Can you see my halo from there? Shoot, I can’t see it here, either. I keep trying… But with our pilgrimages yesterday, one would think it would be all shiny and illuminating. Apparently it takes more than just visiting the churches where those who have earned halos are buried, to get one.
After Mass last week, hunkered down in our hoods, scarves and umbrellas, into the deluge, we headed out on our walk home. At the traffic light, a sweet Filipino woman joined us without an umbrella. Wade proffered his, but she answered, “No, I am fine. Rain means abundance!” The green man flashed on the pedestrian sign and we parted ways, with me grumbling to myself, “Abundance? Seriously?” Since that meeting, I have thought of her quote. Her wisdom?
The following Saturday, in the gray and sprinkling rain, we picked a day destination and began our routine of bundling up, packing the umbrella, grabbing the metro passes and venturing out. We started off just six metro stops from the house and found ourselves at the bottom of a cobblestoned street. The crowd was like a procession, trudging up the hill, something in the distance the goal. Coming out of the dank tunnel from the Anvers Metro, all you can see really is this cobblestone road and the throng of people. Until you are in the scrum, you don’t notice all the tourist shops and the rogue gamers, whose games belie the purpose of their efforts. Holding on tightly to Liam’s hand and my purse, we forged onward. Just over the first crest of the road, the Sacré Couer suddenly appears with flourishes, as if she were playing peek-a-boo with us. First you don’t see her, then suddenly you do…and you stop in awe, right there in the middle of the street with a thousand international strangers (and a few rogue locals) and wonder, “How did I NOT just see that?”
Despite the name, the Funicular does NOT look fun, so we began our ascent toward the cream puff domes. One must climb over 270 steps to get to the entrance of Sacré Couer, but with the amount of people going up, coming down, stopping (most) and the pushy ribbon tie-ers, it is a very slow rising. People clamber for the open spot on the steps, not to get closer to the basilica but to be able to get “that” perfect picture. And really, who wouldn’t? I certainly tried. After getting to the top plateau, we snapped a few photos of the church in her glory. The domes! The Château-Landon stone! The gargoyles! A lot of people come for the view, but truly, when it is cloudy, somber and the sky rather nondescript, I figured, “Why bother?” Inside was truthfully what I wanted to see. What I needed. And the fact that it sits on the highest point in Paris gave me the feeling that I was even “that much closer” to the One I needed to speak with.
The beauty seen as you walk is in regal and pietistic, but the beauty felt is beyond sublime. The presence of Christ is there above the altar, where He has been for Perpetual Adoration since August 1, 1885. One hundred thirty-two and half years, uninterrupted. Instant humbling, instant gratitude. We walked around the side chapels and sat before our Lord, and it truly was if time had stood still. Except for the fact my stomach was growling, I had no idea we had been there all morning.
Millions each year have walked the steps up to the Sacré Couer, walking in the same steps that kings of France, St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Joan of Arc, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Ingatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and St. Denis have all walked. Walking among the saints to be with the One who is there waiting for each one of us.
A little further around the bend of Butte Montmartre is an older church, St. Pierre de Montmartre. I had never heard of this church by name, but am grateful I now have been there. It was a twelfth century church built by King Louis VI, as a Benedictine Abbey and convent, and partitioned so parishioners could also worship. The church was destroyed during the French Revolution, but was rebuilt in the nineteenth century, using the original Romanesque columns in the nave. Architecturally, the inside pales in comparison to Sacré Couer and Notre Dame, but it has its own palpable beauty with stained glass and a relic of St. Therese of Lisieux. It is said that St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier took vows here, which lead to the founding of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.
Coming out of St. Pierre, on to the rue St. Vincent, where the little shops and bistros line the street, interspersed with vines that have been growing long before the nineteenth century, we stumbled into the square where the local artists peddle their work. All French, all mediums, all joyful. We grabbed a baguette, a coffee and truly the best Nutella crêpe I have ever eaten. This little day trip was filling the longings of all my senses! We looked around and visited with some of the artists, watched them sketch, and finally found the one little watercolor I had no idea I was looking for until I saw it.
Spirits lifted, genuinely and figuratively, we decided to end our day by visiting the Basilique Royale de Saint-Denis. St. Denis lived in the third century, and he was martyred, beheaded, for his faith. In art all over the world, he is depicted in his vestments, holding his head in front of his chest. The basilica was a couple metro changes and stops over, to another part of Paris we had yet to visit. We had made a little generalization when we first moved here that each of the metro lines seems to have a personality, defined by the crowd that rides them. Today proved our point. But I digress…
The basilica is the first of the all Gothic cathedrals in Europe. It was built (well, the choir was completed) in 1144. It was a place of pilgrimage for Christians, some to stop here, others on their way to Rome. It was the necropolis of the French kings and queens, from the tenth through the eighteenth centuries, perhaps even earlier…and later if you count Napoleon III. Above the altar, in gilded Gothic reliquaries, lined in red velvet, are relics from St. Denis. Tombs line the side aisles, while the nave arcade is filled with rushed-seated wooden chairs. There is a crypt down underneath the church that has tombs dating from the pre-Christian era. The architecture alone fills one with awe, how the stones are so evenly curved and aligned. The high arches, the rose window, the detail on the mausoleums. And again, to think of all those holy who have been before, and all of us who strive to get there. It is a beautiful, if somewhat off Fodor’s beaten path, place of peace.
Traveling home with a heart full of love, a soul full of yearning and a belly full of chocolatey- hazelnut deliciousness, I agree that rain means abundance. I will spend my life striving for that halo but with the gifts given to me, despite the stumbles along the way, I am in good company, past, present and future. The rain is abundant here, as is the faith. The love. And my heart is happy I am here to get my fill. Okay, most days.