September 1, 2010
Paris Walks 3 - The Cathedral of the Rive Gauche - Saint-Sulpice
Saint- Sulpice - south of St Germain on Rue Saint-Sulpice.
I was interested in this church because I had seen it in Sally Potter’s film The Tango Lesson. Within Saint-Sulpice she and Pablo Veron recreated a Eugène Delacroix painting displayed there entitled Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.
Saint-Sulpice is a huge, late-Baroque edifice built on the site of a 13th Century Romanesque church. The new building was founded in 1646 and mostly completed in 1732. Saint-Sulpice is only slightly smaller than Notre-Dame and therefore the second largest church in Paris. Known as the "Cathedral of the Rive Gauche," the Église Saint-Sulpice has seen some unlikely rites of passage over the years, including the christening of the Marquis de Sade and the poet Charles Baudelaire, and the wedding of the irreverent author Victor Hugo.
Popular with tourists thanks to its prominent role in the novel The Da Vinci Code, fans will be interested in finding the narrow brass strip called the Rose Line that the monk uses as a reference point in his quest. But this “Rose Line” is really part of a sundial.
In 1727 the priest of Saint-Sulpice, requested the construction of a gnomon (part of a sundial that casts the shadow) in the new church to help him determine the time of the equinoxes and therefore, Easter. English clock-maker and astronomer Henry Sully inlaid a line of brass across the floor which ascended to the top of an 11-meter-high white marble obelisk. In an opposite window Sully set up a small opening with a lens so that a ray of sunlight could shine onto the brass line. Still, at noon on the winter solstice (December 21), a ray of light touches the brass line on the obelisk. At noon on the equinoxes (March 21 and September 21), a ray touches a copper plate in the floor near the altar.
Although Paris has a Rose Line or or “The Paris Meridian” featured in Dan Brown’s book, the gnomen in Saint-Sulpice is not part of it. The actual Paris meridian passes close by, about 100 meters east of the gnomon. Sully’s gnomen was also used for various scientific measurements.
Photo Ben Murray