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Modern France

Gallery: Churches of Paris

by Peter Kessler, 26 October 2009

 

 

18e Arrondissement Part 1: Basilique Sacré-Coeur

Basilique Sacré-Coeur, Paris

The Basilique Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart Basilica) is a Roman Catholic church which sits at the very summit of Montmartre, the highest point in Paris. The basilica's dome is the second-highest viewpoint after the Eiffel Tower. France's catastrophic defeat by the Prussians in the Franco-Prussian War, which ended in 1870, and its aftermath, the Paris Commune of 1871, the basilica was planned as a guilt offering and a vote of confidence to cure France's misfortunes.

Basilique Sacré-Coeur, Paris

The site on which the basilica is built is traditionally associated with the beheading of the city's patron, Saint Denis, in the third century. According to legend, after he was martyred, Bishop Denis picked up his severed head and carried it several miles to the north, where the suburb of Saint-Denis stands today. The basilica was designed by Paul Abadie in a Romanesque-Byzantine architectural style, inspired by St Front in Perigueux (in the Dordogne).

Basilique Sacré-Coeur, Paris

The foundation stone was laid in 1875, and work was paid for by national subscription. The church was built of Château-Landon stone, a frost-resistant travertine that bleaches with age to a gleaming white. It was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a cult that gained popularity after the first pilgrimage was organised to Paray-le-Monial in Burgundy in 1873, where revelations encouraging prayer to Christ's sacred heart had been reported in the seventeenth century.

Basilique Sacré-Coeur, Paris

The basilica was consecrated in 1891, although the work was not fully completed until 1914. It was elevated to the status of a basilica in 1919, after the end of the First World War. It has much in common, both historically and architecturally, with the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourviere in Lyon. The triple-arched portico is surmounted by two bronze equestrian statues of France's national saints, Joan of Arc and King Saint Louis IX, designed by Hippolyte Lefebvre.

Basilique Sacré-Coeur, Paris

The basilica is filled with nationalistic references. Even the great bell, the Savoyarde, has nationalist references because Savoy was annexed to France in 1860. Cast in Annecy in 1895, the bell is one of the world's heaviest at a weight of nineteen tons. The apse mosaic, designed by Luc-Olivier Merson in 1922, is the largest in the world. It depicts Christ in Majesty and The Sacred Heart worshiped by the Virgin Mary, Joan of Arc and St Michael the Archangel.

Basilique Sacré-Coeur, Paris

The main portal has grand bronze doors with foliage designs. Inside, the Sacré-Coeur is dim and rather gloomy except for the golden mosaics glowing from the apse. The floor plan is an equal-armed Greek cross, with a large dome of eighty-three metres high over the crossing. In the huge choir, eleven tall round arches support a barrel vault. The crypt contains statues of saints and a relic that some believe to be the very Sacred Heart (Sacré-Coeur) of Christ.

One photo on this page contributed by M Kessler.

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