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Hotel Saint-Merry – Paris

History of the house

Sheer Gothic nights evocative of French medieval revival in the heart of the Marais

The setting: Paris—opposite the Pompidou Centre (Beaubourg), a ‘flamboyant’ late-Gothic church and its adjoining 17th century presbytery with a small restaurant on the ground floor and bedrooms on four floors, each with their closely spaced, old ceiling beams. Magnificent early 19th-century furniture abounds—dark, decorative and highly polished—pure neo-Gothic: vignettes of the past: a polychrome of French sandstone, crimson and walnut brown. Hotel Saint-Merry a truly historic hotel for those with a yen for sheer romanticism.

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Hotel Saint-Merry, the former presbytery is adjoined to the left of its church of the same name.

Saint Merry and its church

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Very little is known about the life of Saint-Merry. However, it is more than probable that on his arrival in Paris, he established a small monastic community (as can be seen in this painting by Simon Vouet, where he is portrayed wearing a monk’s cowl).

At the end of the 7th century, Saint Méderic, the abbot of Autun, withdrew from public life to end his days near the ancient church of Saint-Pierre des Bois on the right bank of Paris. After a succession of miracles that were attributed to him, he became the object of public devotion, and a chapel was built; but as the district of Les Halles became more and more populated, it was soon followed by the construction of a collegiate church. In about 1500, the populace wanting something more appropriate to the memory of their Saint—whose name had by then been shortened to Merri or Merry—built another church in the ‘flamboyant’ style of the late Gothic period. With the choir the same length as the nave, the church of Saint-Merry follows the same architectural plan of the Notre-Dame cathedral. The tower that backs up against the west portal of the church was built in 1612.

The changing face of a presbytery

The adjoining edifice that now houses the Saint-Merry hotel, is a bit younger than the church, which appears to be confirmed by the extraordinary bedroom on the third floor whose decor is dominated by two flying buttresses that support the thrust of the church’s vaulting behind the tower.

Hotel Saint-Merry Paris

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Some ceilings on different floors show traces of alterations, as if spiral staircases, or old chimneys have been dismantled.

The building’s many rooms no doubt served to accommodate the cathedral’s seven canons. It was little altered in the centuries that followed, unlike the church itself, which was ‘modernized’ in imitation of the Baroque style of the Notre-Dame cathedral. When the church was deconsecrated after the Revolution—transformed first into a saltpetre factory and then, in 1801, a ‘temple of commerce’—the presbytery was bought by a private individual; and tradition has it that it then was used as a brothel. It is uncertain if, at the time of the Restoration, it ever resumed its ecclesiastical function. The district is known to have suffered a period of great poverty and popular uprisings, as described in Victor Hugo’s work, Les Misérables. Suffice it to say that at the end of the 20th century, the building was converted into a hotel.

A homogeneous décor

The hotel’s new owners with intuitive insight bought an important lot of neo-Gothic furniture at auction, which stylistically, is entirely in keeping with the bare stone walls and the heavily beamed ceilings of the old presbytery. The sculpted tables, rib-backed chairs, linen-fold panelling, and other carved ornamentation of grimacing figures, evoke the world of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the coordinating architect for the restoration of Notre-Dame cathedral. The dark wood tones, with their walnut patina are at one with the cast iron chandeliers and other metalwork. One can easily understand why the hotel is so attractive to photographers who want a Gothic setting for their portrait sessions!

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intoHistory TipThe heraldic blazon of three fleurs-de-lys—the old coat-of-arms of France—can be seen carved into many pieces of furniture, which suggests they date back to the beginning of the 19th century, at the time of the Restoration, or the July Monarchy.

