The Basilique du Sacré-Cœur is majestically located on the Montmart hill overlooking Paris. The snow-white cathedral has so harmoniously blended into the infrastructure of the city that it is now difficult to imagine Paris without it. Outwardly, the Basilica looks more like not a Catholic, but rather a Greco-Byzantine church, although this is not possible, since it was built in 1875 in order to smooth out the hardships and hardships that fell to the French in wartime.
The basilica is not just a temple, but a place for receiving itinerant pilgrims who come here to this day to offer prayers to Christ for the prosperity and revival of their native land. The construction was carried out with funds collected in the vicinity of Paris. Thanks to architectural ingenuity, an unusual mineral was chosen and used in construction, which is mined in these places, which, when water gets on it, turns white, which gave the building even greater grandeur and solemnity.
Sights of the Basilica
You should start exploring the sculptural sights of the Sacre-Coeur on the way to the majestic structure.
Archangel Michael statue
Above the basilica there is a statue of the Archangel Michael, cast in bronze. The sculpture is installed on a column. It is located far from the main entrance, which is crowned with sculptures of Christ, Joan of Arc and King Louis IX. Emerald bronze from time to time shines under the rays of the daytime sun against the background of a white, from a tavertine, Sacre Coeur. This color contrast makes the sculpture of Archangel Michael even more powerful. The archangel, dressed in armor, holds in his right hand a spear with a banner fluttering in the wind.
He tramples with his foot the serpent, emitting a dying cry. The serpent is pierced through by the sword of the archangel. His left hand froze in motion over the defeated enemy. His face expresses calmness. Solemnly rising above the basilica, the archangel Michael protects the church from the invasion of all evil and the messengers of the devil, administers his just judgment over the serpent. And such a fate will befall anyone who wishes to desecrate the sacred walls of the temple.
On the facade, the outer walls of the basilica, you can see sculptures of various gargoyles, symbolizing the evil inclination from which the Archangel Michael keeps the Sacre Coeur. These mythical creatures are an indispensable element of Catholic churches. They are always depicted intimidating.
On the basilica there are both "classic" - ugly, scary - gargoyles, and absolutely innovative for that time - gargoyles, appearing in the form of animals.
A gargoyle in the guise of a pig stands out among them.
The gargoyles have been banished from the walls of the temple. Their location reflects that dark side of a person's personality, his devilish principle, from which Christ saved and cleansed him. In these creatures, inhabiting the outer walls of the Sacre Coeur, demons who rebelled against God's will are reflected, and in contrast to them, inside the basilica there are numerous sculptures and images of angels, messengers of God.
You can also notice the sculpture of a chicken on the facade.
The bird, sitting in the nest, spread its wings to protect its chickens. The chicken symbolizes the motherly guardianship of God over those who believe in him, who face dangerous temptations every day.
Fresco over the dome
Inside the Sacre-Coeur there are dazzling sculptures and images of angels, saints and biblical scenes with dazzling splendor and luxury. Under the dome is a large fresco that radiates joy and light.
In its center are the figures of jubilant, singing, angels in white robes playing musical instruments against the background of a sky made of gold. They bring the message of Christ's resurrection. In the lower plane are the figures of the saints who rejoice at this news. The bright, sunny gold of the sky enhances this universal jubilation for the glory of Jesus.
Sculpture of the Angel of the Resurrection
A little lower, under the dome, on the wall between the arches, there is a sculpture of the Angel of the Resurrection. It is made of marble.
The angel presses a crucifix to his chest, half wrapped in his clothes. He hovers over the parishioners with his head bowed and watches them smiling. On the walls you can also see the figures of musician angels, represented as children. They symbolize the pure, innocent spirit created by God. They sing songs for his glory and pray to him.
On the kliros, the seats are decorated with small animal sculptures.
The most notable and unusual of them is the snail.
On the stained glass windows of the basilica, the most significant image is a fish as one of the first symbols of the Christian faith.
The inner walls of the basilica are covered with mosaics almost throughout.
Some of them depict angels: for example, the Guardian Angel mosaic, in which an angel with scorched red wings protects a person from dangers on his life path. Other mosaics show animals.
Among them, a mosaic depicting a pelican feeding its young stands out. This is a metaphor for Jesus Christ who gives his body and blood in the form of bread and wine during the sacrament of the Eucharist. According to ancient legend, pelicans could feed their children with their own flesh.
Also noteworthy are the mosaics depicting a rooster, which simultaneously refers to the denial of Peter and the morning news of the resurrection of Christ, and deer bathing in the fountain. Deer symbolize requests to God in prayers.
Golden angels in the apse
The apse contains two golden figures of angels.
They are holding a tabernacle containing holy gifts - bread and wine. It must be remembered that the Liturgy of the Hours takes place every day in the Sacre-Coeur, therefore the altar in the apse performs not only an aesthetic function. This part of the basilica also contains golden bas-reliefs depicting biblical scenes and angels. Among them is a sculpture of the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary.
Mosaic in the apse
In the apse, the far part of the basilica, under the dome is a huge golden mosaic "The Majesty of the Lord". In terms of its scope and performance, it is unique throughout the world. It depicts the scene of the resurrection of Christ.
In the center of the mosaic is the figure of Jesus dressed in white clothes. He spread his arms to the sides, exposing his heart. The contours of the heart are etched in gold on white clothes. This refers to the name of the basilica - Sacre-Coeur, "sacred heart". The figure of Christ is surrounded by the images of almost all people and saints. All of them vary in size, but do not exceed the size of the image of Jesus.
