Sunday, September 27, 2009
With a few minutes to spare before meeting a friend for lunch at Le Fumoir, just behind the Louvre, we stopped in at the church of St-Germain l'Auxerrois .
This church, said to have been founded in the 7th century to mark the passing of Saint Germain, has been rebuilt and added to many times, but its primary claim to fame, or infamy, is its bell, which rang out in 1573 to call Catholics to begin the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of Protestant Huguenots, many of whom had gathered in Paris to celebrate the marriage of Catholic Marguerite de Valois, the daughter of Catherine de Medici and sister of the king, to the Protestant Henri III of Navarre, later to become Henri IV of France.
It's a long and complicated story of betrayal and violence and death, culminating in Henri's famous conversion to Catholicism in order to become king, with the decision that "Paris vaut bien une messe" (Paris is worth a mass). There's a movie called la Reine Margot (Queen Margot in English) that tells at least part of this story, starring Isabelle Adjani as Margot and Daniel Auteuil as Henri, with Vincent Perez as one of her many lovers. I can't vouch for its historical correctness, but it's gorgeous and steamy, well worth watching. Henri, by the way, turned out to be a great king with an eye for the ladies himself. One of his nicknames is le Vert Galant, and there's a nice statue of him on the point of the Ile de la Cité near the Pont Neuf.
Speaking of statues, it's the stonecutter's art that I want to talk about, because there are wonderful examples of it all over the exterior of St-Germain l'Auxerrois. A series of standing saints and priests are supported by a series of demons and sinners, each individual and distinct. You'd recognize these fellows if you met them in the street.
The usual dragons and demons and scary creatures are here and there over the various arches and entries.
And the effort involved in the least little thing is striking. These folds!
I'm not sure who this cleric is, but blessings galore would be needed to make up for the bloody deeds done in the name of this church. The street on which it sits, by the way, is rue de l'Amiral Coligny, named for an Admiral of the French fleet and leader of the Huguenots who was killed in the Massacre. It's the least they could do, non?