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Beautiful Churches: Paris Edition

Quasimodo. Remember that guy? The hunchback of Notre Dame who fell hopelessly in love with Esmeralda, the beautiful and kind-hearted gypsy. He is the cathedral’s bell ringer and he lives in the bell tower of Notre Dame. Among his friends are the humorous gargoyles that keep watch over the city of Paris at the top of the cathedral. Aside from the Titanic, this was the more age-appropriate movie my parents took me to when I was a child. It captivated my imagination and it certainly got me infatuated with Notre-Dame de Paris. So, of course we had to visit it when we were in Paris!

Notre Dame, seen from across the Seine.

Notre Dame, seen from across the Seine.

Just like any other famous landmarks, the Notre Dame was packed with tourists and travelers alike. We had the opportunity to attend the International Mass on Sunday, which, while beautiful, was definitely the most distracting Mass I have ever been to in my life. Sure they closed off the main nave of the cathedral for the Eucharistic celebration, but that certainly did not stop people from using their flash while taking pictures around the interior of the cathedral. Disrespectful, much? That said, the church IS gorgeous and I highly recommend a visit when you are in Paris. However, it is not the only beautiful church in the city. If you have enough time, consider going into these 3 churches that are less popular, but just as stunning.

Sacre Coeur Basilica
(La Basilique du Sacre Coeur de Montmartre) 

Metro: Abbesses (Line 12), Anvers (Line 2), or Lamark Coulaincourt (Line 12)


Although getting to its entrance requires you to climb many, many stairs, the view of the city of love from the top of the hill makes it worth the climb! Its inside smells of old, musty wood, but make no mistake, it is very majestic. Photography is not allowed inside, so I don’t have any picture to show you. But, trust me on this – go to Sacre-Coeur and you won’t regret it! FYI – For those who are not able to climb the steps, there is a cable car available to take you up to the entrance of the basilica.


Locals and travelers chill out on the steps of the Basilica

Saint Augustin Church
(Eglise Saint-Augustin de Paris)

Metro: Saint-Augustin (Line 9)

We had no plans of going into this church. In fact, we didn’t even know it exists! We had plenty of time to kill as we were waiting for our train to depart to Lisieux from Gare St Lazare. Not ones to sit around and twiddle our thumbs, we took a gamble and started walking around the area. We ventured into a small alleyway, through a playground, and eventually came out to the side of this gorgeous church.

Front facade of St. Augustin

Front facade of the Church of St. Augustin

One of my absolute favourite saints: St. Augustine. If you don't know his story, look it up!

One of my absolute favourite saints: St. Augustine. If you don’t know his story, look it up!


The Tabernacle

The Tabernacle

 It is certainly an off-the-beaten-path landmark, but a beautiful one at that!

Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal
(Chapelle Notre Dame de la Medaille Miraculeuse)

Metro: Sevres-Babylone (Lines 10 and 12) or Saint-Placide (Line 4)

Being the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Catherine Laboure (then a Novice sister in the order of the Daughters of Charity) in 1830, this chapel is a very busy and relatively well-known pilgrimage site in France. Like the Met in New York, its humble and very simple exterior boasts nothing of the beauty inside the chapel. Because of this, It is tricky to find. So, pay attention when you are walking on Rue du Bac. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see a statue of the Virgin with child over the entrance way.


Why the miraculous medal,  you ask? The Virgin Mary appeared to St. Catherine imploring her to create a medal, which was distributed in 1832 during a deadly cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 20,000 lives. As the story goes, many cures were reported, along with conversions and protections after the distribution of the medals. Hence the name miraculous.

Inside the chapel

Inside the chapel


I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of visiting the less-famous landmarks of the city. It almost feels like I have uncovered the city’s best-kept secrets *snickers*. Do you feel the same way? Do you make it a point to visit these relatively “unknown” landmarks? Share the wealth with me!


Wandering through Rome

A group of young priests in flowing black robes walked briskly past us, each of them clutching a folder teeming with a disorganized pile of papers and chatting animatedly in rapid fire Italian. Amused, I remember telling myself to take it all in, for nowhere else in the world would you be able to see such a sight. We had just arrived at Roma Termini, Rome’s central transportation hub, from Venice. With our minds in over-drive (how can they not be? We were in ROME!), we walked through the station in desperate need to find the exit to Via Giovanni Giolitti, the street which will lead us to our hostel on Via Carlo Cattaneo. After consulting with a couple of polizia, we eventually found it, deposited our bags, and were on our way out again, all within a span of an hour after arrival. We enjoy are used to the hectic travel style – a pattern you will soon see emerging throughout my stories.