This grandiose mosaic is compositionally divided into two parts, connected by the figure of Christ. On the left side of Jesus, or "holy heart" - a group of images symbolizing the church. They are represented by Pope Clement XIII, Blessed Pius IX, Leo XIII - they all played a significant role in the formation of the Church of the Sacred Heart, to which the basilica belongs. Pope Leo XIII holds out a globe to Christ, a metaphor for all mankind. Further, behind the backs of the figures of the Popes of the Risks, in the lower left row there are groups of images of people of different nationalities. They symbolize all five continents that the Sacre Coeur Church blesses.
To the right of the figure of Christ is a group of images showing important events in the history of France and the Church of the Sacred Heart. These scenes depict parishioners kneeling in prayer during various historical upheavals: the plague of 1720, the execution of Louis XVI and the entire royal family, and others. Chief among them is the personified image of France. She holds out the crown to Jesus, symbolizing the blessing of the entire French people.
The two upper rows are composed of the faces of the saints. The left row is represented by the saints most revered in the Church of the Sacred Heart, and the right row is represented by the martyrs of France. They are parallel to each other and close over the head of Christ. At the point of their connection, in the very center of the dome, the Holy Trinity is depicted: the Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove.
The composition is supported by large independent figures: the Virgin Mary on the right and Saint Joan of Arc on the left. This gives the mosaic a three-dimensional image.
The great organ of the Sacre-Coeur is truly stunning in size. It is one of the largest organs in the world. The organ console consists of 4 manuals, keyboards for hand-playing, and one pedal keyboard. The organ was designed by Aristide Kawaye-Col.
The organ is located in an architectural niche, towering above the choir and choir. The dark wood from which it was crafted seems to have absorbed the past centuries. The organ is decorated with sculptures of angels: they sit in the middle of this wide musical giant, leaning on a mechanical clock. In the lower part, facing the audience and the choir, the organ is decorated with a number of icons. They are made of the same shade of wood with the addition of gold. Five on each side of the center - a sculptural group of angels. It is on this decorative part of the organ that the rays of the daytime sun fall, beautifully playing on the carved surface of the icons. While the great organ is always hidden in the shadows, which gives it an even more mystical, timeless look.
This great musical instrument, which is part of the cultural heritage of France, is unique not only in design, but also in its sound characteristics. The organ has a unique sound and has 78 registers. In terms of his technical characteristics and the capabilities he gave to the organist, he was ahead of his time. During his service at the basilica, he underwent several restorations. The most recent of them, unfortunately, was never finished. In the course of it, the pneumatic parts were completely replaced only with serious damage. The untouched parts continue to deteriorate. The pipes of the organ are covered with a thick layer of dust, and this negatively affects the pitch and timbre of the sound. However, the great organ is constantly played during the liturgical services held in the basilica.
The organ of the Sacre-Coeur is second only to the organ of Notre Dame Cathedral in popularity.
The crypt is located under the altar of the basilica. It is an underground vaulted hall containing burials, relics of saints and martyrs.
In front of the altar, the foundation stone of the Sacre Coeur is harmoniously inscribed in the paving stones of the floor.
The sculptures in the crypt are made in a strict, ascetic style. The afterlife of gray, dull marble is contrasted with the brightness and gold of the mosaics and frescoes of the main part of the basilica, where the joy of the resurrection is the main theme of the sculptures.
Austere columns form a wide inner gallery, convenient for holding religious processions. In the center of the crypt is the Pieta, which supports the vault of the gallery. She is represented by the monument to the Virgin Mary kneeling mournfully in front of the cross. Michelangelo's creative variations of Pieta are often used to decorate burial halls.
The Sacre-Coeur crypt consists of 7 eastern and 7 western burial halls.
The columns of St. Peter's Hall support the apse of the basilica. The altar of St. Peter is decorated in a rather modern way - with paper symbols of the holy heart. Saint Teresa came to pray to him. If you go further through the burial halls, you can see many interesting sculptures. Pay attention to the statue in honor of Cardinal Ametta and the monument dedicated to the priests and seminarians who died during the Second Myrrh War. Both are in marble. Stands out against their background is a bronze sculpture of the reclining Christ, especially revered on Good Friday.
The gravestones themselves are sometimes a masterpiece of plastic art. Most notable among them are the tombstones of Cardinals Gilbert and Richard, decorated with relief portraits of the departed. There is also an urn with the heart of Alexander Lejantil, the initiator of the national vow, in whose honor the basilica was built.
There are no guided tours in Sacre Coeur. The Basilica is a working church, and every day there are liturgies of hours. Many believers make pilgrimages here. Tourists are encouraged to compose their own tour and explore the sights of the basilica at their own pace. A guide to the Sacre Coeur, which is sold in the Basilica bookstore and costs only 5 euros, will help with this. There you can also buy a booklet telling about the saints who played an important role in the history of the basilica. Versions in different languages are presented. The bookstore is closed on Mondays.
Silence should be observed during sightseeing so as not to interfere with the liturgical service and the pilgrims. All types of photography in the basilica are prohibited.
Although there is no guide service in Sacre Coeur, there is a more interesting alternative. Every day, except Monday, you can find a Sister of the Benedictine Order of the Church of the Sacred Heart at the reception and ask her any question about the basilica that she will happily answer.
Address and how to get there
Address: 35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre, Paris 75018
Metro: Château Rouge
Hours: 6: 00-22: 30