When touring a city, the houses of worship are often key to understanding the local culture and many are architecturally intriguing. In a city like Paris, they are also of historical significance and were the backdrop of many changes throughout the centuries. The Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris is a gothic landmark of the city and recognized around the world. Although it is definitely a must-see, it isn’t on this list because, well, everyone already knows about it. After you’ve gone to see Our Lady, visit these equally amazing churches in the city.
The Neoclassic architecture is modelled after the Roman Pantheon and it was built to honor St. Genevieve despite the polytheistic name. The building is near the Sorbonne and has great views of the university and city if you can get to the top. Brush up your French before visiting or bring a guidebook because very few descriptions are in English.
After serving as a church, the Panthéon was re-designated as a tomb and the remains of some well-recognized names are beneath its floors. Here you’ll find Victor Hugo, who featured Notre Dame in his works, Voltaire the author and philosopher, Louis Braille who devised a written language for the blind, the Curies – both scientists, Alexander Dumas the celebrated author, and many others that are of interest to French historians.
Built in the mid 13th century, this church is a marvel of gothic architecture. It was built to house King Louis the IX’s Passion Relics and at one time the Crown of Thorns was here (it’s now at Notre Dame). It sits in the courtyard of what was the royal palace and is now the Palais de Justice.
The true wonder of the chapel hits you when you walk inside. This is when you discover that the heavy stone structure is nothing but a framework for giant stained-glass windows the fill the interior with incredible light. Fifteen windows from the mid 13th century dominate the nave, and a rose window added almost 200 years later fills the western wall. The windows sustained some damage during the French revolution but the images on them are easily discerned. The Book of Genesis is depicted at the far end of the north wall and the following windows show scenes from other books of the Bible. Three windows in the eastern apse show the New Testament.
Basilique du Sacré-Coeur
Sometimes referred to as Montmartré due to its location, the Sacred Heart was meant to be showy. It was designed as a political and cultural monument to the righteousness of the Christian faith and to honor the dead of the Franco-Prussian War. The Romano-Byzantine architecture contrasts sharply with the gothic look of Notre Dame and the building is best approached from the base of Montmartré to get the full effect of the incredible structure.
The interior is no less flamboyant with gold leaf embellishments and gaudy decorative additions everywhere. The massive pipe organ deserves a second look and was built well above the standards of its time. There are also some interesting mosaics and religious manuscripts to see.
It looks remarkably like a Greco-Roman temple and started existence with some ambiguity as to its eventual purpose. Two churches were started and demolished on this spot, and some discussion was had about building a bank or government building instead. Napoleon, however, decreed in 1806 that a Temple to the Glory of the Great Army should be built here and the structure was finally finished in 1829. By this time Napoleon was gone and King Louis the XVIII decided the building should be a Catholic church.
The interior is interesting to those who follow ecclesiastic architecture but the decor and design is not overly remarkable. The Foyer de la Madeleine in the basement has a lunch restaurant with local art hanging on the walls.
St. Eustace’s is another gothic masterpiece built between 1532 and 1637. The front facade presents a more sober appearance while the back takes advantage of all the excesses of the gothic style. Only one tower was ever completed. The church is most notable for its history, serving as the place where Louis XIV took communion and Mozart chose to hold the funeral for his mother. Richelieu, Madame de Pompadour and Moliere were all baptised here and both Scaramouche and Marie de Gourney lie beneath the stone floor.
The 8,000 pipe organ is the largest in France and was first constructed in the early 1800s although it has mostly been remade in the last century. Summer concerts celebrate Berlioz’s Te Deum and List’s Christus, both of which premiered here (on the original pipe organ) in 1886. Some remarkable works by Rubens can be found here as well.