Window shopping (licking) on the Avenue Montaigne

The French call window shopping “window licking.” Yesterday I spent some time licking windows on the grand Avenue Montaigne. It’s not something I indulge in very often, having walked by windows like these in New York and Florence for years. But, in Paris…it’s something special!

Also on this grand avenue is the Plaza Athenee hotel. Wow, wow, wow! I was attracted to it by the red awnings and then I saw the red geraniums and had to move in for a closer look.

Below, even the menu is grand. You can dine here for merely a few hundred euros per meal.

A little further down the avenue is another hotel and restaurant menu proudly displayed outdoors.

The St. Jacques Tower in Paris

Paris begs to have its photo taken in spring! This is the tower of St. Jacques.

The Tour Saint-Jacques (Saint James’s Tower) is a monument located in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, at the intersection of Rue de Rivoli with Rue Nicolas Flamel. This 52-metre (171 ft) Flamboyant Gothic tower is all that remains of the former 16th-century Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie “Saint James of the butchers”, which was demolished in 1797, during the French Revolution, leaving only the tower.

What remains of the destroyed church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie is now considered a national historic landmark.

The Way of St. James: The tower’s rich decoration reflects the wealth of its patrons, the wholesale butchers of the nearby Les Halles market. The masons in charge were Jean de Felin, Julien Ménart and Jean de Revier. It was built between 1509 and 1523, during the reign of King Francis I.

With a dedication to Saint James the Greater, the ancient church and its landmark tower welcomed pilgrims setting out on the road that led to Tours and headed for the Way of St James, which led to the major pilgrimage destination of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

A relic of the saint preserved in the church linked it the more strongly and in modern times occasioned its listing in 1998 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO among the sites and structures marking the chemins de Compostelle, the pilgrimage routes in France that led like tributaries of a great stream headed towards Santiago in the northwest of Spain.

Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie church on the map of Truschet and Hoyau from 1550

The church which was attached to this tower was demolished in 1793; preservation of the tower was a condition of the contract by which the church was bought for the value of its building materials.

In 1824 it was being used as a shot tower to make small shot. It was repurchased by the City of Paris in 1836 and declared a Monument Historique in 1862. A statue of the saint was installed on the top of the tower during the 19th century.

During the Second Empire, the architect Théodore Ballu restored the tower, placing it on a pedestal and designing a small city park around it. This coincided with the construction of the rue de Rivoli and the avenue Victoria nearby, requiring huge quantities of earth to be removed to ensure the rue de Rivoli a smooth flat path. The pedestal allowed the tower to retain its original elevation: nowadays, the change in ground level can best be appreciated in rue St-Bon, just northeast of the tower, where a staircase leads up to the original street level at rue de la Verrerie.

A statue of Blaise Pascal is located at the base of the tower, commemorating the experiments on atmospheric pressure, though it is debated whether they were performed here or at the church of Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas. A meteorological laboratory is also installed at the top of the tower.

The tower inspired Alexandre Dumas to write the play La tour Saint-Jacques-de-la-boucherie in 1856.

The park is a good meeting place for romance.

The “Museum of Treasures” San Lorenzo, Florence

In these pages on my blog, you will rarely find this kind of post. I’m never too interested in the decorative arts collected by the various churches in the world. Italy of course has some of the richest treasuries, despite the fact that they were, over the centuries, constantly pilloried during the endless wars the peninsula has endured.

But, I’m making my farewell tour of some Florentine churches and thought it only right that I document at least a few of these amazing objets.

La Madeleine, Paris

I’ve long wanted to visit this important Parisian church and I recently had my chance. As luck would have it, the exterior is undergoing some much-needed restoration, and the facade was completely hidden under full scaffolding. But at least it was still possible to see the other 3 sides of the building from the outside and to pay a visit to the vast interior. This church didn’t disappoint!

L’église de la Madeleine or, more formally, L’église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine occupies a commanding position in the 8th arrondissement. It is also known as just La Madeleine and it is an important Catholic church in the city.

It was designed in its present form as a temple to the glory of Napoleon’s army, and later named for Jesus’ companion, Mary Magdalene. To its south lies the Place de la Concorde, to the east is the Place Vendôme, and to the west Saint-Augustin.

