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Pilgrimages: Paris as a myriad of pilgrimages

20 avril 2021… there are many reasons one might want to visit Paris, and even during confinement with all the shops and museums closed, there is still plenty to see and discover. Today’s MyFrenchLife LIVE Weekday Wandering started on the steps of St Étienne-du-Mont (5ème) which is a breathtakingly beautiful church in itself with an amazing history …

Pilgrimages: Paris as a myriad of pilgrimages

[Here you can learn more about the new MyFrenchLife Weekday wandering in Paris which I’m helping launch. The purpose of these LIVE videos is to help members who are yearning to be in Paris feel transported to France.]

Midnight in Paris

But the real reason I wanted to go there was that it is an important feature in one of my favourite movies of all time, ‘Midnight in Paris‘ (2011). Whether it’s because I love Owen Wilson’s boyish charm, or admire Woody Allen’s quirky scripting – or simply that the movie is a veritable love letter to my favourite city in the world – there is something very special about hunting down and visiting all those sights shown in the film. Like a sort of pilgrimage.

Emily in Paris

And for ‘Emily in Paris (2020) followers … it was just a short walk away, past the Panthéon, to Emily’s home in Place de l’Estrapade to see several notable places: the apartment, the fountain, the café, the restaurant, and the boulangerie.

For the record, I was not impressed with the show itself, but who can resist the gorgeous scenery of Paris! And then, while crossing Rue St Jacques, I came across one of the many medallions marking the Route de St Jacques de Compostelle, and that got me thinking about Paris as a destination for pilgrimages.

Pilgrimage: St Jacques de Compostelle in Spain

I don’t know much about religious journeys, but I recognised this symbol when I first came across it last year when walking down Rue St Jacques, and knowing that the scallop is called a coquille St Jacques in French, I made the connection.

Then, when I came across Église St Jacques du Haut Pas, the plaque outside explained that this church has for many centuries provided respite for pilgrims on the route to St Jacques de Compostelle in Spain.

The Da Vinci Code

While I might not be keen on following that particular trail (a bit too long to be covered in a 15-minute video), there is another one in the same quartier which has held my fascination for years. I am a huge fan of Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code‘ (2003), and its 2006 movie. While the story itself is a fabrication, it is based on enough documented history, symbolism, and philosophical intrigue to be hugely compelling.

I was not only drawn to the locations shot for the film, but also to the significance of the “Rose Line”, or the Paris Prime Meridian which was superseded by that at Greenwich in England.

Dutch artist Jan Dibbets created this “invisible monument” (1994-95) which consists of around 135 medallions following this theoretical line through the centre of Paris. The medallions bear the name ARAGO, after François Arago (1786-1853), celebrated physicist, mathematician, and astronomer whose monument is located on the corner of Rue du Faubourg St-Jacques and Boulevard Arago (14ème). Directly facing this is the garden of the Paris Observatory, where one can see an actual line paved into the grass which corresponds to the official one within the observatory itself.

The meridian extends up through the Jardin de Luxembourg (not St Sulpice or the Pyramide Inversée at the Louvre as the movie asserts, but it still makes for a good story), through Palais Royal, and terminates near Porte de Clignancourt.

This pathway merits a whole article on its own, it is so fascinating. I haven’t attempted the whole thing but it is certainly on my bucket list.

La Bièvre

Yet another medallion trail, also in the area, is that which follows the La Bièvre, a river which once flowed through the 13ème arrondissement and emptied into the Seine on Quai St Bernard.

Once an integral feature of the Gobelins quartier, industrial pollution, and a sanitary crisis forced authorities to cover it over beginning in the late 1700s.

While one can currently follow its original course through the neighbourhood via the brass medallions, a recent restoration project aims to restore the river to its former above-ground state.

Literary pilgrimages in Paris

Not so much a physical path, but an emotional one, my first trip to France 15 years ago was to follow in the footsteps of my favourite author Anaïs Nin (1903-1977).

  • This included a trip out to Louveciennes (Yvelines) to see her house,
  • lunch at her favourite restaurant La Coupole (Boulevard de Montparnasse, 14ème), and
  • searching out the apartment in Villa Seurat (14ème) which she shared with her lover Henry Miller.

Nin and Miller were part of the literary elite in Paris during the 1930s, following on from the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald who feature in that movie I love, ‘Midnight in Paris’.

So yes, I have visited many – but not all – of the places from the movie; although I did one better..

  • I read Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ too, and soon
  • sought out (amongst other places) his home in Rue Cardinal Lemoine (5ème),
  • Gertrude Stein’s apartment in Rue Fleurus (6ème), and
  • I made sure to dine at La Closerie des Lilas (Port-Royal, 6ème) before it was shut down for the second confinement.
  • With so many books to read, and movies to see, the next steps of my most recent literary pilgrimage are literally just around the corner.

I am sure there are a myriad of quests one might seek out in Paris, either based on real histories or fantasy, which makes for an intriguing and personalised connection to Paris that might otherwise be lost under touristic clichés.

If you haven’t already seen ‘Midnight in Paris’, I highly recommend it (as for ‘Emily in Paris’… not so much).

Design your own unique pilgrimages? or join us

However, I am sure that many of you will have your own unique pilgrimages that you could explore as well, whether you live these out yourself on your next visit to Paris, or virtually with us at MyFrenchLife; make sure you let us know, we would love to help you with bring that to a reality.

As it is, there are a number of ideas here that we could certainly incorporate into a Weekday Wandering in Paris, and I hope you will join us as we share those.

Further information:
1. Discover the MyFrenchLife Weekday Wandering Walks in Paris
2. Join the MyFrenchLife Private Community Group on Facebook to join the Weekday Wandering LIVE.
3. Read about discoveries made during an earlier MyFrenchLife Weekday Wandering at the Palais Royal

Have you ever undertaken any personal pilgrimages in Pari? If so we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


Image Credits:
All photographs copyright Jacqueline Lucquin Edwards


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