A church? Why write about a church and include it as a gallery crawl? What can I say, I’m a huge fan of houses of worship, always have been. I see a church and the door is unlocked, I go in. I am an admirer of any house of worship, but I don’t as a rule snoop around inside religious structures other than those Roman Catholic. I don’t want to be disrespectful and I don’t know if other religions have a certain protocol I might infringe upon- like if there are separate areas for men and women, if an area inside is off limits or sacred. I reserve visiting places like mosques, synagogues, temples or shrines if I am invited or they are open to the general public as a tourist attraction.
So allow me to write about Roman Catholic churches from my perspective as an artist and practicing catholic. One reason I am drawn to them like a moth to a flame is that they are a very good indication of the type of people who live in the area. Their interiors and decorations reflect the culture that originally built the church and those using it in the present time. I particularly love Italian and French churches. Many are constructed in the “pilgrimage” style- a corridor along the periphery leading to niches and chapels filled with reliquaries or statuary such that a pilgrim can make a circuit around the place without disturbing what’s going on in the center. They’re usually alot older than those found in the United States and usually full of all kinds of interesting relics, artifacts and creepy things like dried flesh-clad skeletons in glass coffins (what I refer to as “freeze dried saints”) and creepy things in jars like dried hearts and brains.
St Severin did not disappoint. We were just wandering around the St Germain area on the Rive Gauche just as night had fallen, looking around, thinking about drinks and dinner. Having walked around streets lined with cafes, many catering to tourists, the serene imposing structure drew us near.
It was the gargoyles that did it. I had to go in.
We happened upon it from the rear and went in a side door. The church itself was dark, dank, cool and smelling of candle wax and incense. People in a side chapel were chanting vespers. Oh boy! The interior was very stripped down and bare. Stone walls and floors bare except for a layer of candle soot, movable wooden chairs in the center. Indications of contemporary life, besides the vespers mass, were in the form of brochures on a wooden table at the rear on subjects like marriage encounters, religious education and support for substance abuse addictions.
I went from niche to niche, not much to see as it was very dark inside. In one niche sitting on a stone ledge built into the wall, was a glass case containing bones. Luckily there was a sign to explain that it contained the bones of St Ursula and her friends. Cool!
In hindsight I wish we had seen the church in daylight, to take in it’s flamboyant Gothic features , one of my favorite architectural styles. I encourage you to read about these features in it’s website in the link I included. It has a very long and interesting history.