Monday, 23 May 2011

What to see: Church of St-Étienne-du-Mont, Paris

Situated right behind the Panthéon, the Church of St-Étienne-du-Mont is easily overshadowed by its giant neighbour, but those who enter it will find one of Paris’s most beautiful and architectonically interesting churches, one of the prime sights of the Latin Quarter.
Its most interesting feature is the almost art nouveau choir screen with it spiralling staircases leading to the galleries surrounding the altar area. In a way this reflects the floor plan of the church, which is itself somewhat twisted, although inspired by the floor plan of Notre-Dame.
The church’s roots go back to 1222, when monks of the monastery of Sainte-Geneviève first built a church on the spot. However, the growth of the population in the university area necessitated a larger church, which was begun in 1492. Work took more than 130 years and it was only in 1610 that Queen Marguerite laid the foundation stone for the western façade. The church was consecrated in 1626.
The long-drawn out building process explains why the church is a mix of the late Gothic and Renaissance styles, even with some traces of baroque, and a mannerist façade. The architects associated with St-Etienne-du-Mont are Etienne Viguier, Claude Guérin and Victor Baltard.
The remarkable choir screen is believed to have been built between 1530 and 1535 by Philibert Delorme. Its very original design has preserved it through centuries and it is today the only choir screen left in Paris.
The church contains the shrine to Sainte Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris, and is the resting place of the playwright Jean-Baptiste Racine and the philosopher Blaise Pascal.

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