St Sulpice, headquarters of “Secret France”?
Part 1: This used to be their playground
St Sulpice. Though the second largest church of Paris, it was until recently totally unknown when compared to the fame of Notre Dame de Paris. It measures 113 meters long, 58 meters in width and is 34 meters tall and dedicated to Sulpitius the Pious. But throughout most of its history, it was known as “The New Temple of Solomon.” Since a few decades, and definitely since the publication of The Da Vinci Code, the church has possibly become the most intriguing church of Paris – whom largely seem to come without any mystery or intrigue, unlike the Gothic cathedrals elsewhere in Northern France. But to a select few, the church may always have had a special importance – and it may have been the secret headquarters of those trying to direct the future of the nation.
Saunière and St Sulpice
Sulpice’s feast day is January 17, a key date in the enigma of Rennes-le-Château.
It is one of three items that link it directly with the mystery. The second
is that Saunière is said to have made a discovery inside his church,
about which he spoke with his bishop Billard, who sent him to Paris. There
he allegedly met an expert decoder, Emile Hoffet, whose uncle was the director
of the Seminary of Saint Sulpice in Paris. Hoffet at the time of Saunière’s
alleged visit was still a young man, studying for the priesthood. Saunière
is said to have visited St Sulpice while in Paris and to have studied some
paintings there – which ones, is not mentioned.
Though there is no evidence that Saunière made such a trip, Gérard de Sède did claim that he had some evidence of “a visit” of Saunière to Paris, but he himself claimed the evidence did not show a date. Claire Corbu, daughter of Noel Corbu, who lived for a number of years with Marie Denarnaud, the maid of Saunière, has always empathic stated that the Saunière’s trip to Paris did happen.
The third connection with the church was made in the poem The Red Serpent, deposited in the French National Library in the 1960s and part of the so-called “Dossiers Secrets” – created by Pierre Plantard, figure head of the Priory of Sion. The poem makes references to the church, as well as to Olier, the founder of the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, whose headquarters were in the church, and Eugene Delacroix, who illustrated the Chapel of Angels in the church.
the Pious was a noble of Vatan (Diocese of Bourges), born before the end
of the 6th century. Austregisilus, Bishop of Bourges, ordained him cleric
of his church, then deacon, and finally made him director of his Episcopal
school. Clotaire II, King of the Franks, made him chaplain of his armies.
At the death of Bishop Austregisilus (c. 624), he was recalled to Bourges
to take his place.
He himself is woven into the story of Rennes-le-Château for two apparent reasons: his feast day is January 17, as we already mentioned; he also intervened with King Dagobert on behalf of his flock, of whom a too heavy tax was exacted. This Merovingian king was of prime importance for the creation of the Priory of Sion mythology, which saw itself protecting the secret bloodline of these kings – or at least pretended to be.
The church itself came about when the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés located a parish church outside of its walls. The abbot decided to place it under the patronage of St Sulpice because of his great service to the Merovingian kings, whose dynasty had founded the Abbey.
The “Roseline” Meridian
fame of the church came about when Dan Brown worked it into his novel, using
it as a “false trail” in the quest of the opponents of the Priory
to discover their secret. He equally uses the so-called “Roseline”,
which many argue is identical to the Paris Meridian. In truth, the Paris
Meridian runs 200 metres to the east of the brass strip in the church. (Some
have argued that this line “could” fall on the Paris Meridian
as the Meridian does not have a clear width; this is nonsense: the meridian
is as thin as a line (in essence, a millimetre or a few centimetres at best),
and is clearly represented as such everywhere. 200 metres is already infringing
on the “seconds” of degrees, thus making any accurate measurement
This “Sulpician Meridian” was requested in 1727 by Languet de Gercy, then priest of Saint-Sulpice, who called for the construction of a gnomon in the church. It was installed to help determine the time of the equinoxes and hence of Easter (since Easter Sunday is celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon after the spring equinox). Thus a meridian line of brass was made, running across the floor and then ascending a column or "obelisk" of white marble, nearly 11 meters high, at the top of which is a sphere surmounted by a cross. In the south-end window a system of lenses was set up, so that a ray of sunlight shines onto the brass line. At the winter solstice (December 21), the ray of light touches the brass line on the obelisk. At the equinoxes (March 21 and September 21), the ray touches an oval plate of copper in the floor near the altar. Constructed by the English clock-maker and astronomer Henry Sully, the gnomon was also used for various scientific measurements, a fact which may have protected Saint-Sulpice from being destroyed during the French Revolution. As such, the church is a strange merger of religion and science.
Though the church does not sit on the “true” Paris Meridian, there is a symbolic link to it, as the patron saint of the church, St Sulpice, was the bishop of Bourges, a town which does sit on the Paris Meridian – even though that Meridian would only exist a millennium after his death.
Building St Sulpice
have argued that the site occupied by the church marks a Roman temple to
Isis, but there is no evidence to substantiate this claim at present. In
the wake of The Da Vinci Code, the church forcefully denies this statement.
The present church is the second building, erected over an ancient Romanesque
church originally constructed during the 13th century, of much smaller proportions.
