Parisian Spring | ICN


Photo by Ilnur Kalimullin on Unsplash

Oh to be in Paris, now that spring is here.

What a pleasure to find the City of Light! The candelabra on the chestnut trees bordering the quays of the Seine, and all the youth enjoying strolling along the banks. A gray wagtail, the “water wagtail”, dancing in the air to catch insects to feed its unwelcome baby bird. Impressions a-gogo, a feast for the senses.

At the moment, there is a sad and imposing street theater in the heart of Paris. The Palais de Justice on the Ile de la Cité is hosting the trial for the terrorist atrocities committed in 2015 in the Discotheque du Bataclan. Bewildered walkers find their paths blocked when the court sits by the fearsome CRS, French riot police who are looking for everyone like the puppets of Thunderbirds. Surely the intention is for the state to demonstrate its reassuring power.

Just a two-minute walk away, the Church projects no such stability. The splendid Gothic Notre-Dame cathedral remains supported by a forest of scaffolding after the 2019 fire. The aim is to have everything restored by 2024 when Paris hosts the Olympics.

At the other end of the Ile de la Cité, in the middle of the Pont Neuf, stands an equestrian statue of Henri IV known as Le Vert Galant (nickname of this notorious womanizer). It was he who led the Protestant Huguenots and married Marguerite de Valois at Notre-Dame. A few days later, several of his most powerful allies were assassinated during the Saint-Barthélemy massacre, perpetrated by the Catholic League. Many bodies are thrown into the Seine.

Henri later converted to Catholicism to ascend the throne of France, remarking that “Paris is well worth a mass” [Paris is well worth a Mass].

Just below Henry on his horse is the site where the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake in 1314 by order of King Philippe le Bel. This medieval king loved to flex his muscles and increase his power and wealth. He erects a new wall around Paris. The Templars were a very wealthy order. He wanted their money. But within a year of Molay’s roasting, the king had also given up this deadly coil.

The central positions of the Palais de Justice (also the Parliament of the Ancien Régime) and Notre-Dame demonstrate their centrality as the founding pillars of the French royal state: “One faith, one law, one king”, as we said.

What is undeniable is the imprint of the Church and the Christian culture that accompanies him everywhere in Paris and in the nation.

Opposite the Vert Galant statue on the right bank of the Pont Neuf is the elegant La Samaritaine building – so named because there was a well nearby with a statue of the Samaritaine at the well next to it.

On the Left Bank, Vert Galant is just a five-minute walk from the heart of the Latin Quarter (so-called since the days when all students spoke Latin as the international lingua franca). The Sorbonne is here, dating from the 13th century, and perhaps my favorite church in Paris, St Severin, with its elegant grove of pillars forming a beautiful ambulatory around the central altar.

There are healthy liturgies here with good cantors. One interesting thing to note: while in England and Wales there are clear guidelines when to stand, sit and kneel, vive la difference seems to be the watchword in many French churches. The general practice was to stand throughout the eucharistic prayer. Now, there are quite a few ostentatious kneelings (although they don’t all kneel for the same amount of time). This positioning could also be interpreted as ideological. Fun fact for the British, the current PP is a certain William the Norman. If someone wishes to go to Paris for Christmas, St Séverin organizes an open day for a very convivial lunch after the midday mass. William the Norman’s piece de resistance is actually beef bourguignon.

In recent years, the Archdiocese of Paris has reopened the glorious Gothic medieval seat of the Cistercian order, known as the Collège des Bernardins, as a site of vigorous contemporary learning in the Latin Quarter. It currently houses an exciting exhibition on the history of construction and the rich and turbulent history of Notre-Dame. Equipped with a tablet, you skip inside and are entitled to: panoramas of the medieval site presided over by Mgr Sully; a deciphering of the symbolism of the rose window; immersion in the world of itinerant masons, blacksmiths and all the other highly skilled craftsmen who built these Gothic treasures. Old maps become three-dimensional and you can skim over the wedding between Henri de Navarre and Marguerite de Valois, or linger over Napoleon’s self-sacrament. Poignantly, he founded the firefighters, the origin of the current firefighters – who saved Notre-Dame -.

