The church of Saint Sulpice Paris is one of the most fascinating in the French capital. It’s one of the best things to see in the Latin Quarter in Paris, like a giant classical temple somehow secreted down the side streets of the Left Bank of the Seine. And despite its size, it’s one of the best hidden gems in Paris.
Our guide to visiting St Sulpice Paris reveals everything to see in this monumental church, and the practicalities of finding it, getting there and other places to see nearby. We hope you enjoy it.
Why Visit Saint Sulpice Paris
Saint-Sulpice is one of the most famous churches in Paris – and, after Notre Dame Cathedral, the second largest in the city.
It’s a vast church, impressive in scale and one of the greatest Baroque buildings in Paris.
Saint Sulpice church is famous for its slightly lop-sided façade with its uneven towers – it was originally modelled on that of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The Chapel of the Angels – the first on the right as you enter the nave – has some of the best religious art in Paris, with a ceiling fresco and two murals by famous French Romantic era painter Eugène Delacroix.
Saint Sulpice Paris is also renowned for its Gnomon, an elaborate feature (see below) which signifies the winter solstice and spring and autumn equinoxes.
The Fontaine St Sulpice, one of the finest fountains in Paris, stands outside the church.
Saint Sulpice Church History
The church is dedicated to St Sulpitious the Pious, a 7th century Bishop of Bourges to whom several miracles were attributed.
The first St Sulpice church in Paris was begun in the 13th century in the Romanesque style (the same as that in St Julien le Pauvre church nearby).
It was decided to replace the Romanesque building with a larger church, and work began on this in 1646.
Saint Sulpice Paris took well over 200 years to complete, mainly due to shortages of funds – it was finally finished in 1870.
The facade was strongly inspired by that of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, with a Neoclassical-style portico that was eventually left unfinished.
The Marquis de Sade was baptized there in 1740, as was the famous French poet Charles Baudelaire in 1821.
It was the venue for meetings of some Communards during the 1871 Paris Commune, and prominent leader Louise Michel (after whom the square below the Basilica of Sacré Coeur is named) addressed these gatherings from the church’s pulpit.
Saint Sulpice Paris was chosen as the venue for the funeral of former French President Jacques Chirac in 2019 following the catastrophic Notre Dame Cathedral fire earlier that year.
It was subjected to an arson attack in 2019, and repairs were still ongoing at the time of writing (2022).
Things To See In St Sulpice Church Paris
The first thing you notice about Saint Sulpice Paris is its overwhelming size. It is an enormous, cavernous church, high and very wide.
Saint Sulpice Church was begun in the Baroque period, and the earliest parts of the church to be completed have strong elements of this style. Some of the later work, including the west façade of Saint-Sulpice, shows more Neoclassical influence.
After appreciating the vast scale of the church from the back of the nave, turn immediately right to the Chapel of the Angels. Here you will find three of the finest works of art in Saint Sulpice church, all of which are the work of Eugène Delacroix, who resided nearby in the Latin Quarter.
The mural on the left of the chapel is Jacob Wrestling With The Angel, and Heliodorus Driven from The Temple is on the opposite wall. A third fresco, St Michael Vanquishing The Demon, adorns the ceiling above. If this piques your interest, try to make time to take a look at the Musée Delacroix in his former home and studio on Rue Furstenberg.
One of the most remarkable features of the Church of St Sulpice is its marble pulpit, an extravagant structure reached by two staircases, and adorned by gold-painted figures representing Faith, Hope and Charity.
Saint Sulpice Paris is also renowned for the Gnomon (the component of a sundial which casts a shadow) in the nave of the church.
A line of brass was laid into the floor of the nave, and it crosses beneath some rows of seats before continuing up a marble obelisk next to one of the nave pillars. On the winter solstice, the sunlight shines through a lens in a window, and shines onto the brass line of the obelisk.
On the dates of the spring (21st March) and autumn (21st September) equinoxes it shines onto a copper plate set into the floor of the church.
Saint Sulpice Paris is also renowned for its organ, one of the most impressive in France. It was rebuilt in the 19th century by master organ builder Aristide Cavaille-Coll, who also built the organs of Notre Dame Cathedral, Saint-Denis Basilica and the Church of La Madeleine. Organ concerts are regularly given in the church.
You can’t miss the splendid Fontaine de St Sulpice outside the church – the figures on each face are French bishops from the 18th century. The fountain was the work of Louis Visconti, and it was completed in 1848.
Saint Sulpice Paris and The Da Vinci Code
Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code and the ensuing movie of the same name caused a lot of controversy back in the 2000s.
The premise of the novel is that Jesus Christ may have had children, and that his descendants may be living today. This caused uproar, particularly within the Roman Catholic Church.
Part of the book and film are set in Saint Sulpice, and the church authorities refused permission to film inside the church. The church interior scenes in the film were shot in a studio re-creation of the church, with added special effects.
The initial flow of curious visitors eager to explore the connection has long since subsided, but the church authorities still strongly dismiss the novel, movie, any theories raised in them and any connection to them whatsoever.
Where Is Saint Sulpice Paris
Saint Sulpice is in the Latin Quarter of Paris, on the Left Bank of the river Seine and in the 6th arrondissement (district) of the city.
The church is located on Place Saint-Sulpice, roughly halfway between the Jardins du Luxembourg to the south and the Church of St Germain des Prés, around five minutes’ walk from either of these Paris landmarks.
Getting To Saint Sulpice Paris
I walked from the Jardins du Luxembourg both times I visited Eglise Saint Sulpice, but there are several easy public transport options if you’re travelling from elsewhere in Paris.
The Paris Metro is the most obvious means of getting to Saint-Sulpice, and there are three Metro stations within similar walking distance (around five minutes).
Saint-Sulpice Metro and Saint Germain des Prés station are both on line 4, the cerise-coloured line on the map. Mabillon, on line 10, is also very close to Saint-Sulpice church.
Alternatively, bus 84 stops outside the church on Place St-Sulpice.
Around St Sulpice Church Paris
Many of the main Latin Quarter attractions are within a few minutes’ walk of Saint Sulpice Church.
The northern end of the Luxembourg Gardens and Palace (home to the French Senate) are a five-minute walk away, via Rue Palatine and a right turn along Rue Garanciere. Walk along the east side of the Palace and you’ll soon reach the sublime Medicis Fountain, one of the most beautiful places in Paris to while away a couple of hours in the shade.
It’s a further five-minute walk from there along rue Soufflot to the Pantheon, another grand monumental church and burial place to many great French men and women. The superb church of St Etienne du Mont is another two-minute walk around the north side of the Pantheon.
The church of St Germain des Prés is one of the oldest in Paris, and is another must-see within a few minutes’ walk of Eglise Saint Sulpice. Its simple Romanesque exterior hides a surprisingly colourful interior with many murals and an exquisite painted blue vault with golden stars.
Across the square, on Boulevard Saint-Germain, you’ll find too of the most famous cafes in Paris – Les Deux Magots and the Café de Flore.
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