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The Great Churches of Paris: The Series

  • First talk: Thursday, January 12, 2023

  • On Zoom • in English

  • 12:00 p.m. Chicago (CST) • 1:00 p.m. Miami (EST) • 19h Paris

  • $10 Member • $20 Non-member • Free for students*

  • Series of 6 for $50! • Members only

  • *Students Entrée Libre initiative • You MUST register with an .edu address to get a Zoom link for the event.

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The Evolution of the Church and Ecclesiastical Architecture in Paris From the Middle Ages to Today

With Russell Kelley

Every Thursday at 12 noon Central Time in Chicago/1 pm Eastern Time in Miami/19h Central European Time in Paris – from January 12 through February 16, 2023

Following the success of the Grands Châteaux of the Loire and Ile-de-France and The Making of the French Garden series of online talks, Russell Kelley spent the summer visiting the most beautiful churches of Paris! Our curator extraordinaire returns to offer a series of 6 talks packed with information about another important pillar of France’s cultural and architectural heritage: the extraordinary variety of churches that were built in every commune in France – but especially in Paris – over the past one thousand years.

January 12: Saint-Germain-des-Prés

This lecture will describe the churches built in Paris during the High Middle Ages in the style “descended from the Romans,” with thick walls, round arches, and barrel vaults. The first churches were built in Paris in the 6th century, but they were all destroyed during the Viking invasions of the 9th century. After the Viking threat was removed, monasteries rapidly spread across France in the 11th and 12th centuries, and they surrounded Paris. The oldest churches in Paris, all originally associated with monasteries, date from this period and were built in the Romanesque style.

January 19: La Sainte-Chapelle

The Gothic style of architecture, with its pointed arches, rib vaults and flying buttresses, defines the Late Middle Ages. It was developed in France in the mid-12th century, and continued through the 16th century. The new engineering techniques permitted builders to build churches of unprecedented height, size and light. Churches built near and in Paris during this period exemplify the major transitions of the Gothic style, from Early Gothic (Saint-Denis), to Early/High Gothic (Notre-Dame), to Rayonnant Gothic (Sainte-Chapelle, Notre-Dame, Saint-Denis), to Flamboyant Gothic (Saint-Merri, Saint-Séverin, Saint-Eustache).

January 26: Les Ivalides

François Ier introduced Renaissance architecture to France upon his return from his first war in Italy in 1515. In Paris, the Wars of Religion (1562-98) slowed the construction of purely Renaissance churches, but Gothic churches such as Saint-Eustache and Saint-Étienne-du-Mont were decorated with Renaissance elements such as pilasters, arches and entablatures. Once the Wars of Religion ended and Louis XIII took the throne, the Counter-Reformation that began with the Council of Trent (1545-63) belatedly arrived in France, and there was a surge of church-building in Paris in the new Baroque style with its barrel vaults and large domes. Between 1610 and 1760, 24 new façades were built in Paris in the new Baroque style featuring two or three levels of columns in the classical orders. Baroque churches in Paris include Saint-Gervais (the only one without a dome), the Chapelle de la Sorbonne, Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, Val-de-Grâce, and the gilded Dome Church of the Invalides.

February 2: Le Panthéon

Louis XV and XVI introduced the Neoclassical style to church-building in Paris, characterized by its porches and colonnades reminiscent of Roman temples, with the construction of the Église Saint-Geneviève, that became the Panthéon during the Revolution. Napoléon Ier adopted the same style when he built the “Temple to the Glory of the Great Army”, which became the Église de la Madeleine after he was overthrown. The Revolutionary government closed all churches and monasteries and confiscated all their lands and property. Churches were converted into “Temples of Reason” or used as warehouses. Many were sold to speculators who demolished them to create land for real estate development. The churches that survived suffered serious damage and were in need of repair once they were allowed to reopen pursuant to the Concordat signed by First Consul Napoléon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII in 1801.

February 9: Le Sacré-Cœur

The last French king, Louis-Philippe, who reigned between 1830 and 1848, was responsible for the restoration of many churches and other historic monuments in France. In Paris, the first restoration architect, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, undertook the restoration of three iconic churches: Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, the Sainte-Chapelle, and Notre-Dame. During the Second Empire of Napoléon III that followed shortly after the “July Monarchy” of Louis-Philippe, city architect Victor Baltard (who designed Les Halles) built the Église Saint-Augustin around a metal frame, obviating the need for flying buttresses. The year after the bloody uprising known as “the Commune” of 1871, the City of Paris started the construction of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, built in pure-white travertine atop Montmartre in a “Neo-Byzantine-Romanesque” style, which would not be consecrated until 1919. André Malraux, France’s first Minister of Cultural Affairs appointed by Charles de Galle in 1958, launched a campaign to clean and restore the churches and other monuments of Paris, which continues unabated to this day.

February 16: Notre-Dame de Paris

In 1163, Bishop Sully laid the first stone of his cathedral on the Île de la Cité, in the epicenter of medieval Paris. It was the second church in France, after the Basilica of Saint-Denis, located six miles north of Notre-Dame, to be constructed in the new Gothic style that was to define the Late Middle Ages. Notre-Dame would not be completed until 182 years later, in 1345. While the huge cathedral was first constructed in the Early and then High Gothic style, the upper levels were soon rebuilt in the new Rayonnant Gothic style to allow more light to enter the cathedral. The cathedral continued to evolve over the centuries, and was host to major events such as the first meeting of the Estates General in 1302, the coronation of 10-year-old King Henry VI of England as King of France in 1431, the marriage of the future King Henri IV of France and Marguerite de Valois in 1572, and the coronation of Napoléon Ier as Emperor of the French in 1804. Restored by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the mid-19th century, when its famous gargoyles were also installed, its roof and steeple were once again being restored when they went up in flames on April 15, 2019. Restoration work is underway and the cathedral is scheduled to reopen in June 2024, in time for the Summer Olympics that Paris will host.

Russell Kelley is the curator and moderator of the past two winters’ Zoom lecture series on the “Grands Châteaux of the Loire and Île de France” and the “Making of the French Garden”. He has lived in Paris for 30 years and is the author of The Making of Paris: The Story of How Paris Evolved from a Fishing Village into the World’s Most Beautiful City (Lyons Press, 2021).

Support and Save! Become an Alliance Française member for as little as $85 a year for a Library + Culture membership.

This program is presented in partnership with the Alliance Française Miami Metro with communication support from the Federation of Alliances Françaises USA, the French Heritage Society, and the Association of American Women in Europe.

Through our Entrée Libre initiative, free admission to this program is offered to students enrolled in French Studies in universities and French schools in Chicago and the Midwest. You MUST register with an .edu address to get a Zoom link for the event.

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