I have passed this chapel designed in the shape of a Greek cross a million times on my way to Neuilly and yet, had never been inside. It took a close friend’s mother to die for me to discover the most moving monument of Paris’ 17 th arrondissement. Notre Dame de la Compassion is a church devoted to parents who have lost a child. It was built in 1843 in memory of Ferdinand-Philippe d’Orléans, heir to the throne of France, who fell out of his carriage and died on July 13, 1842. And the parish is run by a charismatic priest, Father Christian Lancrey-Javal.
As I learned in British historian Munro Price‘s excellent biography of Louis Philippe, the young inspector of the armies was driving to Saint Omer in the North of France and decided to visit his parents King Louis Philippe and Marie Amélie, in their castle of Neuilly. While at Porte Maillot, his young and impestuous horses “began to give trouble” and in order to stop them he prepared to jump off the “light open cabriolet” driven by “a postilion who had lost control” when he was suddenly expelled. He fell head first on the pavement “fracturing his skull” and was deadly wounded.
Transported to a little grocery store he died at 4.30 pm, surrounded by the whole royal family. “When the time came for the body to be taken to Notre Dame to lie in state, … Louis Philippe refused to give up the urn containing Orléans’ heart and it had to be removed from his grip by the Archbishop of Paris.”
It was immediately decided to build a church on the spot of his death, designed by architect Pierre Fontaine who had worked in all the royal palaces under different sovereigns including la Malmaison for Napoléon. He is the author of the Arch of Triumph at the Carrousel du Louvre and of the Chapelle Expiatoire built in memory of Louis XVI th and his family on boulevard Haussmann.
The chapel is decorated with 17 stained glass windows conceived by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and made at Manufacture de Sèvres. It is a small (14 m by 11 m) monument with roman, gothic, byzantine influences in a pure romantic style.
The cenotaph was made by Henri de Triqueti and was added on by the angel of Resignation designed by Marie d’Orléans, the Prince’s sister and a talented pupil of Ary Scheffer. This group of artists who contributed to the memorial, are a perfect example of the 1840 style.
“The Duc d’Orléans’ death was a tremendous blow to the regime itself. Dashing, charismatic and often politically astute, Orléans had embodied the future of the July monarchy…” continues Munro Price, who implies that the monarchy fell in 1848 largely because of his death.
Inside the church, there are permanently white flower arrangements left by families in mourning and the atmosphere is extremely tender. The chapel is dedicated to mothers who lost a child.
On Saturday, February 3, during the Journées d’amitié (friendship days), there will be a magic show at 3 pm and a guided visit of the chapel at 3.30 pm. On Sunday the 4th, a concert of three choirs with Scarlatti, Vivaldi and Durante at 4.30pm. And a flea market during the two days with oyster stands and cakes.
(Notre Dame de la Compassion is open every day place du General Koenig)
Share this Post