Has it really only been four days since we arrived in Paris?! We can't believe it is only Friday, since we have seen and done so much, walked at least 500 miles (!), and have been so changed by our experiences.
La Chapelle de St. Catherine Laboure
Our journey this morning took us first to the Rue de Bac, where we visited an amazing church and shrine to St. Catherine Laboure, a Sister of Charity who in 1830 at the age of 24 had an apparition of Mary here. Her vision changed the history of the world, and ushered in the modern Marian era.
St. Catherine had a series of visions in which Our Lady is said to have shown her the form of a medal which should be struck in honor of the Immaculate Conception. This has come to be called the 'Miraculous Medal' and is known throughout the Catholic world; 'miraculous,' say some, owing to the circumstances of its origin; 'miraculous,' say others, owing to the extraordinary graces obtained through invoking Our Lady in the terms of its inscription revealed to St. Catherine:
"'O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you!"
(In an interesting local connection, Sr. Eleanor said that when she lived in Paris, Bishop Weldon used to celebrate Mass here in this chapel; the universal ritual that binds us no matter where we are.)
She told us that this is one of the most visited churches in Paris, and that everyone from the poorest citizens to the richest people in the city, from near and far, comes here to pray. In fact, we quickly saw that that was true, because shortly after we entered the church, a Mass began. Every seat in the church was filled, with people of every color, speaking many different languages, some elegantly dressed and others, street people.
Of course, the Mass was said in French (duh!), and it was interesting to hear the familiar cadences and timing, but not understand the words. It reminded me of when I was a kid (pre-Vatican II), when I didn't understand the words of the Latin Mass, but hearing them over and over, they became familiar and powerful in their repetition and symbolism.
In this church in Paris where I was a guest and a foreigner, I felt connected to these people here whose language I did not understand but whose worship was comforting in its familiarity. And when we exchanged the sign of peace, I had an overwhelming feeling of connectedness to those whose hands I shook, and to all the world's Catholics in the love of God, and yearning for peace.
After the Mass, many people went to the altar to pray to St. Catherine, whose perfectly-preserved body rests in a glass case just a few feet away. Sister Catherine died in 1876, and in 1895 her cause for Beatification was introduced in Rome. She was beatified in 1933, and canonized a Saint in 1947. When her body was exhumed 57 years after her burial, it was found to be completely intact.
We visited this chapel to recognize the importance of the Jesuits to the SSJs, as the founder of the congregation, Jean-Pierre Medaille, was a Jesuit missionary. His journeys took him through the towns and villages of Auvergne in central France where he met a number of widows and young women who desired to give their lives wholly to God but who were not called to the cloister.
To respond to the aspirations of these women, Father Medaille conceived and carried out a project which he modestly referred to as a little design. It was to be a new form of association of women, without cloister or distinctive dress, whose members would consecrate their lives to God, live together in small groups, and combine a life of prayer with an active ministry to the sick and the poor. The result: our beloved Sisters of St. Joseph.
L'Eglise Saint Germain Des Pres
The third famous church on our day's agenda (!) was the oldest church in Paris - L'Eglise Saint Germain Des Pres, on the left bank of the Seine. It was founded in the 6th century by Merovigian King Childebert I, whose remains are here. But both church and abbey were several times destroyed, and the present church, in Romanesque style, dates from the early 11th century. As you might expect, inside it is very different from the many Gothic style churches of Paris. It is mostly in the Romanesque style, and seemed very plain after the magnificent Gothic masterpieces we have seen.
The church was enlarged in 1163 by the Pope Alexander III, and it was perhaps the most famous parish in the country. During the French Revolution, a gunpowder fire resulted in the destruction of the church’s framework and a good deal of its treasures, including its celebrated library of theology.
Lunch at Les Deux Magots
At lunchtime, we made a pilgrimage of another type: across the courtyard of L'Eglise St. Germain de Pres to the most famous gathering place of writers, artists, and philosophers in Paris history - a café on the Left Bank called Les Deux Magots. Perhaps the most well-known café in Paris, it has been a hotspot with the cultural gliteratti for more than a century.
Around 1914, it became the place to "see and be seen," and it became the intellectual center of Paris. Every morning, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir would take their seats at "Les Deux Magots" and write for hours, sometimes stopping to talk to other regular customers like Ernest Hemingway!
Paul Eluard introduced Dora Maar to Picasso here; Françoise Giroud would have a coffee with Antoine Saint Exupery while Paul Morand would be deep in conversation with Jean Giraudoux.
It was also frequented by the likes of Verlaine, Rimbaud, Mallarme, Oscar Wilde, Guillaume Appolinaire, Gide, Guehenno, Malraux, Chamson, and on and on; they all met at Les Deux Magots and sipped tea or wine and had animated debates on important issues of the day.
So today, everyone with any interest in literature or art who visits Paris comes here to pay tribute. Not only that, but Les Deux Magots occupies a prime corner for people-watching along the Boulevard Saint-Germain, so it is a fun place to sit and eat or drink. We did both.
This cafe is in the sixth district of Paris, best known as the home of the Latin Quarter, the students’ district. It is a short distance to the Left Bank of the Seine - and one of our group asked how they determined which bank was the left bank. If you've ever wondered, the southern bank of the river is on the left in the direction of the river’s westward flow (does that make any sense at all?????)
We couldn't leave the area without visiting the museum with the most famous collection of French impressionist art in the world - the Musée d'Orsay on the left bank of the Seine. It holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography.
The Renoir, Rodin, and Monet fans among us were in heaven!
The exquisite museum building was originally a railway station, Gare d'Orsay. Sr. Eleanor pointed out the window that she went to every week when she lived in Paris in the 60s to buy her weekend train ticket! In 1977 the French Government decided to convert the station to a museum, and it was opened by President François Mitterrand in 1986.
Montmartre and Sacre Coeur
After dinner, the intrepids headed off to the famous streets of Montmarte, which are full of artists and restaurants, and which is the site of the beautiful Sacre Coeur Basilica.
Many immortal painters lived and worked in Paris during the late 19th century, and Montmartre and its counterpart on the Left Bank, Montparnasse, became the principal artistic centers of the city. Artists, sculptors and writers moved into the area because of its proximity to the center of Paris, and its cheap rents. Painters like Picasso, Modigliani, Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas, Toulouse Lautrec, and others lived and worked here.
Today, Montmartre remains alive with hordes of visitors who stroll along the narrow cobblestone streets of old Paris while taking in the historical and cultural atmosphere. Many tourists come here to see the famous Sacre Coeur Basilica at the top of the hill; it was what drew us here.
The church's famous white architecture dominates the city, and offers a wonderful view. Construction began in 1874, and was finished in 1914.
Sacré-Cœur is built of travertine stone, quarried in France, which constantly exudes calcite, so it bleaches with age to a chalky whiteness, thus making it more beautiful as time goes on, even with weathering and pollution. Lit up in the evening, it is striking, and it's onion domes reminded many of us of the Taj Mahal.
The basilica is believed to sit on the site where Saint Denis, the city’s patron, was beheaded in the 3rd century. Legend says that upon being slain, the bishop Denis picked up his severed head and carried it several miles to the north where the city of Saint Denis stands today. (The front portal of Notre Dame in Paris has a sculpture of St. Denis carrying his head in his hands - again, church architecture was the way of passing on the stories.)
Like many other Christian sites, Druids worshiped on this very spot and it was a site for early Christian churches. The St. Pierre de Montmartre, a 6th century Parisian church, still sits next to the Basilica.
Many saints have come to this hill (Saint Germain - Saint Clotilde - Saint Bernard - Saint Joan of Arc - Saint Vincent de Paul, …) and, of course, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint François-Xavier who, with their companions, founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) here in 1534.
A big Benedictine Abbey occupied the whole hill until the French Revolution, at which date the nuns there were guillotined and the Abbey destroyed. Again, it is sobering for us to comprehend the bravery and sacrifice of our predecessors, and their willingness to give their lives for their faith.
The interior is beautifully decorated with mosaics and a lovely figure of the Virgin and Child. It contains one of the world's largest mosaics, entitled Christ in Majesty, which depicts Christ with outstretched arms. It was as if He was welcoming us into one of His holy places.
The statues on the façade are the bronze equestrian statues of St. Joan of Arc and St. Louis, with a statue of Christ raising his hands in blessing.
The basilica's Ovoid Dome is the second-highest point in Paris after the Eiffel Tower. The nearby bell tower - at 276 feet - contains the “Savoyarde” - one of the world's heaviest bells at 19 tons. It can be heard for some distance. It was cast in Annecy in 1895.
Nous sont fatiqué. More tomorrow…