The Black Foliated Church with Flying Buttresses

The Black Foliated Church with Flying Buttresses.

Today I am looking for a black foliated church with flying buttresses. 

What is a black foliated church? It’s a church made of stone that has thin layers of metamorphic rocks. It also means that it could be decorated with leaf-shaped curves. Flying buttresses are external arches that extend outward and downward from the upper portion of a wall to a pier.

I am looking for such a church because James Joyce mentioned it when talking to his long-time friend from Dublin, Arthur Power, when they went for a stroll in Paris. 

“There is an old church I know of down near Les Halles, a black foliated building with flying buttresses spread out like the legs of a spider, and as you walk past it you see the huge cobwebs hanging in its crevices, and more than anything else I know of it reminds me of my own writings, so that I feel that if I had lived in the fourteenth or fifteenth century I should have been much more appreciated.” – Arthur Power, Conversations with James Joyce, 1978.

The old church near Les Halles is the Church of Saint Eustache in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. It dates back to the 13th century when it started as a chapel built in 1213, dedicated to Saint-Agnes. It measures 105 metres (344 feet) long and 33 metres (108 feet) high.

It became the parish church in the area in 1223 and changed its name to Saint Eustache in 1303. Eustache was a Roman general of the second century AD who was burned for converting to Christianity. 

Construction of the current church began in 1532 and was completed in 1632. The Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Francois de Gondi, consecrated the church in 1637. Its façade was rebuilt in 1754 under the direction of architect Jean Mansart de Jouy. Closed during the French Revolution in 1793, it re-opened two years later. Fire damaged it in 1844 and architect Victor Baltard restored the church from 1846-1854. It was set alight during the rule of the Paris Commune in 1871, which resulted in the restoration of the attic, buttresses, and south façade. The façade was renovated again from 1928-1929 when James Joyce lived in Paris. 

Hence, over the years, it has become a mixture of architectural styles. It has a Gothic exterior with Renaissance and Classical interiors. The left tower is Renaissance style.  

King Louis XIV had his first communion in the church in 1649, and both Cardinal Richelieu and Madame de Pompadour were baptized there. Molière was married there in 1662. Mozart’s mother’s funeral was held there.  

The flying buttresses, if your imagination extends to its far reaches, does look rather like the legs of a spider—the wide, inflexible legs of a spider. But I could not get close enough to see any cobwebs. The perimeter is now fenced and the northern façade is undergoing renovations. Renovations are an ongoing process it seems. Nevertheless, it is a grand example of religious architecture. 

The Church of Saint Eustache remains a functioning church to this day. And when the Notre-Dame Cathedral was consumed by fire on 15 April 2019, and closed to the public, the Easter Mass was relocated to the Church of Saint Eustache. 


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