Church of Saint-Sulpice, Paris

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P1000811 Paris VI Saint-Sulpice Façade reductwk.JPG
Church of Saint-Sulpice, Paris
Basic information
Location Place Saint-Sulpice, 6th arrondissement, Paris
Geographic coordinates Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
Affiliation Roman Catholic Church
Province Archdiocese of Paris
Architectural description
Architectural type Church
Groundbreaking 1646 (1646)
Completed 1870 (1870)

Saint-Sulpice (French pronunciation: ​[sɛ̃sylpis]) is a Roman Catholic church in Paris, France, on the east side of the Place Saint-Sulpice within the rue Bonaparte, in the Luxembourg Quarter of the 6th arrondissement. At 113 metres long, 58 metres in width and 34 metres tall, it is only slightly smaller than Notre-Dame and thus the second largest church in the city. It is dedicated to Sulpitius the Pious. During the 18th century, an elaborate gnomon, the Gnomon of Saint-Sulpice, was constructed in the church.


Former Church of Saint-Sulpice, by Matthys Schoevaerdts, 17th century.
South transept with portal designed by Gilles-Marie Oppenord in 1723

The present church is the second building on the site, erected over a Romanesque church originally constructed during the 13th century. Additions were made over the centuries, up to 1631. The new building was founded in 1646 by parish priest Jean-Jacques Olier (1608–1657) who had established the Society of Saint-Sulpice, a clerical congregation, and a seminary attached to the church. Anne of Austria laid the first stone.[1]

Construction began in 1646 to designs which had been created in 1636 by Christophe Gamard, but the Fronde interfered, and only the Lady Chapel had been built by 1660, when Daniel Gittard provided a new general design for most of the church.[2] Gittard completed the sanctuary, ambulatory, apsidal chapels, transept, and north portal (1670–1678), after which construction was halted for lack of funds.[3]

Gilles-Marie Oppenord and Giovanni Servandoni, adhering closely to Gittard's designs, supervised further construction (mainly the nave and side-chapels, 1719–1745).[3] The decoration was executed by the brothers Sébastien-Antoine Slodtz (1695–1742) and Paul-Ambroise Slodtz (1702–1758).[4]

In 1723–1724 Oppenord created the north and south portals of the transept with an unusual interior design for the ends: concave walls with nearly engaged Corinthian columns instead of the pilasters found in other parts of the church. He also built a bell-tower on top of the transept crossing (c. 1725), which threatened to collapse the structure because of its weight and had to be removed. This miscalculation may account for the fact that Oppenord was then relieved of his duties as an architect and restricted to designing decoration.[4]

West facade

Saint Paul's, London
Servandoni's design
On the 1739 Turgot map
Engraving from Blondel's Architecture françoise (1752)
The current façade with mis-matched towers (2010)

In 1732 a competition was held for the design of the west facade, won by Servandoni, who was inspired by the entrance elevation of Christopher Wren's Saint Paul's Cathedral in London.[5] The 1739 Turgot map of Paris shows the church without Oppenord's crossing bell-tower, but with Servandoni's pedimented facade mostly complete, still lacking however its two towers.

Unfinished at the time of his death in 1766, the work was continued by others, primarily the obscure Oudot de Maclaurin, who erected twin towers to Servandoni's design. Servandoni's pupil Jean Chalgrin rebuilt the north tower (1777–1780), making it taller and modifying Servandoni's baroque design to one that was more neoclassical, but the French Revolution intervened, and the south tower was never replaced.[6] Chalgrin also designed the decoration of the chapels under the towers.[7]

The principal facade now exists in somewhat altered form. Servandoni's pediment, criticized as classically incorrect because its width was based on the entire front rather than the size of the order on which it rested, was removed after it was struck by lightning in 1770 and replaced with a balustrade. This change and the absence of the belvederes on the towers bring the design closer in spirit to that of the severely classical east front of the Louvre.[5]

