standing by watching a firewoman (?) hosing down a truck – and giving instructions on how to do it, of course!

And now I have a bit of etymology for you. You might notice that the boat says “sapeurs“. Firemen in French are called “sapeurs-pompiers“. This is because in the Middle Ages, the first firemen often had to knock down (saper) the houses around the one that was burning to stop the fire from going any further.  The “pompier” bit comes from pumping water.

If you keep going, you’ll arrive at the Passerelle des Arts and can admire all the padlocks as you go past. Cross rue de Rivoli and walk through to the Place Carrée du Louvre, then left to the pyramids and right through the arcade with its wonderful plate glass windows and  view of some of the museum’s antique sculptures.

Just in front of the Conseil Constitutionnel, you’ll see a rather nondescript column with a plaque on top saying “an 2000 la méridienne verte“. This was a project promoted by Paul Chemetov to celebrate the year 2000. Trees were planted along the Paris meridian which crosses France from North to South (from Dunkirk to Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste). A big picnic was held that year on Bastille Day right along the meridian. Wish I’d known about it!

Turn right onto Place Colette, home of the Comedie Française theatre where Molière died, with its scaffolding, then through the arcade to the Buren columns. In front you’ll see a wooden building which is temporarily housing the theatre. Walk around it to the right and take a look at the exhibitions after the portico. They do have the weirdest things! But they’re often very clever, like the ones in the Pompidou Centre. A little look to see what Miss Bibi‘s up to and then I’m ready to climb the stairs to the 4th floor!



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Powerwalking to the Pont Neuf – Part 2

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Town hall, Romanesque tower, Saint Germain l'Auxerrois

It’s not that I’m doing any powerwalking at the moment. It’s too cold. Today, the temperature got up to 1.5°C and there’s sun, but it’s still a little chilly in the Tuileries Gardens and along the Seine with that Siberian wind blowing through. But I got a little side-tracked last time before I got to Saint Germain l’Auxerrois which is connected by a very tall belfry to the 1st arrondissement Town Hall that Black Cat thinks is a good wedding venue.

17th century vestry pew

It was built in the 7th century in what was to be the centre of Paris up until 12th century and was the first Christian basilica. I’m sure you know what the difference between a basilica and a cathedral is. It took me ages to understand. A basilica is simply an important church building designated by the pope as having some special spiritual, historical or architectural significance. As far as hierarchy goes, the basilica is higher up on the scale than a cathedral.


Ex-voto pillar

So the oldest surviving part of the church today is the beautiful 12th century Romanesque tower. Most of it was rebuilt in the 15th century. Because of its location, it became a favourite with the royal family after the House of Valois returned to the Louvre Palace in the 14th century. You can still hear one of the bells, called Marie, struck in 1527. I think it’s great that bells have names. We visited a very interesting bell foundry on Lake Annecy one rainy day last summer.

Moorish-style poor box

Anyway, Saint Germain l’Auxerrois has had a somewhat checkered existence. When they renovated it in the 18th century, they took out the jubé (you have to go to Saint Etienne-du-Mont in the 5th to see one now) and some of the original stained glass windows. During the Reign of Terror (7th June 1793 to 27 July 1794 when Marie Antoinette was beheaded), it was converted into a place to store fodder, a printing works, a police station and even a saltpeter works to make gunpowder. Despite several other attempts at demolition, it was eventually restored by Viollet-le-Duc, who was also responsible for renovating Notre Dame, and returned to the Catholic church in 1840.


Poor box for the curé's charities

Then about twenty years later, they started tearing down the delapidated buildings around it and threatened to demolish it again. Fortunately it was defended by Baron Haussmann who suggested drawing inspiration from the church to build a Town Hall. So they designed an identical façade with an adjoining flamboyant gothic style campanile.

One of the finest pieces inside is a monumental 16th century Flemish altarpiece in one of the northern chapels showing the passion of Christ, a gift to Louis-Philippe in the early nineteenth century. There’s another altarpiece from the north of France made of sculpted wood with painted doors in the southern ambulatory, depicting scenes from the life of Mary.

There is also a pulpit built in 1635, an organ from Sainte-Chapelle, a beautifully carved vestry pew made for Louis XIV and his family in 1684 and a wrought iron gate built in 1767. You’ll find a 13th century statue of Saint Germain d’Auxerre in the Virgin chapel and a 16th century statue of Mary the Egyptian.

Holy water font

But what I like are the ex-voto pillar with all the thank-you plaques to Marie, Notre Dame de Bonne Garde (Our Lady of Safe Custody), the Moorish-style poor box with its mosaics, the cherub holy water fonts, the curé’s poor box and the beautiful flamboyant gothic door near the sacristy.


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Powerwalking to Pont Neuf – Part 1

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Not that the Pont Neuf’s really new – in fact it’s the oldest remaining bridge in Paris – but it was new at the time so that was what it was spontaneously called. If you’ve ever been to Venice and seen the Ponte Vecchio, you’ll have an idea of what most bridges used to look like in mediaeval days. The Pont Neuf, completed in 1607 during the reign of Henri IV (which is why there’s a statue of him halfway across) was the first bridge not to be covered. It was recently renovated and is now nice and new again.

Anyway, I decided to go in the opposite direction today, starting with the Galérie des Proues (as in prow ergo all the anchors) which is the only remaining part of Richelieu’s palace which is how the Palais Royal all started. Then past the Buren columns and Arago’s meridian plaque, across Rue de Rivoli and through the first part of the Louvre until I reached the glass pyramids which are stunning on a sunny day. Down to the left and into the Place Carrée with another fountain. Right towards the river, opposite the Pont des Arts where they have the padlocks and left down towards the Hôtel de Ville.

I think everyone’s heard the jokes about tourists mistaking the town hall (Hôtel de Ville) for a place to stay, but Actor Brother, who’s a country boy at heart, went one better. It was his first time in France and he’d rented a car and headed south (with his 12-year old son sitting in the back chanting his mantra “Dad, right is right, left is wrong”). It was getting late and he couldn’t find a hotel. Being Australian, he was expecting to see a motel appear at any time. Finally, he saw a big sign, “Hôtel de Police”. He headed off the highway, followed the directions and found himself in front of an unlikely looking building but, you know, it was France, and you could expect anything.

As he walked in, with his son close behind him, he realised something was wrong. “Euh, un hôtel?” he said in his basic French. The gendarme looked at him rather blankly but fortunately, a very helpful lady realised what was wrong and directed him to a more suitable place to spend the night than in the police lock-up!

But the one I was walking towards is not the “mega hôtel de ville” as Leonardo so aptly used to call the palatial building opposite Notre Dame that is home to the Mayor of Paris, but the town hall for the 1st arrondissement. It’s still not bad as far as neo-renaissance buildings go. Black Cat has got her heart set on getting married there, but she’ll have to get a move on because once Relationnel retires and we move to Blois, it’ll be too late.

In France, there’s none of that getting-married-in-a-garden-or-on-the-beach business that goes on in Australia. Here, you can only get married in the town hall of the place of residence of one of the spouses (or their parents if you can claim you’re still living at home). And having a church wedding doesn’t do away with the civil ceremony either which can complicate the logistics a bit.

I was going to tell you about the church of Saint Germain l’Auxerrois next door, a favourite with Valois royal family in Renaissance times, but I got a bit distracted and I wouldn’t like leave out any of the interesting bits so it’ll have to wait for next time.

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