Mysterious Paris

Mysterious Paris (1E)

Just like other big cities with a long and dramatic history, Paris is full of mysteries. Saints, witches and other rather obscure characters have left their mark in its streets, buildings and monuments. 

To start with, there are those who argue that the very name of the city is related to the occult. The Romans called it Lutetia, a name that for some appears to contain a reference to Lugh, the Celtic god of light.

In contrast, other studies are focused on the current name, Paris. The Gaul tribe who inhabited the city for the first time were the Parisii and after the syllable “is”, it is said that the word is formed by the pre-Celtic suffix that is the name of an underground place, where there is a current of energy.

If you still doubt the mysterious origins of Paris, we can tell you that in 1905 a statue of the Egyptian goddess Isis was found during an excavation of the Metro, beneath the moats of the Bastille. That is why some people argue that Paris means Par-Isis, that is, “the boat of Isis”.

As well as the name of the city, you can find more enigmas in its different districts.

For example, in the third district, at number 5 Rue Payenne is the Maison Clotilde, where Clotilde de Vaux lived, the muse of the founder of positivism, Auguste Comte. This religion, of which Comte himself was the high priest, is known for having influenced masonry throughout the 19th century. Then in 1903 the house was bought by a Brazilian positivist group and it was transformed into a building that they say summarises the history of human religions. And right here, inside, they erected the Chapel of Humanity, a life-size reproduction of the temple that its founder had described in full detail. Today, entrance is prohibited to the first floor, where ceremonies were held in the early 20th century... just think about it.

On the left bank of the Seine we come across Rue de Saint Jacques, Saint James Street in English, one of the thoroughfares most used by the monks and templar knights, protectors of the pilgrimage ways. And this is the spot where a church and hospital were founded with the same name, a spot occupied today by an institute of the disabled.

And if we continue with the theme of Saint James we could also mention the Saint Jacques Tower, in another district, close to the Chatelet Metro station. This tower is all that remains of the old church of Saint Jacques la Boucherie, the portico of which was commissioned to be built by a scribe born in the 14th century: the famous Nicolas Flammel, of whom its is said enriched himself with large quantities of gold created with alchemy, author of grand works such as “The book of hieroglyphic figures” in 1399, and the discoverer of the philosopher’s stone.

But perhaps the most popular mystery of Paris is that of the legend of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. This cathedral is full of gargoyles and demons sculpted in stone that tirelessly watch over everything that passes by in the area. According to the legend, the gargoyle was a dragon that lived in the woods of Rouen until in 520 the archbishop managed to bring it to the city, where it was burnt. There are, however, many more mysterious details in Notre Dame. Visit it and discover them.

If we continue with demons, you should not miss out on discovering the church of Saint-Merri, in Rue Saint-Martin. It is a Gothic work from the early-16th century with English influences... but for the moment we just want you look carefully at the central portico and look for a singular sculpture. Horns, beard, erect member, woman’s breasts, wings... it is a demon, which for many people represents Baphomet, supposedly an idol of the Order of the Templar Knights.

As you can see, Paris is full of great enigmas. And if you want more, you can try underground as well because in the middle of the Metro tunnels, sewers and garages is one of the largest underground cities in the world. Some 300 kilometres of routes are beneath the 20 largest districts of Paris. Did you know that there are tunnels made from bones and skulls of the city’s old cemeteries? Caves, crypts, sewers and catacombs interconnect and form another city to which only a few have access. Entry to this underground city is prohibited and under police surveillance, but those who love the occult outsmart them to continue exploring underground Paris. If you dare, you can visit the catacombs; the entrance is close to the Denfert-Rochereau Metro station on Line 4.

Nevertheless, there are not only remains of western rites in Paris. Did you know that there is an enormous statue of Buddha here also? It is in the wood of Vincennes, in the old Cameroon Hall, built for the Colonial Exhibition of 1931. If you arrange a visit beforehand, you will be able to see the great 9-metre high Buddha covered in gold currently known as “the Buddha of Paris”.

Whatever religion you are, whether you are a believer or not, Paris always has an enigma for you. Walk round its churches, its narrow streets, its catacombs... and be amazed by its mysterious air.

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