This afternoon the boys and I were stumbling through the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter, trying to find the Guillotine Bar, where you can supposedly look through the window and see an actual guillotine (not true!), when we happened upon Saint-Severin church. In all my visits to Paris, I had never made it by this old parish, built over the grave of Severinus, a fifth-century hermit. The present church was constructed in the 13th century (mostly), and is an example of “flamboyant” (= meant to suggest flames) late Gothic.
It was breathtaking, this little old church. In fact, I wished my kids weren’t with me, so I could sit down and just be there for as long as I could. I don’t know, y’all, there’s something about Gothic architecture that moves me like nothing else. I got emotional, walking around the church, feeling protective of it, wanting to be there among those old stones every week, looking after them. As longtime readers know, it was the sacred beauty of the Chartres cathedral that first pierced my heart with a longing for God as an adult. A strange thought occurred to me tonight: what if some other religion had produced temples in the Gothic style? Would I believe? Would I be tempted to believe?
I don’t know, but the fact that the question occurs at all tells me something about the way I’m put together. In my view, there is no religious architecture in all the world that equals the Gothic churches of northern Europe. If I had my life to live over, I might become a scholar of these churches, and the culture that produced them.
We have only this week left in Paris. I am going to try to go spend an hour in Saint-Severin’s, just praying. I get emotional just thinking about it. Those stones. Those lines. The people who have been praying there for over a thousand years. Saint Severinus, the old hermit, who lived and died on the bank of the river in this ancient city…
Incidentally, I ran across a chapel of a modern saint at Saint-Severin today, St. Therese of Lisieux. Lucas and I lit a candle to her, and asked her to always look after Ruthie’s girls: