When arriving in France one is met by the strong smell of coffee emanating from cafes situated in almost every street, particularly in Paris. The clientele, many of whom smoke, sit relaxed, enjoying the company of friends while they devour French cuisine which is not only presented well but tastes delicious and comes in courses, one after the other. The people are chic. Women dress in the finest Parisian fashion, always smart from top to toe. Summer in Paris is truly a wonderful time as the weather not only lifts the spirits, but invites everyone to drink in the long days, go for walks and play in the park. There are some diverse cultures and many tourists who come to visit the Palaces, Museums, Art galleries and finally the Churches and Cathedrals, for these are also silhouettes of the Parisian landscape. In fact France has a rich Catholic history.
The Notre Dame de Paris, ‘Our Lady of Paris,’ Is a Cathedral built over 800 years ago by the then Bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully whose aim was to build a cathedral worthy of France’s largest city. It took volunteers, dedicated to God and Mary, the Mother of God over a century to build. Every century since then the Cathedral has seen significant celebrations such as the marriage of King Henry IV to Marguerite de Valois, the crowing of Napoleon 1 in 1804, the rejoicing at the end of the first and second World Wars, celebrating World Youth Day in 1997 and mourning the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005. First and foremost it is a place of worship and inside the Notre Dame one is drawn to chapels that line the outer perimeter of the church which recognise various saints that have made their mark in French history. Some of these are St Denis, Paris’ first Bishop; Joan of Arc; St Thomas Aquinas; St Anthony of Padua, St Genevieve and numerous dedications to Mary the Mother of God. Additionally, the stained glass windows and chandeliers are incredible, artwork and sculptures remind one of the life of Jesus Christ, the organ is enormous and rings our hymns so beautifully, one cannot help but join in songs of praise. Finally there is the altar where the Blessed Sacrament is consecrated, nourishing the spirituality of the faithful.
While no other churches or cathedrals match the eloquence of the Notre Dame, many are ancient, boast significant artworks and celebrate the lives of Saints. Our residence at St John’s was next door to St Vincent’s church built in 1632. In Australia, if one is asked about a charity organisation, most would know of St Vincent de Paul. The ‘Vinnies’ shops are found in every suburb, catholic parishes always collect the ‘winter appeal’ for the homeless, schools donate goodies to St Vinnies at Christmas time and most would know of the helping hand St Vinnies offers to all. While St Vincent de Paul led a simple life, the church is furnished with ornate marble, art from the 18th century and stained glass windows that exhibit the life of St Vincent de Paul. All this creates an atmosphere of spirituality and mystery. Additionally, in the centre aisle is a marbles slab which marks the burial vault of Jean Baptiste Etienne, Priest of the Mission of St Vincent de Paul Congregation. The main altar is elaborately adorned with Saints and Angels, but behind and above the Altar is the reliquary if St Vincent de Paul. The face and hands of the Saint are wax. He is dressed in beautiful clothes, holding an authentic silver cross.
There are many Chapels and Churches throughout Paris, each with its own history. In fact France is rich in Saints and Holy places. None more so than Lourdes where over 5 million pilgrims and volunteers visit each year. I leave you with images to ponder.