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Église Saint-Sulpice, named for Sulpitius (or Sulpicius) the Pious, a French bishop and saint, is an immense baroque structure–in Paris, it’s second only to Notre-Dame de Paris in size. A church has stood in this spot since the 13th century.
The current Saint-Sulpice was built in the 17th and 18th centuries–it took so long as construction was halted by a strong of civil wars as well as diminished funding. The church was barely finished before the Revolution (and the ensuing suppression of Christianity).
During the Revolutionary period, Église Saint-Sulpice was the site of celebrations for the civic religion created by Robespierre, the deistic Cult of the Supreme Being (it’s also been cited as a location for a rival sect, the atheistic Cult of Reason).
The enormous Fontaine des Orateurs-Sacré, by Louis Visconti (who also designed Napoleon’s tomb ). Featuring representations of religious orators, the fountain fronts the church, centered between its mismatched towers.
Benches are set around the fountain, so I sat for quite some time gazing about, listening to the rushing water that fell in sheets into the basin.
The church is associated with numerous significant, influential writers: Hugo was married here, and Hemingway and Faulkner worshiped here. Charles Baudelaire and (though some may argue about his value) the Marquis de Sade were baptized here.
Église Saint-Sulpice appears in literary works as diverse as Joris-Karl Huysmans’s Là-Bas (Down There), a novel that details a satanic group operating in fin de siècle Paris, Djuna Barnes’s modernist masterpiece, Nightwood, where the character of Dr. Matthew O’Conner seeks solace and companionship, gazing at the fountain and church as he wanders the streets after sunset.
The church is also associated with occult theories and hoaxes, from the Priory of Sion and its Dossiers Secrets d’Henri Lobineau (which asserted that a man named Pierre Plantard was an heir of the Merovingian dynasty) which influenced wild claims about the Knights Templar as well as the books Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and The Da Vinci Code (the movie was filmed ehre as well). The assertions made about the church in these works are, of course, fantasy. Apparently, crowds of tourists flocked to Saint-Sulpice during The Da Vinci Code craze; it’s died down considerably.
Leaving Place Saint-Sulpice, I chose to try my way Rue Bonaparte. Passing down this street, lined with clothes shops, I noted that traffic was ticking up. It was approaching time for people to go to work. I must have appeared fairly comfortable, as another American, a woman, approached me as I waited for a light to change at the intersection with Rue du Four. She asked me in French (which was about as good as my own—that is, not very) for directions. I pulled out my phone and we worked out where she was going (I don’t recall where she was headed). A few yards further and the 1000-year-old tower of Saint-Germain-des-Prés came into view; unexpectedly, as I entered the junction with Boulevard Saint-Germain, I saw that Les Deux Magots, a café I’d heard and read about hundreds of times, stood kitty corner from me. It was time for a coffee break, anyway.