Literary Locales: Église Saint-Sulpice
This is a part of our “Literary Locales” series here at LT. Check out the first post in the series for more information.
What: Église Saint-Sulpice
Where: Paris, France
Literary Connection: The Marquis de Sade was baptized here, Victor Hugo was married here, and the church has been occasionally featured in plays and literature, most notably in The Da Vinci Code.
Recommended Reading: Dossiers Secrets d’Henri Lobineau and Romanesque Churches of France by Peter Strafford
Transgression: Did I mention the Da Vinci Code connection?
The impressively monumental Église Saint-Sulpice is a beautiful and haunting chuch, particularly at twilight which is when I stumbled upon it. It’s the second largest church is Paris and is no doubt interesting on a number of architectural and historical levels.
But it’s impressive vastness and wonderfully eerie interior are not the reason I’m writing this up today. Rather, it is the sign erected next to the church’s famous gnomon, or meridian line, that made me truly love visiting this literary locale. The sign provided a wonderfully vivid interaction between life and literature such as are increasingly rare these days (think Victorians erecting a memorial statue to Dickens’ Little Nell upon her totally fictional demise). And this sign was a doozy:
“Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent best-selling novel, this [the gnomon] is not a vestige of a pagan temple. No such temple ever existed on this site. It was never called a ‘Rose Line.’ It does not coincide with the meridian traced through the middle of the Paris Conservatory which serves as a reference for maps where longitudes are measured in degrees East or West of Paris. No mystical notion can be derived from this instrument of astronomy except to acknowledge that God the Creator is the master of time.
“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, not an imaginary ‘Priory of Sion.’ “
You can just picture an irate priest banging that one out in increasingly forceful key strokes, can’t you? Considering the numerous flights of fancy indulged in by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code and how generally acknowledged they are as pieces of creative fiction, I love how literally the church took his book and how compelled the church felt to address Brown’s claims. They saw his book as riddled with egregious factual errors about their site and took a strong stand!
In so doing, the church is actively engaging with a text that they recognize brings visitors in more than any other reason (although the Delacroix murals are also quite something) and seizing the opportunity to set the record straight. The Louvre doesn’t do this. Westminster Abbey doesn’t either. But Église Saint-Sulpice could not let Da Vinci nonsense stand! The interaction itself was fascinating, but the tone (so clearly infuriated!) made the sign even more priceless.
That sign is undeniably a high point, but the church itself is also unsurprisingly gorgeous and the sheer size of it is truly awesome. It is great fun to wander through the aisles and chapels and see some beautiful works of art and ponder the history of such a place. As I mentioned up top, some great literary figures have passed through those same doors and wondered at the same paintings the modern visitor now admires. So if a little Dan Brown bashing isn’t your cup of tea, hopefully an appreciation for historic continuity will do it.