2010
Sep 
9

The Church Responds to The Da Vinci Code

Filed under: Paris — Russell @ 5:14 am  

We went to our second conversation club meeting yesterday.  Unfortunately, no francophones showed up.  The speculation was that holding the meeting in an Irish pub was a deterrent.  I’m frankly surprised at how many French people are interested in learning English.  I grew up in the middle of the Canadian language wars where defending French from the onslaught of English was at the top of the political agenda in Quebec.  To come to the seat of French power and find people interested in English is a shock.  I’m told among younger Parisians it is considered hip to speak English.

Even with a lack native speakers, we were able to have a conversation in French thanks to some proficient and patient Americans.  Dating was one of the more interesting topics.  The lone woman in our group related some of the challenges she faces as a single woman in Paris.  It wasn’t until she read Love a la Francaise: What Happens When Herve Meets Sally that she began to understand the cause of the friction.  For example, asking someone “How was your day?” in North America is a friendly expression of interest.  In France it is considered prying.  Accepting a dinner invitation from someone you are dating (or more correctly, who is courting you) is a serious matter.

Joan of Arc

After we left the pub, we walked to Saint Sulpice.  This huge church is built in the style of a cathedral.  There are chapels dedicated to various saints around the periphery, each with an altar.  These are dimly lit and in some cases the statue of the saint stands before a large window.  In the picture to the left, Joan of Arc is in darkness silhouetted against the larger window.  The effect is quite ominous.

I remember what is was like for me to leave the farm and travel to New York city.  The buildings and the energy were overwhelming.  I suspect that in the 1700s seeing such magnificent art and architecture must have confirmed in peoples’ minds the existence of God.  Certainly Joan towering but in shadow is an impressive sight.

Chapel of the Virgin

All of the chapels are in shadow with the exception of the Chapel of the Virgin, which is larger and quite beautiful.

There were very few worshippers in the church.  Most of the people seemed to be tourists walking silently.  In one of the chapels there was a huge urn of holy water with a tap.  I saw someone filling a water bottle and wondered if they were thirsty or expecting an encounter with the undead while jogging.

Religious Artifact or Pagan Relic?

Saint Sulpice Gnomon

Probably the most surprising element of the church was the Gnomon.  It is a stone obelisk about 8 meters high.  Leading away from it along the floor is a meridian line inlaid with brass.  The gnomon was created to allow accurate calculations of the equinox, which is important for the celebration of Easter.  During the equinox, the sun follows the meridian line.  The exact day of solstice, as well as some other calculations of more scientific value, can be calculated in a similar way.

This solar calculator is very different in theme, function and appearance from the more traditional religious artifacts.  Dan Brown mentions the Gnomon in The Da Vinci Code. Perhaps it is this incongruity that led him to speculate that it was a relic from an pagan template that stood on the same ground prior to the construction of the church. The gloomy atmosphere of the church lends credence to the idea that something more is happening, perhaps hidden in the shadows.

While the church certainly doesn’t often feel a need to comment on the events of the day, particularly on something as trivial as popular fiction, this story of the pagan symbols in the church has clearly struck a nerve: someone has posted a response to the “recent best-selling novel”.

So it seems that there is no mystery at Saint Sulpice. Yet I did notice a large trap door in the floor of the church near the chapel of the Virgin.  Perhaps it was my imagination, but I swear I could hear organ music emanating from below.  The massive organ at the other end of the church was silent, so the source of the music was unclear.  I resisted the urge to wrest open the massive trap door and investigate.  Such foolishness is best ventured at night, preferably by candle light.  Perhaps Joan of Arc will accompany me, but hopefully in spirit only.

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