The facade is an unorthodox essay in which a double colonnade, Ionic order over Roman Doric with loggias behind them, unifies the bases of the corner towers with the façade; this fully classicising statement was made at the height of the rococo.[8] Its revolutionary character was recognised by the architect and teacher Jacques-François Blondel, who illustrated the elevation of the façade in his Architecture françoise of 1752,[9] remarking: "The entire merit of this building lies in the architecture itself... and its greatness of scale, which opens a practically new road for our French architects."[10] Large arched windows fill the vast interior with natural light. The result is a simple two-storey west front with three tiers of elegant columns. The overall harmony of the building is, some say, only marred by the two mismatched towers.

Another point of interest dating from the time of the Revolution, when Christianity was suppressed and Saint-Sulpice became a place for worship of the "Supreme Being", is a printed sign over the center door of the main entrance. One can still barely make out the printed words ‘’Le Peuple Francais Reconnoit L’Etre Suprême Et L’Immortalité de L’Âme’’ ("The French people recognize the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul").[11] Further questions of interest are the fate of the frieze that this must have replaced, the persons responsible for placing this manifesto and the reasons that it has been left in place.[opinion]


The interior of the church.
Holy water font

Inside the church to either side of the entrance are the two halves of an enormous shell (Tridacna gigas) given to King Francis I by the Venetian Republic. They function as holy water fonts and rest on rock-like bases sculpted by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle.[12]

Pigalle also designed the large white marble statue of Mary in the Lady Chapel at the far end of the church. The stucco decoration surrounding it is by [[{{{1}}}]][]. Pigalle's work replaced a solid-silver statue by Edmé Bouchardon, which vanished at the time of the Revolution. It was cast from silverware donated by parishioners and was known as "Our Lady of the Old Tableware".[13]

The baroque interior of the Lady Chapel (rebuilt by Servandoni in 1729) was designed by Charles de Wailly in 1774, after the chapel was badly damaged by a fire which destroyed the nearby Foire Saint-Germain in 1762. The dome, lit by natural light from hidden windows devised by de Wailly, contains a fresco by François Lemoyne depicting the Assumption of Mary, which dates from 1734, although it has been restored several times since then.[14] De Wailly also designed the pulpit (in the nave), completed in 1788.[15] The oak canopy broadcasts sound very well and it was from here that the parish priest of Saint-Sulpice declared his refusal to accept the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Revolutionary orators used it later also.[16]

During the Directory, Saint-Sulpice was used as a Temple of Victory.[11] Redecorations to the interior, to repair extensive damage still remaining from the Revolution, were begun after the Concordat of 1801.[17] Eugène Delacroix added murals (1855–1861) that adorn the walls of the Chapel of the Holy Angels (first side-chapel on the right). The most famous of these are Jacob Wrestling with the Angel and Heliodorus Driven from the Temple.[18] During the Paris Commune one faction, called the Club de la Victoire, chose Saint-Sulpice as its headquarters and Louise Michel spoke from the pulpit.[16]

The Marquis de Sade and Charles Baudelaire were baptized in Saint-Sulpice (1740 and 1821, respectively), and the church also saw the marriage of Victor Hugo to Adèle Foucher (1822). Louise Élisabeth de Bourbon and Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans, grand daughters of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan are buried in the church. Louise de Lorraine, duchesse de Bouillon was buried here in 1788, wife of Charles Godefroy de La Tour d'Auvergne. Jules Massenet set an act of Manon at fashionable Saint-Sulpice.

The Great Organ

The Great Organ reconstructed by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1862

The church has a long-standing tradition of talented organists that dates back to the eighteenth century (see below). In 1862, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll reconstructed and improved the existing organ built by François-Henri Clicquot.[19] The case was designed by Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin and built by Monsieur Joudot.[20]

Though using many materials from Clicquot's French Classical organ, it is considered to be Cavaillé-Coll's magnum opus, featuring 102 speaking stops, and is perhaps the most impressive instrument of the romantic French symphonic-organ era.

