Monday, February 2, 2009


Since I’ve been in Paris, I have been struck over and over again about how magnificently old some of this city is. On top of that, all of the older buildings, statues, and structures around Paris demonstrate a spectacular attention to detail, something that I truly believe has been all but lost. This is what I was thinking about when Michael and I happened upon the Tour de Saint-Jacques this afternoon.

Most of the other students had gone to the Picasso exhibit for this week’s entry, and Michael and I were not among them, so we decided to do something together. Going with the fundamental idea of the class, we proceeded to pick a metro stop and just walk around the area and see if we found anything interesting. We picked Châtelet both because it is a huge metro station and easy to get to and easy for us to get home, but also because it is close to the center of the city, in the fourth arrondissment, and we thought there would be lots of interesting things to discover. We were right.

Rising out of the wet and gray cityscape, the tower looms flamboyantly over its own plaza. The Parisians surely know how to light up their ancient structures, so while the surrounding buildings sulked in the shadows of their own hunch-shouldered dampness, the tour stood at least two stories higher than all of them, every crafted detail illuminated by carefully placed floodlights. And details there were. I believe that I can honestly say that la Tour de Saint-Jacques is the most detailed structure I’ve seen so far in Europe. I mentioned earlier that the tower has an air of flamboyance – after doing some research, I found that the architecture is actually called “flamboyant gothic.” The design and sculpture on the tower is truly overwhelming in its curly-cued complexity, and to make matters even more interesting, the tower was originally part of a church that was later torn down. I really cannot imagine an entire church done in the same style as that tower. It might actually look overdone, perhaps a few too many flourishes and sweeps and niches. While I mourn the loss of what was surely a wonderful place of worship, I am of the opinion that the tower really does stand better on it’s own.

To provide a verbal image of the detail work on the tower is difficult. However, one aspect of the structure does stand out. On the tower, there are nineteen saints carved close to life-sized and placed in various niches at varying heights. These nineteen saints were crafted by 19 different artists, and on the information placard near the tower, they had close-up shots of each of the saint’s faces. It is easy to see that each saint was hand carved with a completely individual style. Perhaps I’ve missed a critical detail about French gothic design (I could ask our tour guide from Lille I suppose), but I don’t think that commissioning 19 artists to create 19 individual renditions is typical. I felt extremely privileged to be able to walk all the way around the tower (as Michael and I did) and see the craftsmanship of so many gifted people.

To truly put the structure of the tower onto metaphorical paper, I'd have to use words like mellifluous, serendipitous, hierarchy, crystalline and horticulture, but those make no sense when strung together, so I’ve attached a picture.

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