Jean-Jacques Olier (1608-1657) had been appointed pastor of St Sulpice in
1642. He had previously established the Society of Saint-Sulpice, a clerical
congregation, and a seminary, attached to the church. He used this organisation
as leverage to call for the construction of a new church. The plan for the
new church was approved on February 20, 1646 and the corner stone was laid
by Anne of Austria, the regent, accompanied by the then seven year old Louis
The church has known many phases and some would say it took more than two centuries to complete. Early on, the initiative went bankrupt, after which some decades later, new money was found to continue with the construction. The church was mostly completed in 1732, but the facade at the west end was not begun before 1776. 19th century redecorations to the interior, after some Revolutionary damage, when Saint-Sulpice became a Temple of Victory, include the murals of Eugène Delacroix, which adorn the walls of the Chapel of Angels. The most famous of these are Jacob Wrestling with the Angel and Heliodorus Driven from the Temple, with the central image of St Michael in the ceiling often excluded from this wonderful sequence of angelic paintings, which at the time caused great controversy. Rather than paint “nice angels” as was customary, Delacroix offered a radically different vision of angels, but actually more conform to how they had genuinely been depicted in the bible, rather than romanticized notions of them.
Famous people linked with the church are the Marquis de Sade and Charles Baudelaire, who were baptized in Saint-Sulpice (1740 and 1821, respectively). The church also saw the marriage of Victor Hugo to Adèle Foucher (1794). Hugo, of course, was listed as a grandmaster of the Priory of Sion and hence much speculation exists why he was married here. Perhaps, of course, he was included in the list simply because he married here.
The founding father
key figure of the church is Jean-Jacques Olier. Though born in Paris, he
initially studied in Lyon, where his father had become administrator of
justice. His eyesight failing, he made a pilgrimage to Loreto, where he
not only obtained a cure, but also a complete conversion to God. For a time
he meditated the Carthusian life, visiting monasteries in Southern Italy,
but the news of his father's death in 1631 recalled him to Paris. Refusing
a court chaplaincy, with the prospect of high honours, he began to gather
the beggars and the poor and catechize them in his home; in Paris, he collected
the poor and the outcast on the streets for instruction, a practice at first
derided but soon widely imitated and productive of much good.
Under St. Vincent de Paul's guidance, he assisted his missionaries in Paris and the provinces, prepared himself for the priesthood and was ordained May 21, 1633. He became a leader in the revival of religion in France, associating himself with the followers first of St. Vincent and then of Père de Condren, Superior of the Oratory, under whose direction he passed, though he continued to retain St. Vincent as his friend and advisor. In August 1641, Olier took charge of St-Sulpice. His aims were to reform the parish, establish a seminary, and Christianize the Sorbonne. This area was, at its time, known as a den of deadly sins heaped into one district. If anything was in desperate need of salvation, this area was.
In 1641, Olier had actually emerged from two years of “great anguish and metaphysical torment”, a deep depression during which he was preaching bizarre things and felt his soul was being “corrupted”. His recovery was partially due, he said, to regular pilgrimages he made to the Cathedral of Chartres, where he would pray at the foot of Notre-Dame de Sous-Terre, or the Black Virgin of Notre-Dame-du-Pilier. Olier also relied on the precious advice of two mystics, the widowed Marie de Gournay Rousseau and Claude Le Glay, a zealous layman nicknamed “Frère Le Glay” whom Olier compared to the prophet Elie (Elijah).
St Sulpice, headquarters of the Angelic Society?
Barrès spoke of the existence of an “Angelic Society”,
made up from people who had had encounters with angels – or whose
life was directed by such otherworldly guides. He seemed to classify Delacroix
amongst this group of people, as well as the French painter Nicolas Poussin,
both of whom would later be woven into the fabric of the Priory of Sion.
Though a lot has been said about his paintings of Jacob and Heliodorus, let us look at that of St Michael.
We also see St Michael piercing a dragon. It is one of the rare representations that show the archangel with his wings outstretched, flying over the creature. In the Zohar, St Michael is known as “The angel of the face”… and elsewhere, he is “Prince of the Faces of the Lord” or “Glory of the Lord”. God has seven helpers – archangels – that help him to realise… reality. St Michael is the principal amongst them. We note that in Greece, seven is the number of Apollo, the famous lord of Delphi, who conquered the dragon, the Pythia… like St Michael struck down the dragon.
Was this chapel the headquarters for the Angelic Society? Barrès himself made it clear that he himself was drawn to it. And he had a great devotion to Joan of Arc, another visionary, believed to be in contact with the archangel Michael – though in her time, there was not yet a St Sulpice as there was today. We also note how Olier was surrounded by visionaries, including some who had seen apparitions, some of the Virgin Mary. To this group, we note that Maximin, one of the visionaries of La Salette, in which the Virgin Mary gave a secret message to these children, would later move to Paris. While there, Maximin often went to the Church of Saint Sulpice, where he would sit at the bottom of a statue of the Virgin Mary. It became his sanctuary. And what to think of Victor Hugo who wrote that “It is by suffering that human beings become angels.” Though it may be a throwaway line, we should point out that he deviated from the traditional light in which angels were cast – instead opting for an interpretation similar to that favored by Delacroix. Was it in its unique approach towards angels, as expressed in the Chapel of Angels, that those who were guided by angels were attracted to it? Was the decoration itself a legacy from a message, an ideology, that took form with Olier and his various organizations?