Its organists have also been renowned, starting with Nicolas Séjan in the 18th century, and continuing with Charles-Marie Widor (organist 1870-1933) and Marcel Dupré (organist 1934-1971), both great organists and composers of organ music. Thus for over a century (1870–1971), Saint-Sulpice employed only two organists, and much credit is due to these two individuals for preserving the instrument and protecting it from the ravages of changes in taste and fashion which resulted in the destruction of many of Cavaillé-Coll's other masterpieces. The current organists are Daniel Roth (since 1985) and Sophie-Véronique Cauchefer-Choplin.[21]

This impressive instrument is perhaps the summit of Cavaillé-Coll's craftmanship and genius. The sound and musical effects achieved in this instrument are almost unparalleled. Widor's compositional efforts for the organ were intended to produce orchestral and symphonic timbres, reaching the limits of the instrument's range. Albert Schweitzer, his student and collaborator—despite initiating an "Orgelbewegung," or organ reform movement, which deplored many nineteenth-century developments—called this organ the most beautiful in the world. More recently, Stephen Bicknell concurred, pointing out that the full ensemble of many large organs is dominated by a few powerful stops; but at S. Sulpice many ranks, each of moderate power, contribute to a sound of dazzling complexity.[22] With five manuals— keyboards— and boasting two 32-foot stops, organists at St. Sulpice have an incredibly rich palette of sounds at their disposal.

Aside from a re-arrangement of the manual keyboards c. 1900, the installation of an electric blower and the addition of two Pedal stops upon Widor's retirement in 1934 (Principal 16' and Principal 8' donated by Societe Cavaille-Coll), the organ is maintained today almost exactly as Cavaillé-Coll left it.[23]

In Saint-Sulpice Sunday organ recitals are held on a regular basis (Auditions du Dimanche, following the High Mass, usually from 11:30 till 12:05 clock, during the subsequent mass, a visit of the organ loft possible).[24]

I Grand-Chœur C–g3
Jeux de combinaison:
Salicional 8′
Octave 4′
Cornet V (ab d1)
Fourniture IV
Cymbale VI
Plein jeu IV
Bombarde 16′
Basson 16′
Première trompette 8′
Deuxième trompette 8′
Basson 8′
Clairon 4′
Clairon doublette 2′

Pédale C–f1
Jeux de fond:
Principal 32′
Principal 16′
Contrebasse 16′
Soubbasse 16′
Principal 8′
Flûte 8′
Violoncelle 8′
Flûte 4′
Jeux de combinaison:
Bombarde 32′
Bombarde 16′
Basson 16′
Trompette 8′
Ophicléide 8′
Clairon 4′
II Grand-Orgue C–g3
Principal harmonique 16′
Montre 16′
Bourdon 16′
Flûte conique 16′
Montre 8′
Diapason 8′
Bourdon 8′
Flûte harmonique 8′
Flûte traversière 8′
Flûte a pavillon 8′
Quinte 51/3
Prestant 4′
Doublette 2′
III Positif C–g3
Jeux de fond:
Violon basse 16′
Quintadon 16′
Salicional 8′
Viole de Gambe 8′
Unda maris 8′
Quintaton 8′
Flûte traversière 8′
Flûte douce 4′
Flûte octaviante 4′
Dulciane 4′
Jeux de combinaison:
Quinte 22/3
Doublette 2′
Tierce 13/5
Larigot 11/3
Piccolo 1′
Plein jeu harm. III–VI
Basson 16′
Trompette 8′
Baryton 8′
Clairon 4′
IV Récit expressif C–g3
Jeux de fond:
Quintaton 16′
Diapason 8′
Bourdon 8′
Violoncelle 8′
Voix céleste 8′
Prestant 4′
Doublette 2′
Fourniture V
Cymbale IV
Basson-Hautbois 8′
Cromorne 8′
Voix humaine 8′
Jeux de combinaison:
Flûte harmonique 8′
Flûte octaviante 4′
Dulciana 4′
Nazard 22/3
Octavin 2′
Cornet V
Bombarde 16′
Trompette 8′
Clairon 4′
Machine à grêle
V Solo C–g3
Jeux de fond:
Bourdon 16′
Flûte conique 16′
Principal 8′
Bourdon 8′
Flûte harmonique 8′
Violoncelle 8′
Gambe 8′
Keraulophone 8′
Prestant 4′
Flûte octaviante 4′
Jeux de combinaison:
Quinte 51/3
Octave 4′
Tierce 31/5
Quinte 22/3
Septième 22/7
Octavin 2′
Cornet V
Bombarde 16′
Trompette 8′
Clairon 4′
Trompette coudée à forte pression 8′

