Saint-Pierre-de-Montmartre (66)

Very close to the Sacré-Coeur is the Church of Saint-Pierre-de-Montmartre, one of the oldest in Paris, subtly hidden behind an 18th-century façade.

This Benedictine abbey began to be built in 1133 by Louis VI and his wife Adelaide of Savoy, who was the first Abbess of the place and whose remains lie here. The works lasted until 1147, when it was consecrated by Pope Eugene III.

The building was placed over the remains of a possible Roman temple dedicated to Mercury and formed part of the Abbey of Dames or of Women, whose abbesses came from families with high social and economic standing, who financed the prosperity of the abbey itself for several centuries.

Ignatius of Loyola founded the Company of Jesus here in 1534. Believers from all over Europe came to this sanctuary. The decadence of the convent began in the 15th century, since the Hundred Years War made it difficult for the pilgrims to travel.

In 1661, during some works, a crypt appeared that showed the exact spot of the martyrdom of Saint Denis. From then on the pilgrimages returned and the place once again became a source of income.

With the French Revolution of 1789, the last Abbess was guillotined and the treasure disappeared along with the rest of the buildings, except the church. From that time on this place was used as a clothing workshop and telegraph centre, until in the 19th century its repair was undertaken. In 1834 the Council had the south part rebuilt and later, between 1899 and 1905, the architect Louis Sauvegeot was in charge of its restoration.

What you see today is a mixture of different periods with different styles, which give the church a unique character.

Its bronze doors are very new, from 1975, work of the Italian sculptor Tommaso Gismondi, donated to this church in 1980. They say that it formed part of the preparation for the visit of Pope John Paul II to Paris that same year, although the Pope did not go near there. If you look carefully, on the central door you can see scenes from the life of Saint Peter, on the left of Saint Denis and on the right the Virgin Mary.

Once inside, you will see four marble columns that they say might have belonged to the ancient Roman temple. The vaulted choir is from the 12th century.

We recommend you take a careful look at its stained-glass windows, also quite recent since the original ones were destroyed by a bomb in the Second World War. They are the work of Max Ingrand from 1953, a great French church decorator in the 20th century. You will see a very curious figurative series and another second series where the forms cross and intertwine and let the imagination run wild a little with forms and colours that play with the light.

The last detail which you should pay special attention to is the door that leads to the cemetery, work of the same Italian sculptor Tomasso Gismondi and represents the resurrection of Jesus. The cemetery behind this door is tiny and curiously very cosy, although you can only visit it in specific dates, such as the 1st of November, All Saints’ Day. If your visit to Paris coincides with these dates, we recommend you go in. It will undoubtedly be well worth it.

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