In an attempt to provide a friendly welcome to new English tutors in the Maisons-Laffitte area, I met up with a Canadian girl Dana, who just arrived on Monday. She already did the first day obligatory Eiffel Tower stroll earlier in the week, so I suggested a lovely walk in the Montmartre area today. The weather was decent (66 degrees or about 19 celsius) and I wanted to take advantage of this since it has rained the past few days. I followed the same leg-killing path up the hill as last time and was rewarded at the top with a splendid visit to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, a bird’s-eye view over Paris, and a delicious banana gelato in a sugar cone.
After the war of 1870 (Franco-Prussian War), Paris, particularly the Montmartre area, was the scene of intense division. In an effort to quell hostilities amongst Catholic and secular Parisians, Joseph-Hippolyte Guibert, Archbishop of Paris, had an idea. While climbing Montmartre in October 1872, he reportedly had a vision of the clouds opening and a voice: “It is here, it is here where the martyrs are, it is here that the Sacred Heart must reign so that it can beckon all to come”. Thus a plan was formed to build a basilica dedicated to the Sacred Heard of Jesus that would unite the city. All funds for the project were to be raised through donations. Officially, the basilica was to be dedicated in honor of the 58,000 who lost their lives during the Franco-Prussian War.
A competition for the design of this basilica was won by Paul Abadie over 77 other architects. The first stone was laid June 16, 1875. Abadie did not live to see his work completed. In fact, it took until 1914 and the counsel of five additional architects to finish the project. The official dedication was not held until 1919 at the completion of the First World War. Sacré-Cœur shows a Romano-Byzantine design. The portico, arches, and equestrian statues of Joan of Arc and King Saint Louis IX add a French Nationalist vibe. Constructed of travertine stone that constantly exudes calcite, the basilica is always re-whitening itself. It is located at the highest spot in Paris, serving as the relatively modern crowning jewel to a city filled with gorgeous ancient churches.
The interior features one of the largest mosaics in the world. Christ in Majesty, designed by Luc-Olivier Merson is truly awe-inspiring and also not allowed to be photographed. You will have to check out some pictures here. (I did illegally snap the above pictures on my first trip to Paris.) A large pipe organ built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll fills the basilica with heavenly music. The organ is unusual and more advanced than most organs of its age.
While constructing Sacré-Cœur, the initial 7 million francs raised for the project were spent well before completion. They needed to raise additional donations for the project so a provisional chapel was constructed in 1876 and pilgrimage donations started flowing in. Since 1885, the Blessed Sacrament (consecrated bread) has been continually on display in Sacré-Cœur. This eucharistic adoration means the church asks tourists to dress appropriately and observe silence so as not to disturb those who have traveled from near and far as a pilgrimage.
Sacré-Cœur has a different feel than any other church in Paris. Most churches that I have visited date back to the Middle Ages. Sacré-Cœur is much more modern and has a completely different architectural style. I appreciate how light it is inside and the mosaic is truly phenomenal. Additionally, this basilica is located on one of the most fantastic pieces of property in the world. When you come to Paris, make time to visit the Sacré-Cœur on Montmartre. Buy yourself a snack, take in some music on the stairs, and look out over the City of Light.