AT this point Paris presents a choice bouquet of quaint and ancient churches of the transition and Gothic periods. Full of points of resemblance to those greater examples, already dealt with at length, they corroborate and amplify the subject, grow in interest with each visit, invite familiarity and comparison. Completely at variance, for the most part, with their restored and regenerated environments, they present in each instance the vivid keynote of that Paris of which they once formed the chief ornaments, of that ile de France of which they were the perfect flowers. Bereft of all their contemporaries, they stand about Paris in the thick of modern traffic, or in odd by-ways, always a bit in the way, conspicuous like old folk in the costume of by-gone days, eloquent in a speech that has ceased to be current, full of a quaint dignity, warm and simple of approach.
They are scattered wide about the citySaint-Julien-le-Pauvre and Saint-Severin, on the rive gauche, not far from the cathedral; Saint-Martindes-Champs, Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs, and Saint-Merri, on the rive droite in the old Rue Saint-Martin, one of the earliest routes leaving Paris by its northern gate; the Sainte-Chapelle, in the ile de la cite itself, forming part of the palace of Louis IX; Saint-Medard, far away in the southeastern section behind Val-de-Grace; Saint-Pierre-de-Montmartre, on the hill of the martyrs for which it is named, the last vestige of a once powerful monastery; and Saint-Germainde-Charonne, near the fortifications behind Pere Lachaise.
These old churches lend themselves to leisurely investigation, to frequent, casual droppings in. To pass one by for whatever reason of haste or preoccupation seems an unpardonable omission, an unintelligent discourtesy. They are rich in an atmosphere of sincerity, of faith, of nobility, of art. Inspiring in their ensemble they are full of endless detail, are eloquent in response to sympathetic interest. Very often too the sacristan, busy and austere as he seems in pursuit of dust and disorder, bustling about the chapels with so forbidding an air, is a most human creature demanding only a little intelligent interest to draw out a fund of more or less reliable information and unlooked-for privileges.
The charm of these sanctuaries is subtle rather than obvious, and it is only as one gets to know them well that their full value develops. The Sainte-Chapelle is, of course, so perfect a gem of its period and so admirably restored that it reveals itself at once as a masterpiece. Saint-Severin, too, though much despoiled by modernization and incautious restoration, still holds sufficiently to its original character to announce itself as of no uncommon merit. Its windows alone would arrest the attention of the most casual of loiterers. But the humbler, fragmentary churches must be known well like shy people before their real worth becomes apparent.
To touch the very heart of the matter let us return to that ancient ruelle, leading from the Rue Galande, at whose corner we have enjoyed so admirable a view of Notre-Dame; and passing through the old wooden gateway into the shabby court, protected by a fragment of the wall of Philippe Auguste, enter the tiny church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre.
What we see is a strange abbreviation of a church contemporary with the cathedral and probably finished first. All that is authentic therein dates from the second half of the XIIth century, at the moment when Roman architecture ceded to Gothic. It was built by the monks of Sainte-Marie-de-Longpont and next to it was a priory of fifty monks. The site was that of a basilica of the IIIrd century.
Saint-Julien martyr was the first patron, and afterwards the church came also under the protection of a second Saint-Julien, the bishop of Le Mans, called le Pauvre because of his great charity which led him to give to the poor all that he possessed. To these was added a third Julien, he who in expiation for an accidental crime had established a hospital on the banks of a river where the crossing was perilous, and where, accompanied by his devoted wife, he not only cared for travellers who suffered from exposure and cold, but served as ferryman, carrying in his bark all who wished to cross from one bank to the other.
Once upon a freezing night in winter when Julien, worn out with his labours, was asleep in his bed, he was awakened by the plaintive voice of a stranger asking to be ferried across the river. Rising instantly and perceiving that the stranger was a leper, half dead with the cold, he brought him into his house and lit a great fire to warm him, carrying him finally to his own bed and covering him with care. Upon this last proof of humility and devotion the leper transformed him-self into an angel shining with light, and announced to Julien that he and his wife were pardoned of God.
Of these patrons it is the bishop of Le Mans who survives the tradition, though in the ancient legends the stories are confounded one with another.
The church was brilliant in the Middle Ages. Under its roof were held the general assemblies of the University of Paris, while the bell, still hanging in the little tower to the right, as the sacristan loves to tell, roused from slumber the whole of the Latin Quarter.
In 1651 the ancient portail with its columns, capitals, and statues was destroyed and the first two bays of the nave were suppressed, while the tower was thrown down to its base. The fragment of the nave was closed at this time by the present Greek facade, which has stood for up-wards of three centuries.
The Revolution menaced the remains and the church only escaped demolition by being seized upon to serve as chapel for the Hotel-Dieu, which stood close beside it.
The nave is so changed as to have lost most of its archaeological interest, but the remainder of the church preserves its ancient character, its primitive arrangement. One enters through the unrelated Greek portal into an interior which at first seems crude and barren, with a simplicity touching upon poverty in keeping with the name of the church. To realize at once how the front end of the nave has been cut off, one has but to turn and see imbedded in the entrance wall the remains of two large capitals carved with the grape-vine, which must have belonged to the demolished pillars. The capitals of the small engaged columns against the walls of the aisles escaped destruction and are handsomely carved with water-lily and fern designs. The two middle columns of the nave are wholly modern, but the other four are Tuscan, remade in the XVIIth century.
The sanctuary is simple and severe, showing the Gothic at its birth detaching itself from the Roman. The ornamentation is that of the first period of Gothic and presents the flora of the XIIth century in the carving of the capitals of the columns in which we find the arum, the water-lily, the fern, and the grape-vine carved with force and energy; the water-lily form predominates and, magnificently treated, its motifs recall those of Notre-Dame, verifying the assumption that the same sculptors worked upon the two churches.
The two large capitals of the pillars of the choir are the chef -d’oeuvres of this church. The column to the right shows the acanthus leaf forming square capitals in whose four angles are figures of harpies with women’s heads, feathered bodies, spread wings, and paws armed with claws. The capital of the left-hand column is also decorated with the acanthus leaf, without figures, but of a bigness of composition truly remarkable.
The sacristy contains an archaic little statue of Charlemagne, in terra cotta, attributed to the Xlth century and supposed to have belonged to the earlier church erected on this site. It was found in the soil under the paving during comparatively recent excavations.
The whole of this quarter between the near-by quay and the Boulevard Saint-Germain is honey-combed with small old-world streets, densely populated and inviting casual rambles. The Rue Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre leads directly back to that larger, more important church, Saint-Severin, but it is more amusing and more refreshing, if one will see the two churches in one morning, to return by a round-about way along the quays, turning in again by what has been described as a mere crack in the houses along the Seine, the Rue du Chatqui-Peche, famous for its antiquity and named for an ancient sign, long since disappeared. By this narrow thoroughfare one comes upon the picturesque old Rue Zacharie, which terminates in the Rue Saint-Severin, and from this junction one gets perhaps the most delightful first view of the church itself with its fine tower, its gargoyles, and other picturesque features.