The Church of Saint-Sulpice: A Sanctuary Full of Mystery and Science
The beautiful Church of Saint-Sulpice is only slightly smaller than Notre Dame, making it Paris’ second church. You may recognize the church from the novel and movie The DaVinci Code. In these works of fiction, the church is described as having been built over an ancient temple and containing the secret coded letters “P” and “S”, supposedly indicating the mysterious group known as the Priory of Sion. The novel and film also claim that the sanctuary features a rose line leading to an obelisk that reveals the location of the Holy Grail. All of this is fun to think about, and these intriguing details even drew me to visit the church. However, I’m sorry to break it to you; these are all inventions of the author.
The current Church of Saint-Sulpice was built, beginning in 1641, over a pre-existing Romanesque church, not an ancient temple. The “P” and “S” letters in the stained glass windows refer to St. Peter and St. Sulpice, to whom the church is dedicated. Finally, the supposed rose line is actually a brass meridian line leading to a marble obelisk, which was installed in 1727. This clever system, that was set up by a hired English clock maker, allows a ray of light, from an upper window, to pass through a lens and then hit precise points on an obelisk only on the days of the winter solstice and both equinoxes. This intriguing arrangement was used by church priests to calculate the date of Easter each year. So while the Church of Saint-Sulpice may not help you to find the Holy Grail, a visit will introduce you to many intriguing features inside, including two magnificent organs, the astronomical devices described above, a unique and highly symbolic statue of the Virgin Mary, and the supposed Shroud of Turin.
Many visitors to the Church of Saint-Sulpice are interested in seeing the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud is a piece of linen cloth that allegedly contains the image of Jesus Christ. After his crucifixion, Jesus was supposedly wrapped in this shroud and buried in a tomb. However, as far back as 1390, a local bishop wrote that the shroud was a fake and that a local artist confessed to creating the forgery. In 1988, three radiocarbon dating procedures confirmed that the Shroud of Turin dates back to somewhere between 1260 and 1390, proving that the artifact is, indeed, a fake. What I have to tell you next is, likely, even more disappointing. The actual, supposed Shroud of Turin is located in the Cathedral of Turin in Italy. What you’re seeing in the Church of Saint-Sulpice are actually photographs of the shroud. Despite the controversy surrounding it, taking a look at the photographs of the shroud on display and learning about its history is definitely interesting and worth your time.
For me, the most impressive part of my visit to Saint-Sulpice wasn’t unraveling the truth behind the mysteries of the DaVinci Code or the Shroud of Turin, but rather seeing a breathtakingly beautiful and symbolic statue of the Virgin Mary which stands inside the Lady Chapel of the church. Designed by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle and sculpted out of white marble, this evocative statue features Mary holding a baby Jesus with a burst of sunlight behind them. If you look carefully at the photo, you’ll notice some interesting symbolism. Mary is standing on an orb, and a snake lays trampled beneath her feet. You can also see dramatically sculpted clouds flowing down to a small sacrificial lamb. What does all this symbolism mean? The sculpture is reminding the faithful that Mary’s son, Jesus, volunteered himself to be the sacrificial lamb for all humanity. By doing so, Christians believe he brought about an end to permanent death and provided his followers with the resurrection of the soul. Statues like this one are not only beautiful to look at but also provide a symbolic message that’s enjoyable for travelers to decode. For me, learning the truth behind the mysteries of the artifacts in the church and decoding the symbolism embedded in its art makes travel more meaningful and memorable.
Location of the Church of Saint-Sulpice
The Church of Saint-Sulpice is located at 2 Rue Palatine in Paris. The nearest metro stop is called Saint-Sulpice. Before going inside, admire the gorgeous fountains, take a selfie or two, and enjoy a moment in the serene setting.
For specific directions to the church, click on the map below.
After visiting Saint-Sulpice, consider exploring the nearby Luxembourg Gardens, which are full of not only beautiful flowers and landscapes but also an amazing array of fun activities for the entire family. For more information see my post “The Luxembourg Gardens: The Favorite Outdoor Living Space of Parisians”.