Paris is known for the great cathedral of Notre Dame - the site of so much history, imagination, and significance. No other place of worship holds such an iconic status and, rightly so, the church draws enormous crowds of visitors on a daily basis. On my visit, the aisles, entrances, alcoves, and every space in between were jammed with tourists filing past (note: shoving) each other like cars in a traffic jam. Every object of interest in the church, including a mass procession, was obscured by thousands of hands holding up thousands of cameras. The noise and jostling of the crowds, more similar to bustling Paris outside, had a profound effect on the atmosphere of the church - reducing it to a city street, rather than a reflective place of beauty and history.
If you wish to experience a major Parisian church, a place of exquisite beauty and contemplation, but wish to avoid the crowds and noise of Notre Dame as described above, Saint-Eustache is an appealing option.
Saint-Eustache is hardly a hidden gem. It is located at the entrance to Les Halles, a famous historical marketplace, and, with connections to Mozart and Louis XIV, it has obviously been a well-renowned place through the centuries. The entrance to the church is preceded by a giant sculpture of a head and hand (L'Écoute by Henri de Miller). The slightly curled fingers of the giant hand, situated as it is right in front of the church, make for a good photo opportunity.
The architecture of Saint-Eustache is reminiscent of Notre Dame - grand, imposing, and strikingly beautiful. The treasures of the church include the brightly coloured stained glass windows, which transmit a rainbow of light across the cold stones on sunny days.
Interspersed amongst religious artefacts are contemporary works of art, such as the painted panels of John Armleder (2000) in the Chapel of Butchers, which were designed to reflect the light from the stained glass windows.
Panel by John Armleder. Photo by Saint-Eustache Church.
Whether you attend the church for a service or just to enjoy the contemplative atmosphere and the wide range of artistic treasures, Saint-Eustache is certain to be a highlight of any excursion to Paris.