The church of Saint-Roch, a few blocks from the Louvre and the Comédie Française, is very special to Parisians. Not only does it own one of the most precious religious art collections of the capital, it is also the parish of Artists. For that reason, it held many of the famous designers’, musicians’ or actors’ funeral masses including Yves Saint Laurent’s, actress Annie Girardot, photographer Kate Barry, actor director Georges Wilson, film director Philippe de Broca in 2004 and Molière’s anniversary mass every 17 th of February.
Its curé, Père Desgens, is a brilliant intellectual and focuses on the world of artists, a fragile milieu where actors, musicians, painters are constantly in search of reconciling art and religion. Under his authority, an art book has recently been published by « La Nuée Bleue » a Strasbourg publisher with an introduction by Henri Loyrette, the former President of the Louvre and a regular parishioner.
The book is also a history of this « quartier de Paris », which includes Palais Royal. Every Christmas, a Crèche is created by Jacques Garcia who decorated the neighbouring Hotel Costes. Architects involved in the construction of the church were always « first architect of the King » during Louis XV th reign and in the time of the counter-reform. The church is contemporary of St Sulpice (1640) and was built by Jacques Lemercier, one of Cardinal Richelieu’s favorite architect. He is the author of the Sorbonne’s church and of Val de Grâce.
Alexandre Gady, a specialist of grand siècle architecture, tells us how the church dominates rue Saint Honoré one of the main streets of Paris before rue de Rivoli was created by Napoléon. Doric columns are inspired by basilic Aemilia on Rome’s forum. At the time, the area is very fashionable and the decoration by Robert de Cotte and sculptor René Charpentier, is part of its success.
Historian Philippe Godoy writes about the urbanization of the area at the end of the 16 th century and famous artists who lived nearby. La Fontaine writes his fables a few blocks aways, Lully owns a house on rue Sainte Anne, Pierre Corneille sees his plays being performed in the Palais Royal, Bossuet resides rue Sainte Anne when in Paris. The Noailles and their daughter married to La Fayette, are benefactors. In the 19 th century, Saint-Roch becomes Royal parish between 1815 and 1848.
In his introduction to the book, Henri Loyrette cleverly exposes how the architecture of the church seems small from the outside and is actually very open and ample inside. The Nativity by Anguier and Godefroy de Bouillon by Claude Vignon complete the chapel designed by Chassériau and the sculpture « Christ au jardin des Oliviers » by Falconet.
What is most striking is that on any Sunday, you will find in this church, (296 rue Saint Honoré) attended by Lady Antonia Fraser when she is in Paris, fascinating intellectuals and artists who all share its spirit. And now, you can acquire the book « La grâce de Saint-Roch » with pictures by Jean François Fortchantre, at Galignani bookshop and keep looking through it for more art. (On Nov. 3rd, at 6 pm, the book will be presented by its authors at Mairie du 1er arrondissement)
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