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Facilities

  • 11 Gothic bedrooms (en-suite bathrooms)
  • 1 suite (5 beds)
  • TV / Wifi / telephone
  • Breakfast in the room on request (not included)
  • There is no lift in the hotel
  • Spoken languages: English, French
  • Private parking in front of the Hotel (but driving in Paris is not recommended)
  • Distance from Charles de Gaulle airport: 60 min.
  • Gare du Nord (railway station): 15 min.
  • Metro « Châtelet » (RER B – lines 4 and 11) or « Hôtel de Ville » (lines 1 and 11)
  • Non-accessible for those with reduced mobility
  • Families and children welcome
  • Domestic pets are not allowed
  • Non-smoking interior

In the neighbourhood

You should certainly start your discovery of the area with the Church of Saint-Merry. In spite of the later, yet congruent Baroque integration, the building is a fine example of the last flowering of Gothic art. You will find many works of art here, both ancient and modern—the latter is, perhaps, the influence the Centre Pompidou opposite the church. The little bell tower is home to the oldest bell in Paris, which dates back to the 14th century.

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Beautiful late-Gothic crossing of Saint-Merry Church.

Dedicated history buffs will notice a strangely carved keystone above the west entrance, which represents a winged devil—half-man, half-woman. This esoteric figure was sculpted in the first half of the 19th century, and is a rather unusual feature to be found in a church porch. Fans of the occult will interpret it as an effigy of Baphomet, an idol which the Knights Templar were accused of worshiping.

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This strange carving with its demonic characteristics, is described by Umberto Eco in his famous novel, ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’ and its significance is still a subject of great interest to historians.

In close proximity is the Saint-Jacques tower which is all that remains of a church with the same name, which was demolished during the Revolution. Its slender, soaring proportions and its rich ornamentation, bear witness to the showiness of the late Gothic period. It is a moment of sheer happiness to walk in its park while taking in the proud elegance of each façade.

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The pinnacle ornamentation and sculpture, mostly original, form a splendid contrast against an evening sky.

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A painting by impressionist artist Paul Vogler, which hangs in one of the hotel’s bedrooms, was inspired by the south rose window as seen from the triforium.

Just a few minutes away, on the other side of the bridge is the magnificent spread of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. This symbolic monument, still a consecrated Catholic Church, is so beautiful that it is easy to understand why millions of tourists will queue to visit it. If you get a chance to look round it at a time when there are fewer people, give yourself up to the spirit of the place and spend a few minutes sitting in the pews as if you were the only person in the world.

There are many other monuments in Paris that evoke the Gothic and neo-Gothic periods. The Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie both situated in the Île de la Cité are particularly beautiful examples. Between Saint-Merry and the Louvre, you will find the church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, which is typical of the medieval momentum, revisited in the 19th century.

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The sumptuous Gothic cellars, with their forest of ribbed vaulting, in the Conciergerie.

In the Marais district, the Place des Vosges will enchant you with its harmonious proportions, and the warm colours of its (original) false brick plaster. In one corner of the square Victor Hugo’s apartment will plunge you into the heart of romanticism with its décor, its furniture and the book collections. Finally, a little detour will take you to the famous Père Lachaise cemetery, where there are many particularly poignant neo-Gothic funerary statues.

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A beautiful face carved in stone—between neo-Gothic and Symbolism © Adrian Tombu

To read, watch or listen to

 

Hotel_Saint_Merry_Paris-43Enrich your stay, with some instructive or romantic reading while listening to music typical of the two periods. Or watch (re-watch) the films listed below for some colourful background to the places you visit.

Learn and understand

  • Capture d’écran 2015-05-21 à 18.37.26Viollet-le-Duc: The French Gothic Revival’, by Jean-Paul Midant (2002)
    The architect, Viollet-le-Duc, would have figured large among the 19th-century thinkers and artists who were fascinated by medieval France. He was responsible for the restoration of many emblematic monuments, notably, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Château de Pierrefonds, near Compiègne, and the walled city of Carcassonne. His architectural dictionaries and treatises were to have a deep influence on an entire generation of master architects. This is a wonderful introduction to the French Gothic revival.