The Cartier Foundation is hosting the first French exhibition devoted to the great Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide (until May 29). The recipient of a Catholic upbringing and raised in a pulsating culture of festivals and religious performance, her work excels in recording and honoring the vitality and drama of popular ritual and religious culture in Mexico and beyond. A first communicator sports a skull in his white robe (wandering skull masks and marauding death are everywhere, including images of children dead in their beds). Another child dons angel wings. A man’s bare back bears the tattooed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A series of slaughtered lambs can only be Christological. Gang members pray and pose under images of Christ and Our Lady. His portraits of strong women are superb and remind me of the imposing feminine presence found in the paintings of Paula Rego. A photo taken in Ecuador, in 1972, shows an image of ‘La Veronica, patrona de los fotógrafos’. The veiled wearer of the “true image” is between two nuns and is full of silent power and authority. Another photo from Iturbide’s own house juxtaposes two small figurines: one is the body of Saint Sebastian, pierced with arrows; the other is that of a photographer, riddled with bullets. The truth costs, as does the courage to record the truth. Glorious.

Starting from the Fondation Cartier, a pleasant walk in the setting of the Montparnasse Cemetery will take you on the right track to Rue du Bac and the Mother House of the Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP). An exhibit on the 360-year-old MEP is a revelation. Too often we have sad reasons to lament the disguise of colonial abuses under the cloak of evangelization. But here, it seems, it was about real idealism and altruism. Most of the priests of the “Foreign Missions” went to Asian countries where there was no French colonial presence. The Catholic faith was rarely permitted and often prohibited. Tolerance alternates with persecution. From the 18th century to the present day, more than 200 MEP priests have died violent deaths in the exercise of their mission. A hall of martyrs records this harrowing story with striking relics. What is encouraging, however, is the evidence of sensitive cross-cultural dialogue and a history of devotion to ‘Kingdom’ values ​​in education, health and solidarity. The Vietnamese Stations of the Cross is currently inside the MEP’s Epiphany Chapel and a temporary exhibition records the MEP’s eventful presence for 350 years in Thailand (The Gospel in the Land of Smiles, until to June 30).

Another highly appreciated new acquaintance, Louis-Léopold Boilly, prodigious painter from Paris (Cognacq-Jay Museum, until June 26). A self-taught man of rare talent, Boilly chronicled Parisian life from one revolution (1789) to another (1848) with satirical joy and verve, often depicting himself in his work, and producing a range of grotesques and caricatures . But he also knows how to produce sober works and striking trompe-l’oeil of rare virtuosity. Such a crucifix is ​​more a celebration of the artist than a testimony of piety. The Prison de Madelonnettes (c. 1815-19) takes as its object the prison for women installed since 1795 in the former convent of the Daughters of Marie-Madeleine known as the Madelonnettes. Membership of the order was restricted to repentant sex workers. (Cf the “Magdalen Laundries” in Ireland. Centuries of misrepresentation of Mary of Magdala associated with misogyny.) The work conveys a monumental dramatic quality in a theatrical play of shadow and light. On the sunny side, female inmates or visitors chat and joke with the guards, while in the shadows inmates carry out their dreary work. A guard facing us points to the shadow as if to warn of the sad fate of the prisoners.

Other current highlights include religious and carnivalesque illustrations by 17th-century artist and printmaker Jacques Callot at the Taylor Foundation; a celebration of female artists in 1920s Paris (Pioneers: Musée de Luxembourg; note the holy puppets and religious pieces here); and an exploration of Delacroix and nature at the Delacroix Museum (which includes the paintings Mary Magdalene in the Desert and The Education of the Virgin).

An unwelcome tradition that has become entrenched in recent years is the practice of loving couples padlocking unfortunate street or river furniture in a ritual of monogamy. Things were going so badly that the Pont des Arts risked being weighed down by all the padlocks. (Furthermore, the keys are thrown into the Seine with total disregard for the environment). These have been removed and the deck railings covered with PVC sheeting. Yet padlocks proliferate like cancerous cells along docks wherever they can be affixed. A tedious but difficult affair to remain discouraged for a long time in the City of Light.

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