There were two false starts made in building a church on this site. The first design, commissioned in 1757, began whe the King’s laid the cornerstone in 1763.

In 1777, the architect died and was replaced by his pupil Guillaume-Martin Couture, who decided to start anew, razing the incomplete construction, shortening the nave and basing his new, more centralized design on the Pantheon in Rome.

At the start of the Revolution in 1789, however, only the foundations and the grand portico had been finished, but work was discontinued while debate simmered as to what purpose the eventual building might serve in Revolutionary France: a library, a public ballroom, and a marketplace were all suggested.

This photograph was taken from the north end, which isn’t currently under scaffolding. While I couldn’t see the actual facade of the church, this view gives an idea of how it appears.

In 1806 Napoleon decided to erect a memorial, a Temple de la Gloire de la Grande Armée and an elaborate competition was held with numerous entries and a jury. A design by the architect Claude Étienne de Beaumont (1757–1811) was selected butMai the Emperor trumped all, instead commissioning Pierre-Alexandre Vignon (1763–1828) to build his design on an antique temple (compare the Maison Carrée, in Nîmes).

Maison Carree, Nimes

The then-existing foundations were razed, preserving the standing columns, and work begun anew.

The apse end of the church from the exterior.

After the fall of Napoleon, King Louis XVIII determined that the structure would be used as a church, dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Vignon died in 1828 before completing the project and was replaced by Jacques-Marie Huvé. A new competition was set up in 1828-29, to determine the design for sculptures for the pediment which was to represent the Last Judgment. It was planned that Mary Magdalene would kneel to intercede for the damned.

The winner was Philippe Joseph Henri Lemaire. The July Monarchy rededicated the monument of repentance for Revolution as a monument of national reconciliation, and the nave was vaulted in 1831. In 1837 it was briefly suggested that the building might best be utilised as a railway station, but the building was finally consecrated as a church in 1842.

Major funeral ceremonies are held in this church and the first notable one was for Chopin. The musician had requested that Mozart’s Requiem be sung. The Requiem had major parts for female voices, but the Church of the Madeleine had never permitted female singers in its choir. The Church finally relented, on condition that the female singers remain behind a black velvet curtain.

Apse end exterior detail.
Above is an historic photo of La Madeleine from the Library of Congress.

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The facade of La Madeleine today.
By allowing advertisements like this one, restoration projects achieve significant funding.

The Madeleine is built in the Neo-Classical style and was inspired by the much smaller Maison Carrée in Nîmes, as mentioned above, which is one of the best-preserved of all Roman temples. La Madeleine is one of the earliest large neo-classical buildings to imitate the whole external form of a Roman temple, rather than just the portico front. Its 52 Corinthian columns, 66 feet high, are carried around the entire building.

Inside, the church has a single nave with three domes over wide arched bays, lavishly gilded in a decor inspired as much by Roman baths as by Renaissance artists. Above the high altar, stands a statue by Carlo Marochetti depicting St Mary Magdalene being lifted up by angels which evokes the tradition concerning ecstasy which she entered in her daily prayer while in seclusion.

The half-dome above the altar is frescoed by Jules-Claude Ziegler, entitled The History of Christianity, showing the key figures in the Christian religion with – a sign of its Second Empire date – Napoleon occupying centre stage.

I highly recommend looking at these sources if you want more information about the church and its context:

The church has a celebrated pipe organ, built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1845. It was restored by Cavaillé-Coll’s successor Charles Mutin in 1927, who also extended the manuals to 56 notes. Tonal modifications were carried out by Roethinger, Danion-Gonzalez, and Dargassies in 1957, 1971 and 1988 respectively.

You can distinctively hear this famous organ in my two videos posted here.

Since we’re discussing Paris, after all, and the city has been so celebrated in art, I love to look at a few representations of various buildings in history.

La Madeleine on the right in this poster advertising the Exposition Universelle (1878)
Antoine Blanchard painting of La Madeleine

The next 3 pictures show one long side of the rectangular building.

As a footnote to the great organ within La Madeleine, today the church hosts a series of important concerts. Below are some flyers for upcoming programs.