Books to savor during your stay

  • Capture d’écran 2015-05-21 à 18.36.45The Hunchback of Notre-Dame’, by Victor Hugo
    Who does not know the story of the beautiful Esmeralda and Quasimodo, the hunchback, whose destinies were to cross and play out within the vaults of Notre Dame Cathedral? A true, historical novel based on important research into 15th-century France, Hugo’s colourful characters are steeped in torment and romance, but bestowed with a depth which give this literary masterpiece its inimitable charm. To read (or re-read) for its evocative strength and the inner richness of his characters.
  • Les MiserablesLes Misérables’, by Victor Hugo
    A magisterial and awe-inspiring work of over 1232 pages that not only depicts Paris in the early 19th century—a faithful representation of the harsh reality of blatant injustices, of grinding poverty, and of futile grandiosity—but also paints a picture of profound humanism and overwhelming fraternity. It is a true reflection of the social momentum of that time, and however attractive or contemptible his many characters, Hugo explores, in minute detail, the inner turmoil of their lives. He also gives a vivid account of the populist, anti monarchist insurrection in 1832: ‘les barricades de Saint-Merry’, which was mercilessly crushed by the national guard.

Films to be watched before arriving

  • Hunchback Notre DameThe Hunchback of Notre-Dame’, directed by Jean Delannoy, with Gina Lollobrigida and Anthony Quinn (1956)
    This is one of the best interpretations of Victor Hugo’s novel and is just as romantic. Medieval Paris—heroic and tragic—as perceived through 19th-century eyes. Noble hearts and courage rub shoulders with mean spiritedness and craven cowardice.
  • Les Miserables DVDLes Misérables’, directed by Bille August, with Liam Neeson and Uma Thurman (1998)
    There are many cinematic versions of this novel. The film directed by Bille August is one of the most recent. The reconstitution of old Paris is high quality. Unfortunately, it is difficult to condense some 1250 pages into a two-hour film, especially when it comes to capturing the appalling living conditions of children in the Marais district of 19th century Paris.

The perfect setting for a little music

  • Capture d’écran 2015-05-15 à 19.09.53Requiem Mass & Motets, Eustache Du Caurroy
    Polyphonic chant was extremely popular in the 16th century—the time when the Saint-Merry church was being constructed—and lends itself admirably to religious services. Eustache Du Caurroy was master of the King’s music, and the last exponent of this style that was carried through to the next century. His music for mass would have been well known by the canons who lived in the presbytery at that time.
  • Capture d’écran 2015-05-14 à 23.09.16Danse macabre’, Camille Saint-Saens
    Hidden behind the lighter rhythms of this dance, are darker tones that become increasingly apparent, and end up by overwhelming the listener in a hellish whirlpool of sound. The violins’ eerie strains, the intractable beat of the drums and the cold trumpet air form a sonorous world that perfectly partners the heavy beams and dark furniture with their ornamentation of clowns and horned monsters.

 

Some of the links below will enable you to consult the recommended titles directly on Amazon.com. If you decide to purchase one of these titles via this link, please note that intoHistory will receive a small commission on your transaction, which goes towards covering its running costs.

Guests comments

Évaluation selon 1 avis:

Historical authenticity
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Gery de Pierpont

15-05-2015

L’Hôtel Saint-Merry est idéalement situé au centre ville, à deux pas d’un grand nombre de points d’intérêt touristique. Le quartier est aussi constellé de petits cafés, restaurants et boutiques en tout genre : immersion dans le bouillonnement de la vie parisienne assurée. Comme c’est souvent le cas dans la capitale française, ne cherchez pas de salon, de salle à manger ou de lobby-bar dans l’hôtel… C’est dans les chambres que cela se passe.
Le caractère historique des lieux complique un peu son aménagement touristique. L’absence d’ascenseur, d’air conditionné ou de faux-plafonds isolants, par exemple, ne doit pas vous surprendre. De petits à-côtés nettement compensés par le soin accordé à l’accueil, les vastes salles de bains, les boissons chaudes en chambre et bien sûr la richesse du décor !

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Historical authenticity
Ambiance and settings
Quality of welcome
Degree of comfort

17th century Presbytery Hotel 150-220€/room

Delve into history

Hôtel Saint-Merry ***
78 rue de la Verrerie
75004   PARIS (Marais)
France
+33 1 42 78 14 15
+33 1 40 29 06 82 (fax)

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