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The Basilica of the Sacred Heart

Posted by Jacob Hawthorne on

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris is a Roman Catholic place of worship located in France. It was built in dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

Sacré-Cœur, as it is more commonly known, is situated on the highest point in the city on top of the butte Montmartre. The building attracts millions of tourists each year.  

 The church was designed by Paul Abadie, a prominent French architect who entered a competition and won in 1873. His entry was chosen, beating twelve other competitors. However, Abadie would die before the completion of the basilica.

 The basilica holds political and cultural significance and sadly represents a national penance for the defeat of France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. The basilica is also meaningfully constructed in an area which witnessed significant events by the Paris Commune of 1871.

 During the Franco-Prussian war, Paris fell under siege for four months which eventually culminated in French defeat. The Commune was an anti-religious and revolutionary government in control of Paris for two months, until the regular French Army suppressed it in bitter fighting during "La Semaine Sanglante" ("The Bloody Week") 

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 The basilica was not appreciated by everyone and was declared a provocation to civil war by many Parisians. However, after many objections and delays, the basilica was finally completed in 1914 and consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919.

The Internal Features of the Basilica

Many features of the basilica symbolise nationalist themes such as the three arches of the portico which are adorned by Joan of Arc, King Saint Louis IX, and the nineteen-tonSavoyarde bell.

 These famous bells are cast in the Paccard foundry on the shore of pristine Lac d'Annecy in Haute Savoie. The company remains one of the last bell foundries in France today but their products are located throughout the world and can be found in some unlikely locations such as a small village in Congo, a university in Taipei and the Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

The Cavaillé-Coll Organ

Another stunning internal feature of the basilica is the grand pipe organ built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. He is reputed to be the most distinguished organ builder to have ever lived. 

 This fact is particularly amusing to me. It is not often a proud Yorkshireman such as I can share an affinity with the high culture of Paris. 

However, I was born in Sheffield, a proud city, and a culturally important industrial centre in the UK. The Sheffield Albert Hall had a Cavaillé-Coll organ that was considered the best in the world at the time— until a mysterious fire burnt the building down destroying it in 1937. 

 The organ in the Sacré-Cœur is another Cavaillé-Coll model which is still operational today. It has 109 ranks, and 78 speaking stops spread across four 61-note manuals and the 32-note pedalboard.

The Replica on a Caribbean Island

In 1902 on the island of Martinique, a French territory in the Caribbean. A volcano called Mount Pelée erupted and destroyed the main city of Saint-Pierre. Consequently, much of the population relocated to the south of the island, but there was a distinct lack of a place of worship. Therefore, a local bishop named Lequien commissioned the construction of the Sacré-Coeur de la Balata. It was a diminutive replica of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. Similar to the famous construction in Paris, the Sacré-Coeur de la Balata sits high in the hills overlooking the area.

 I mentioned my heritage previously in this article, and I learned something about my hometown that I had not formerly known. The best artwork and images have the power to move us into action, stir up our emotions and make us think. 

 In my opinion, the more I travel the world, the smaller it feels. We share so much culture that is either lost or forgotten. Photographs like this one from Chalbaud highlight our shared history. 

 Chalbaud has captured the basilica in a glorious gloom and represents an interesting dichotomy. It does not look joyous or too depressing. It reflects the actual history of the building, which is a monument that sits on the hill, a place of worship and hope that has witnessed so much dark history. Depending on your personality you can either dwell in the past or hope for a better future.

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