List of organists

The dates indicate when the player was organist titulaire.[25]

The Choir Organ

The church is also home to a fine choir organ.

"Built by Daublaine and Callinet in 1844, the Choir organ of St. Sulpice was restored and enlarged by Cavaillé-Coll in 1857 to provide the church with a strong instrument capable of accompanying the large ceremonies of the Seminary. It was again restored in 1903 by Mutin and has been preserved in that condition to the present day." - JAV Recordings

This organ allowed C.M. Widor to compose his Mass for two organs and two choirs. Combining the Great Organ with the Choir Organ, he created a beautiful example of antiphony.

I Grand-Orgue
Bourdon 16′
Montre 8′
Salicional 8'
Flûte Harmonique 8'
Bourdon 8'
Prestant 4'
Octave 4'
Quinte (Mutin) 22/3
Doublette 2'
Plein Jeu III
Basson 16'
Trompette 8'
Clairon 4′
II Récit expressif
Flûte traversière 8′
Viole de Gambe 8'
Voix Céleste 8'
Flûte octaviante 4'
Octavin 2'
Cor Anglais 8′
Trompette Harmonique 8′
Clarion 4'
Soubasse (G.O.) 16'

The gnomon

The gnomon (in the background) and the brass line on the floor

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In 1727 Jean-Baptiste Languet de Gergy, then priest of Saint-Sulpice, requested the construction of a gnomon in the church as part of its new construction, to help him determine the time of the equinoxes and hence of Easter.[26] A meridian line of brass was inlaid across the floor and ascending a white marble obelisk, nearly eleven metres high, at the top of which is a sphere surmounted by a cross. The obelisk is dated 1743.

In the south transept window a small opening with a lens was set up, so that a ray of sunlight shines onto the brass line. At noon on the winter solstice (21 December), the ray of light touches the brass line on the obelisk. At noon on the equinoxes (21 March and 21 September), the ray touches an oval plate of copper in the floor near the altar.

Constructed by the English clock-maker and astronomer Henry Sully, the gnomon was also used for various scientific measurements: This rational use may have protected Saint-Sulpice from being destroyed during the French Revolution.

References in popular culture

Act III, scene ii of Massenet's Manon takes place in Saint-Sulpice, where Manon convinces des Grieux to run away with her once more.

Abbé Herrera from Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes by Honoré de Balzac celebrated Mass in the church and lived nearby in the rue Cassette.

The fashionable public side of Saint-Sulpice inspired Joris-Karl Huysmans perversely to set action there in his 1891 novel Là-Bas, dealing with Satanism in which the ritual magician "Eliphas Levi" attended the seminary attached to the church.

References to the church of Saint-Sulpice are found in the so-called Dossiers Secrets that were planted in the Bibliothèque Nationale in the 1960s.

In Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince's The Templar Revelation (1997), Saint-Sulpice is noted.

