The Church of Saint-Sulpice is these days most famous for being featured in the Dan Brown novel Da Vinci Code. But this historic church is one of the oldest in the Paris.
It is just slightly younger and smaller than Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, and attracts nearly as many visitors. Pronounced “San Sul-pis” in French, it is located in 6th arrondissement, next to Paris’s historic Latin Quarter. The current building dates back to the 17th century, having been built on top of an older church dating back to the 14th century.
The Catholic church is dedicated to Saint Sulpicius the Pious, a 7th century bishop of Bourges, a small town in the Loire Valley. He was the chaplain of King Clotaire II and spent his life in poverty, converting the local Gauls who had not yet turned towards Christianity.
The earliest known building here was in the 9th century, oratory dedicated to Saint-Jean-Baptiste. The 1st church was built here around 1180 but the current building was constructed from 1646 to 1870.
If you look at the church head on, you will notice that the two towers don’t match. The extended construction period was because this period was a time of much upheaval in Paris, and architecture plans changed several times depending on who was in charge.
The North tower stands 73 meters (240 feet) while the South Tower only reaches a height of 68 meters (223 feet). It was originally meant to be a Baroque design, which eventually melded into a more neoclassical style after the 1789 French Revolution.
In front of the Church of Saint Sulpice is a large square with a fountain dominating the center of it. The fountain was constructed in 1843 by the architect Louis Visconti, who also designed the tomb of Napoleon at Les Invalides.
Each side of the fountain has a statue of a French bishop, facing different directions. It is sometimes called the “La Fontaine des quatre points cardinaux“, as a play on words meaning both “Fountain of the four points of the compass” or “Fountain of the four not cardinals”.
Bishops are a lower rank than Cardinals in the Catholic church, hence the name helpfully pointing out that the 4 bishops were never elevated to the rank of Cardinal.
Inside the Church
With a stunning alter, impressive organ, and beautiful stain glass windows, the church interior is as impressive as its exterior. There are several 11 smaller chapels within the church, with each dedicated to saints like John the Baptist and St. Paul, as well as French saints like Saint Denis, Saint Genevieve, Saint King Louis, and Saint Joan of Arc.
The church is famous for its elaborate organ with 7300 pipes and102 speaking stops, 5 keyboards of 56 notes and a pedalboard of 30 notes. Such an magnificent instrument attracts some of the most talented musicians and organists in the world, keen to try it out.
Today it is the third largest organ in France, the first and second being respectively that of Saint-Eustache and that of Notre-Dame. Organ concerts are held here on a regular basis (“Auditions des Grandes Orgues à Saint Sulpice“), usually following the 11am-noon Sunday Mass.
Famous baptisms, mariages and burials
Eglise Saint-Sulpice has long been the church where famous locals were baptised (like the writer Marquis de Sade), married (like Victor Hugo), or buried like the granddaughters of Sun King Louis XIV. In addition, one of France’s top female writers Madame La Fayette is also buried here.
The church also has a statue of Pope John Paul II who visited here in 1980. Due to the fire in 2019 at Notre Dame Cathedral, the national funeral for French President Jacques Chirac was held here at the Church of Saint-Sulpice.
Eugene Delacroix’s paintings
In the 1840s, famed French painter Eugene Delacroix was asked to paint some of the walls and ceiling of the chapel. His commission would last several years, where he painted the decor in the Chapel of the Saints-Anges inside the Church between 1854 and 1861.
Eugene Delacroix was so into the project he moved nearby in 1857 as he found his previous residence a little too far.
Da Vinci code’s Rose line
The Eglise Saint-Sulpice’s most recent claim to fame is due to Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, the Da Vinci code. In the book, Brown’s protagonist Robert Langdon is looking for the Holy Grail and stumbles on to the idea of the Rose line inside Saint-Sulpice.
Fans of the book will be disappointed however, to arrive at the Church of Saint Sulpice and see the following sign:
“Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent best-selling novel, this [the line in the floor] is not a vestige of a pagan temple. No such temple ever existed in this place.
It was never called a «Rose-Line». It does not coincide with the meridian traced through the middle of the Paris Observatory which serves as a reference for maps where longitudes are measured in degrees East or West of Paris.
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.»”– Quote inside the Eglise de Saint-Sulpice.
Nonetheless, there is plenty of history in the church, and it is definitely well worth a visit. Entry to the Church of Saint-Sulpice is free.
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about what to do in Paris. A bientôt!