Paris Angels and Demons
When Rosemary Flannery invited me to join her and a few others on a tour of Paris angels, I hadn’t expected it to be raining like the devil. Not everyone was as stalwart, so the intimate group was down to a select few with umbrellas and determination.
As I waited for her and the others to arrive at Place Saint-Michel, holding a red umbrella, a couple of young men speaking a Slavic language came over to ask if I was their tour guide.
“No, sorry! I’m waiting for a guide to take a tour, myself.”
“It was your umbrella — with that bright color, we thought maybe you were the leader!”
Rosemary’s umbrella wasn’t red, but her jacket was. She is the author of Angels of Paris: An Architectural Tour through the History of Paris. That’s the book that the armchair traveler can fully enjoy, while we cold and wet diehards would have the privilege of hearing the stories of angels from the source of such wisdom. The inclement weather was a small price to pay for such a privilege.
Without Rosemary to point them out, it would be easy to live in Paris without ever noticing the cherubs at every turn. With or without wings, these sculpted supernatural beings and be found over doorways, on the top of towers and steeples, at the base of fountains — who watch out for us, guide us and keep us humble. Her in-depth historical looking up while she walks the streets of the City of Light (and Halos) has opened our eyes to a detail we might not have noticed otherwise.
We didn’t get as far in the tour as Rosemary would have liked, ‘thanks’ to the typical Parisian weather which might have dampened our spirits, but while on a break downing coffee, hot chocolate and croissants (one of the best I’ve ever eaten) at the café Les Deux Palais, we could look up, see the steeple of Sainte-Chapelle awash with angels and listen to Rosemary’s narrative. She is incredibly well-informed and no doubt, is fascinated by the winged creatures.
In the gray, rainy climate, the tower looks dull and blackened from pollution, but in her photo taken in bright sunlight against a blue sky, the gilded details shine bright. Rosemary confessed that she is known to sport a ladder with her around town to get the best shot she can. She must look like quite a sight, with a tall ladder under her arms, although Parisians likely think nothing of it as they go about their merry way pretending to be ‘jaded’ by life.
In researching the elaborate steeple further this morning, I discovered an old photo by Auguste Mestral in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art of one of Sainte-Chapelle’s angels, sculpted by Adolphe-Victor Geoffroy Dechaume, before it was lifted to it’s perch on the steeple. In the photo, as a result of a long exposure, the soft edges gives a “sense that the sculpted angel has come to life and descended a beam of light to appear to the sleeping workman in a dream —- like the angel appearing to Jacob -— while his companion remains oblivious to the vision taking place a few feet away.”
The angels are often accompanied by demons, as is the sculpture at the Fontaine Place Saint-Michel. It’s a rather fierce depiction of the Archangel Michael and the devil by Francisque-Joseph Duret, bookended by winged dragons sculpted by Henri Alfred Jacquemart. The architect of the French Second Empire fountain was Gabriel Davioud as part of the reconstruction of Paris overseen by Baron Haussmann. Davioud originally wanted something much more peaceful, feminine and benign, yet opponents to various ideas led to the Archangel Michael wrestling with the devil and the two winged dragons, all in bronze. In all the years of using the Place as a perfect meeting spot, it is shameful to admit I had never studied the sculptures before that moment.
It wouldn’t be surprising if you hadn’t either. There is so much architectural detail to discover in the city that it’s easy to be oblivious to all the angels (and demons) of which we are surrounded. While descending a stairwell to a parking garage last week with Interior Architect and Designer, Martine di Mattéo, an absolute cherub stopped us dead in our tracks — appearing on a poster announcing the ‘birth’ of the Lafayette Advertising Agency. It looks like someone on their creative team had been looking up, too — just like Rosemary, to discover such sweet guardian angels.
On the wall of an elementary school on rue des Hospitalières Saint-Gervais just off rue des Rosiers, that was once a “pavillon de boucherie” (butcher’s pavilion) inaugurated in June of 1823, there are two fountain mouths — twin ox heads, whose horns and cheeks are decorated with fruits and pendants (created in 1819 by sculptor Edme Gaulle), looking very fierce indeed. Someone else who also pays attention to the detailed angels and demons of the city, expressed his/her own take on the demon-like sculptures, by adding to the face a body of a well-built male nude leisurely finding a solution to a maze puzzle. How wonderful a way that the demon was turned into an angel. If I hadn’t taken Rosemary’s tour, I’d might never have noticed it.
In our conversations as we followed Rosemary from angel to angel, clinking umbrellas and trying to remain warm and dry, we learned that angels aren’t always simply in stone or bronze. Many people profess to have seen angels themselves, or have had angels appear in their lives at the very moment one was needed to guide them to the right path.
Such a story happened to me many years ago in a very unlikely place. I was running with a friend as fast as we could to get to a 42nd Street theater in time to see “Young Frankenstein” when a tall man poorly dressed stepped directly into our paths from nowhere and said nothing more than, “Young Frankenstein: turn right at the corner and you’ll see the theater.”
We did, entered the theater and took our seats at the moment the curtain went up. Then, still out of breath from having run for blocks, we both looked at one another and asked ourselves, “Who was that man? How did he know where we were headed? Wasn’t that the strangest thing? He must have been our guardian angel!”
SPECIAL NOTE: Rosemary Flannery is not only an author of “Angels of Paris,” which is soon to be published in French, she is also a professional tour guide and lecturer. You can find her tours by visiting her Passport to Paris site. She will also be speaking at Parler Paris Après Midi on October 13th of this year, soon after the French version of Angels of Paris is released. See Parler Paris Après Midi for more details.
A la prochaine,
(photo by Tom Reeves, Founder of Discover Paris)
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P.P.S. For those of you in the New York City area, who would like to know more about investing in France, I will be available for private consultations on March 13th through 18th. Consultations are typically two hours, and I will be offering my usual euro fee at the same rate, but in U.S. dollars. Email me personally to make your appointment: [email protected]