Dan Brown's 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code, an international bestseller that brought crowds of tourists to Saint-Sulpice. This note has been on display in the church:

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(...) Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent best-selling novel, this [the line in the floor] is not a vestige of a pagan temple. No such temple ever existed in this place. It was never called a «Rose-Line». It does not coincide with the meridian traced through the middle of the Paris Observatory which serves as a reference for maps where longitudes are measured in degrees East or West of Paris. (...) Please also note that the letters «P» and «S» in the small round windows at both ends of the transept refer to Peter and Sulpice, the patron saints of the church, and not an imaginary «Priory of Sion».

In 2005, the Archdiocese of Paris refused Ron Howard permission to film inside Saint-Sulpice when he was making The Da Vinci Code.

Image gallery


  1. Kauffmann 2003, p.156.
  2. In 1655 Louis Le Vau submitted a design, essentially an augmentation of Gamard's project, but Gittard's proposal, in its turn largely based on the plans of Gamard and Le Vau, was preferred (Himmelfarb 1998; Ayers 2004, p. 126).
  3. 3.0 3.1 Himmelfarb 1998; Ayers 2004, pp. 126–127.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Terrien 2004, p. 17.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Ayers 2004, pp. 126–127.
  6. The south tower is 5 meters shorter, and the stonework is unfinished (Terrien 2004, p. 21). See also Ayers 2004, pp. 126–127.
  7. Terrien 2004, pp. 21, 31.
  8. A contrast in styles is presented by Juste-Aurèle Meissonier's fully rococo project for the Saint-Sulpice façade made some six years earlier, a "rococo reminiscence of North Italian baroque" illustrated by W. Knight Sturges, "Jacques-François Blondel" The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 11.1 (March 1952:16-19) p17 fig. 2b.
  9. Blondel's plate shows the facade as planned at the time, with as yet unexecuted features, such as the balustrade in place of the pediment and towers in Servandoni's design (see here). He mentions in his text, but declined to illustrate, a projected (unexecuted) third Corinthian order on the rear wall separating the church from the porch.
  10. Blondel 1752, Architecture françoise, tome 2, livre 3, p. 40: "Ce monument qui tient tout son mérite de l'Architecture, & dont la grandeur annonce à nos Architectes François une route presque nouvelle...." Quoted in Sturges 1952:17.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Terrien 2004, p. 33.
  12. Terrien 2004, p. 27.
  13. Terrien 2004, p. 22.
  14. Terrien 2004, pp. 21–22.
  15. Terrien 2004, p. 28.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Kauffmann 2003, p. 37.
  17. Terrien 2004, p. 35, who refers to the agreement with the variant name "Concordat of 1802".
  18. Terrien 2004, p. 38; Jack J. Spector, The Murals of Eugène Delacroix at Saint-Sulpice (New York: College Art Association) 1967.
  19. Saint-Sulpice, in series Nefs et Clocher, Éditions du Cerf, Paris
  20. St. Sulpice organ case designed by Chalgrin. Retrieved on 2011-11-28
  21. Organ of St. Sulpice. Retrieved on 2007-08-06
  23. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. (French) / (English)
  24. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. (French) / (English) }
  25. The information in this list is from "Le Grand Orgue de Saint-Sulpice" at
  26. Easter Sunday is to be celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon after the spring equinox.


  • Ayers, Andrew (2004). The Architecture of Paris. Stuttgart: Axel Menges. ISBN 9783930698967.
  • Himmelfarb, Hélène (1996). "Gittard, Daniel", vol. 12, p. 747, in The Dictionary of Art (34 volumes), edited by Jane Turner. New York: Grove. ISBN 9781884446009. See also at Oxford Art Online (subscription required).
  • Kauffmann, Jean-Paul (2003). Wrestling with the Angel: The Mystery of Delacroix's Mural. London: Harvill. ISBN 9781843430179.
  • Terrien, Laurence, translator (2004). Saint-Sulpice. Paris: Paroisse Saint-Sulpice. OCLC 915105541.

External links