This article by Henri de Villiers was originally published in French on the blog of the Schola Sainte-Cécile. Since it is fairly lengthy, it will be presented in six parts over six weeks, each covering the Lenten stations celebrated that particular week. Today’s article covers the first week of Lent.
Part 1: Ash Wednesday
- Monday of the First Week of Lent: Station at the Priory Church of Saint-Denis-de-la-Chartre (Sanctus Dionysius in Carcere).
This little church, located north of the Île de la Cité, on the site today occupied by the edge of the Hôtel-Dieu on the Quai-aux-Fleurs, was built—according to tradition and in conformity with the etymology of its name (carcer)—on the Roman prison that is said to have provided shelter for St Dionysius and his companions Rusticus and Eleutherius before their martyrdom. Its existence is mentioned for the first time in a charter of the year 1014. In 1143, during the famous transaction that led to the construction of the Royal Abbey of Montmartre, King Louis VI (“the Fat”) donated Saint-Denis-de-la-Chartre to the Abbey of Saint-Martin-des-Champs in exchange for their properties in Montmartre.
The church was rebuilt for the first time in the 14th century. The priory and church were of modest proportions and were frequently affected by the rise of the Seine. In 1618, the parish was transferred to Saint-Symphorien and only one monk remained in the priory. Faced with this critical situation, a ruling of the King’s Council ordered that new monks be installed there, and in 1624, Charles de Berland, His Majesty’s almoner and the former agent-general of the French clergy, tried to give new life to the priory.
In 1665, Anne of Austria ordered the restoration of the church. The new high altar was ornamented with a monumental stucco ensemble crafted by Michel Anguier (c. 1604-1669) representing Christ giving communion to St Dionysius. By the sides of the altar, two little chapels were dedicated to St Eligius and St Roch. Two rows of twenty stalls and ancient tapestries representing the martyrdom of St Dionysius decorated the choir. The crypt, whose entry was closed off by an iron grill, had two chapels. In the cloister of Notre-Dame, the monks possessed a little enclosure that they used as a cemetery.
In 1695, the priory was on the decline, however, and it was joined to the seminary of Saint-François-de-Sales that had just been founded in the faubourg of Saint-Marcel. In 1704, Cardinal de Noailles, archbishop of Paris, ratified this situation by suppressing the priory of Saint-Denis-de-la-Chartre and uniting all its properties to the aforementioned seminary. The priory and church buildings were closed in 1791 by the revolutionaries, and then, after being nationalized, were sold, divided up into lots in 1798, and demolished in 1810. Saint-Denis-de-la-Charte was the fifth stage of the Parisians’ pilgrimage in honour of St Dionysius.
- Wednesday of the First Week of Lent (Ember Wednesday): station at the priory church of Saint-Eloi près le Palais (Sanctus Eligius prope Palatium).
This women’s priory was founded in the centre of the Île de la Cité by Saint Eligius in 632, and brought together 300 women religious under the direction of St Aurea. The church and the covent were at that time dedicated to St Martial. In 1107, Gallo, bishop of Paris, transformed it into a men’s priory, bringing in a prior and twelve monks of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés. During this reform, the monastic church was divided in two: the choir became a parish church under the name of Saint-Martial and the nave became the priory church under the name of Saint-Eloi (St Eligius). In 1530, the priory was attached—together with the Abbey of Saint-Maur—to the bishopric of Paris, and then given over to the Barnabites in 1632, who rebuilt the church and the conventual buildings in 1701 and put up a magnificent new façade, the work of Jean-Sylvain Cartaud, in 1704-1705. During the Revolution, the convent was closed in 1790, and the church transformed into a mint, then into the French house of accounts, and finally into the State house of moveable property (1852). It was destroyed in 1858 by Baron Haussman and replaced by part of the buildings of the Prefecture of Police. The façade, Cartaud’s work, was recovered and rebuilt stone by stone in 1863 by Victor Baltard over the present church of Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux.
- Friday of the First Week of Lent (Ember Friday): station at the church of Saint-Bathélémy près le Palais (Sanctus Bartholomeus prope Palatium).
This church goes back to the 5th century and was considered one of the oldest in Paris. It was rebuilt in 890 by Odo, count of Paris, who set up a collegiate church of canons there. It was enlarged around 965 by Hugh Capet, who placed several Breton relics there to keep them safe them from Viking attacks. Amongst them was the body of St Magloire, bishop of Dol; the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Magloire of Léhon came to the collegiate church seeking refuge, and thus it became known as Saint-Berthélémy-Saint-Magloire. The monks and the precious relic of St Magloire permanently moved in 1138 to the right bank of the Seine, and Saint-Barthélémy recovered its original name and became a royal parish on account of its proximity to the Palais de la Cité. It was rebuilt several times: in the 14th century, in 1550, 1730, 1736, and 1740. In 1772, Louis XVI ordered that it be entirely rebuilt, but the French Revolution interrupted the work. Only the façade, bearing the royal arms, had been finished at that point. The church was nationalized and sold on 12 November 1791, and destroyed the following year. The Tribunal of Commerce of Paris has stood on the site since then.