Armed with a city map from the reception desk and a 1L water bottle (Rome is extremely hot in August), we ventured onto the streets, ready to explore a different side of Rome. All of us had been to Rome in the past, but we spent majority of our time within the Vatican and we missed many of the other churches outside its walls. Not this time, though, as we vowed to ourselves to see the many other churches Rome displays on its streets.

Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major
(Basilica Papale Santa Maria Maggiore)

Situated right around the corner from our hostel, on the summit of Esquiline Hill, is the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major. Being the first, the largest, and the most important church dedicated to the Mother of God (theotokos), it houses the highly-venerated icon of the Virgin Mary Salus Populi Romani (Salvation of the People of Rome), which is believed to be painted by St. Luke the Evangelist.

It is believed the Virgin Mary herself chose the exact site upon which the Basilica is to be built. Legend has it that she appeared in a dream to Patrician John, a Roman senator, and Pope Liberius (352-366), asking them to build a church in her honor on a site she herself would indicate. The next morning, on August 5th, they woke up to find the Esquiline hill blanketed with snow. Pope Liberius then traced out the perimeter of the basilica in the snow and John financed the construction. The basilica was later commissioned by Pope Sixtus III (432-440) as the Bishop of Rome in 431 AD.

The basilica also contains the relic of the Holy Crib, ancient wooden pieces of the manger upon which baby Jesus was first laid when he was born.

Church of Sant’Alfonso

From the Basilica, we made our way to the Church of Sant’Alfonso on Via Merulana. Inside of the church is the original 14th century icon, a painting on wood, of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Unclear of who the artist is and the year of its creation, it was brought to Rome in 1498 by a Cretan merchant and was placed in St. Matthew the Apostle church in 1499. Tradition claims the icon to be miraculous as a man with a paralyzed arm was cured when he was transporting the icon into the church. For the next 300 years, pilgrims flocked to see the icon and to pray to the Virgin Mary for miracles. Unfortunately, in 1798 the church was destroyed following the invasion by the French troops. The icon was rescued by the Augustinian Fathers and was hidden and neglected for almost 70 years until it was placed in the Church of Sant’Alfonso in 1866, where it remains until today.

Basilica of St. Peter in Chain
(Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli)

After praying the obligatory Memorare to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, we continued to make our way through the narrow alleys and busy streets to the Basilica of St. Peter in Chain. The seemingly stark and boring exterior is nothing compared to the masterpiece it holds inside: Michaelangelo’s Statue of Moses.

Exterior of St. Peter in Chains

Built at the request of Pope Julius II for his own tomb, Moses was to be one of 40 statues that were to adorn the colossal tomb. However, much to Michaelangelo’s disappointment, the project was interrupted for unexplained reasons (many speculate it was because of lack of funds), and as a result, was reduced to a much smaller sculpture.

Basilica’s Interior and Michaelangelo’s Moses

It also houses the relic of the chains that bound St. Peter when he was in Jerusalem. The chains were given to Pope Leo I by Empress Eudoxia (wife of Emperor Valentinian III). Rumor has it, when the Pope held these chains beside the chains used for St. Peter’s imprisonment in Rome’s Mamertine Prison, they miraculously fused together, forming into the relic the Church posseses today.

St. Peter’s Chains

Basilica of St. John of Lateran
(Papale Basilica di San Giovanni di Laterano)

After completing a quick gelato run for our afternoon snack, we detoured through Piazza del Colosseo, passing by the Colosseum, to finally arrive at Basilica of St. John of Lateran. Considered to be the oldest of the four great patriarchal basilica in Rome, it is the official seat of the Bishop of Rome a.k.a. the Pope. This gives it a rank that is higher than any other churches in the universal Catholic church, including St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The name Lateran was attached as a way to honor the Laterani Family, who graciously donated their land so that the basilica can be built.

Across the street from the basilica is the Holy Stairs (Scala Sancta), the staircase Jesus climbed to reach Pilate’s praetorium at the beginning of His Passion.

We ended our day with an early dinner at a local, family-run, restaurant. Nothing is more satisfying than feasting on home-made lasagna, accompanied with white wine, and capped with a bowl of tiramisu, at the end of a very, very long day.

Just the facts:

No admission fees were charged to go into any of the above churches/basilicas. They are also (relatively speaking) within walking distance of each other. Just make sure you have a good pair of sandals (thank God for Birks!) or walking shoes.  Our dinner costs about 15E for each of us. The gelato was probably somewhere between 3 to 5 Euro.

Now, who says you can’t do Rome on a budget?