The Façade of the Church of Saint Paul-Saint Louis Restored

2/11/12 - Restoration - Paris, church of Saint Paul-Saint Louis - A few weeks ago, the façade of the church of Saint Paul-Saint Louis, now entirely restored, was unveiled after the scaffoldings were removed, allowing Parisians as well as tourists to rediscover the building. The change is indeed extraordinary and the church seems to have undergone a veritable metamorphosis (ill. 1 and 2). The dirt on the stone façade prevented passers-by from seeing the splendor of this Baroque structure [1], comparable to that of the most beautiful Roman churches. It will be hard to miss now, especially when walking down the rue de Sévigné (ill. 3) which offers a unique perspective.

1. The Façade of the Church
of Saint Paul-Saint Louis
Before Restoration
Photo : J.-B. Gurliat/Mairie de Paris

2. The Façade of the Church
of Saint Paul-Saint Louis
After restoration
Photo : Didier Rykner

3. The Church of Saint Paul-Saint Louis
View from the rue de Sévigné
Photo : Didier Rykner

We often express our criticism of the mediocre maintenance of many Parisian churches (we will soon return to our series which was interrupted after only one article) but in this case we hasten to commend the City of Paris for its initiative. However, we should mention the fact that there was no other choice available as the façade was so deteriorated that it had become dangerous : there was a serious risk of falling stone, harmless at night but which might have resulted in disastrous consequences if occurring during the day ! The lack of a long-term policy for the restoration and maintenance of Parisian religious buildings is obvious here. In fact, we regret that only the façade was restored and cleaned with no care or thought for the other sides.

Since the restoration was inevitable, at least it was completed using the highest standards under the guidance of the chief architect for historical monuments, Jean-François Lagneau [2]. The cleaning was in fact not an easy job as, in the 19th century, Victor Baltard, the diocesan architect for Paris had already intervened by replacing certain stones. However, in the 17th century the stone used came from Saint-Leu and in the 19th, from Saint-Maximin. Their color is not the same making it harder to obtain a harmonious appearance to the ensemble.

In the same way, the chimney pots on the east and west end of the façade were restored. We know how difficult this can be. Should this type of element be reconstituted once it has disappeared ? The example of the Hôtel Lambert, where the new, totally disproportioned, chimney pots overwhelm the façade (see news item of 6/4/12) is a good example. This is not the case at Saint Paul-Saint Louis even if their return has been a subject of debate. They can be easily seen in several old engravings (ill. 4) and there is no doubt they were put there at the time of construction, though they had disappeared in the 19th century (they are not shown in photographs of the period). Finally, the decision was made to replace them as they served a purpose since their weight helped to balance the lintels and also because they added a real aesthetic dimension seeming to extend the lines of the façade. Each known engraving is a bit different, thus the reconstitution followed the model of the existing chimeny pots at the pinnacle of the church [3]. Here again, the resulting effect is perfectly achieved.

4. Jean Marot (1619-1679)
The Portal of the Church of the "maison professe des R. P. Iesuistes" from Paris
Metal Engraving - 13.8 x 26.3 cm
Paris, Ecole nationale supérieure des beaux-arts
Photo : Ensba

Lastly, there was also a debate about whether or not to keep the clock which belonged to the old church of Saint Paul, now destroyed and then installed on the church of Saint Louis (which became Saint Paul-Saint Louis) in the 19th century. Consequently, the façade we see today is not really the one which existed in the 17th century, nor that of the 19th. These types of choices are necessary and some solutions are not so bad as others. Keeping the clock - thus also recalling the origins of the church’s new name - seemed to be the right thing to do.
A second clock, at the bottom of the façade, which had been forgotten, was found during the restoration work, behind an old window. This was a night clock, visible thanks to candlelight allowing passers-by to know the time even without the help of the sun. It will soon be put back and lit up at night but of course not with a candle for obvious safety reasons.

Version française

Didier Rykner, samedi 3 novembre 2012


[1] The façade was designed by the Jesuit architect François Derand, the rest of the church by Etienne Martellange.

[2] The cost of the work totaled 3.8 million euros, funded by the City of Paris with the help of the French Ministry of Culture.

[3] The bases are old but the flames date from the 19th century.

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