Saint Sulpice has 21 small chapels all around the exterior. Most are rudimentary but three stand out as exceptional. I have already presented the Lady Chapel at the end of the choir, but the Sacred Heart Chapel (Chapelle du Sacré-Cœur) from 1748, shown above is exceptional. The Baroque woodwork is original and the statue is by Émile Thomas (1817-1882), a student of Pradier. The Sacred Heart (also known as Most Sacred Heart of Jesus) is one of the most widely practiced and well-known devotions, taking Jesus' physical heart as the representation of his divine love for humanity. It is a particularly French devotion, the feast was first approved in France in 1765 and this chapel is one of the first if not the first devoted to Sacré-Cœur. The woodwork is exquisite and it has historical significance, a definite must see.
A second chapel worth a look is the Chapel of the Souls in Purgatory seen above. The Pièta is by Jean-Baptiste Auguste Clésinger from 1868, the frescos on each side are by François Joseph Heim from 1845 (see my post, The Battle of Rocroi) and the stained glass is by Lucien Léopold Lobin (1837-1892) from 1869.
These are two of the round windows from the main sanctuary. The background pattern is known as “pointe de Saint Sulpice”. Notice how little color is in the window, mostly in the center and border. In the choir very light green and blue is interspersed in the Saint Sulpice background pattern. While technical innovations in stained-glass manufacturing were made in the 16th century, stained glass slowly declined as an art form in the 18th century, in part due to the influence of the Reformation and the Age of Reason or The Enlightenment. The 18th century architects and clergy were tired of dark Gothic churches and wanted more light, in part because the congregations were more literate and reading was difficult in the dimly lit churches. In the Enlightenment, things had to be reasonable and natural, thus the churches were brightened and the clutter which had accumulated in the gloom were carted away. As an aside the rood screens were also discarded. The rood screen was a physical and symbolic barrier, separating the chancel, the domain of the clergy, from the nave where lay people gathered to worship. Concealment and revelation were part of the medieval Mass. Both the Reformation and the Enlightenment that followed rejected these precepts, modern (in this case 18th century) congregations wanted to be included in the proceedings.
Many of the stained glass panels along the chapels in the rear have been replaced, or repaired, due in part to the Prussian bombardment in 1870-1871. This panel is original, Saint Denis is shown in the center, with a beautiful border, all dated 1692 at the bottom. By the 17th century the effect of different colors could be achieved on a single large piece of glass by an enameling technique, thus dispensing with the need to use individual small panels of color, which had created the beauty of earlier stained glass. The glass painting, while less time consuming, drastically altered the translucent essence of the medieval art no matter how thin the coat of enamel. Some glaziers still worked in 17th-century Europe, but by the 18th century, only a few glaziers remained. The stained glass and in fact the building of Saint Sulpice comes at that critical juncture, the majority of the windows are clear and the small amount of colored glass is discreet, partly because painted glass is dark. Guillaume Le Vieil who died in 1731 was one of the last glass painters in Paris. His sons, Jean, Louis and Pierre carried on the business when the father died and it was from this workshop that these windows were made. Pierre Le Vieil later wrote a famous book, “L’Art de la Peinture sur Verre et de la Vitrerie”.
This is an original stained glass from 1692 of Saint Fiacre. Saint Fiacre is most renowned as the patron saint of those who grow vegetables and medicinal plants, or gardening in general. The legend of Fiacre goes that St Faro allowed him as much land as he might entrench in one day with a furrow; Fiacre turned up the earth with the point of his staff, toppling trees and uprooting briers and weeds. Note that the yellow frame matches the one of Saint Denis. Also note the grapes and vegetables in the outer frame. Interestingly the chapel now belongs to Saint Martin. There was a renewed popularity of Saint Martin at the beginning of the Third Republic which may have been related to his association as a military saint during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. Saint Martin was promoted by the clerical right at the time as the protector of the nation against the German threat.
There are two monograms in the border of the stained glass. A Christogram is a monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ, traditionally used as a Christian symbol. As in the case of Chrismon, the term Christogram comes from the Latin phrase “Christi Monogramma”, meaning “monogram of Christ”. In the two stained glass panels above, you can see IHS, the monogram for Jesus. You also see a symbol consisting of the intertwined letters A and M, which can be Auspice Maria, a monogram of the Virgin Mary. Auspice Maria is Latin for “Under the protection of Mary” and is commonly found in Catholic religious art, on churches, and inscribed on jewelry. The seal of the Sulpice Society uses the same symbology.
This window of Saint Louis or King Louis IX is from 1691. Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed the canonization of Louis in 1297, he is the only French monarch to be declared a saint. You can easily identify him by the royal fleurs-de-lis pattern on his cloak, the hand of justice, the crown and the crown of thorns he bought from Baldwin II. This is glass painting at its best and a pretty fine painting at that. By the 16th to 17th century the glass was smoother and in larger pieces, and the use of enamel paints (basically ground glass) permitted the designs to be entirely painted on the glass and then fired. Stained glass designers emulated oil painting, with complicated perspectives, large scale, and realistic detail. What I find amazing is how vivid the colors remain after 350 years, a testament to the skill of the Le Vieil glass painters.
This is Saint John the evangelist from 1692. Before Jesus ascended, he charged John with watching over the newly established Church. In art, John as the presumed author of the Gospel is often depicted with an eagle, as he is above, which symbolizes the height he rose to in the first chapter of his gospel. This is again a beautifully painted panel, broken at times into smaller sections, possibly fractured and repaired.
I presented the central stained glass piece in my previous post on Saint Sulpice (see my post). I will close this with the two companion panels.
Some final thoughts on stained glass to leave you with. The two pieces above summarize the post, the painted sections are dark but the artist cleverly uses the brighter yellow in his pallet and a mostly white background. The white and slightly tinted background glass would be a deliberate choice in our time but then it was economics. Opaque glass has impurities and is actually easier and cheaper to make. The end of the 17th century was actually a big time for French glass, Louis IV built the Hall of Mirrors (1678-1684), Jean-Baptiste Colbert established Manufacture royale de glaces de miroirs (1665-1683) and Louis Lucas de Nehou developed plate glass (1688). Everybody wanted bright open spaces and everybody included big cathedrals like Saint Denis, Notre Dame and Chartres that took out stained glass and installed glass like we see above. There would be a revival of interest in stained glass in the 19th century but until then Enlightenment was equivalent to actually lighting up the cathedrals. Saint Sulpice is a beautiful church that was squarely in the middle of this revolution, you should visit when you come to Paris.
Enamels in stained glass windows: Preparation, chemical composition, microstructure and causes of deterioration: http://www.emat.ua.ac.be/pdf/1601.pdf
Glassmaking in 1632: http://1632.org/1632Slush/Glass.rtf
L’Art de la Peinture sur Verre et de la Vitrerie: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k56288200