Sunday, November 28, 2010
Churches and Communities
We got back to Paris on Thursday evening and headed out into the city on Friday morning without any specific destination. We just wanted to walk. Crossing the river we found ourselves near the church of St-Eustache, one we had visited before but never spent much time in.
It's a very old church, with an organ that is considered to be one of the best in Paris, and concerts are often held there. It's the church that used to serve the people of the 1000 year old food market at Les Halles before it was moved out to Rungis at the end of the 1960s.
On one of the pillars is a list of the curés of the curch from its beginning. The first one was Simon in 1223, early enough that no last name was necessary to identify him. He was followed by Guillaume in 1255, also single-named. After these, the next few curés were identified by place name: Yves le Breton, Jean de Vaux. It was apparently a couple of hundred years before family names were commonly used.
It remained a major church for centuries, serving as the site of Louis XIV's first communion, the funeral of Mozart's mother, and containing the tomb of Jean Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's powerful finance minister, among others.
Unlike some other churches, St-Eustache has made way for modern times. When Les Halles were moved out of the city the sculptor and writer Raymond Mason offered an homage to the market community called Le départ des fruits et légumes du cœur de Paris, le 28 février 1969, a group sculpture installed in a side chapel of the church, along with an essay about the meaning of the loss to Paris and its people.
Later, a triptych by the American artist Keith Haring, who had always wanted to show his work in Paris, was installed by an arts group after his death. The central figure of the Christ child is represented by Haring's "radiant child", an image he used over and over. It's installed in the chapel of St. Vincent de Paul, whose parish church St-Eustache was.
And now St-Eustache continues to be connected with the community, offering a soup kitchen and shelter to the homeless of the quartier, some of whom spend hours in the relative warmth of the church in this freezing season.
When we got home later that day I glanced out the window to find the first snow of the season falling, a full month earlier than last year, which had been the coldest year in decades. It's not going to be pretty out there for the people on the street.