Essential Architecture-  Architecture in the Da Vinci Code

Saint-Sulpice (Paris)


Christophe Gamard, Louis Le Vau and Daniel Gittard, but the work was completed by Gilles-Marie Oppenord, a student of François Mansart


on the east side of the Place Saint-Sulpice, in the Luxembourg Quater of the VIe arrondissement.








Relevance to the Da Vinci Code:

After murdering Saunière, Silas calls the “Teacher” and tells him that, according to Saunière, the keystone is in the Church of Saint-Suplice in Paris. The Teacher sends Silas there. Silas follows Saunière’s clues to the keystone’s location and discovers that he has been tricked. In a fit of rage, he kills Sister Sandrine Bieil, the church’s keeper and a sentry for the Priory of Sion. At the Louvre, Langdon meets Jerome Collet and Bezu Fache, the police captain, and realizes that the two policemen suspect him of the murder.

The passage from The Templar Revelation is plainly the primary source for similar claims made in Dan Brown's 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code, an international bestseller that would make crowds of tourists flock to Saint-Sulpice. Some of this book's claims about the church are among the criticisms of The Da Vinci Code. Chapters 19 and 22 of the novel echo the erroneous notion that the Sulpice meridian is the same as the Paris Meridian (in the novel called "the Rose Line"), the dubious claim that the church was built on the site of a pagan temple, and the arguable notion that the seminary attached to the church was unorthodox. Dan Brown further elaborates by making the brass meridian "a vestige of a pagan temple that had once stood on this very spot" (chapter 22), whereas the meridian and the gnomon associated with it were actually constructed as late as the 18th century.

In Brown's novel, one villain comes to the church in search of the "keystone" revealing the location of the Holy Grail; he locates a hollow space under the floor next to the obelisk and breaks a tile to obtain the keystone, but the stone he finds turns out to be a decoy created by the Priory of Sion. In the years following the publication of the novel, tourists would sometimes be seen knocking on the floor near the obelisk, searching for hollow spaces.

This note has been on display in the church: "Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent best-selling novel, this [the line in the floor] is not a vestige of a pagan temple. No such temple ever existed in this place. It was never called a Rose-Line. It does not coincide with the meridian traced through the middle of the Paris Observatory which serves as a reference for maps where longitudes are measured in degrees East or West of Paris. Please also note that the letters P and S in the small round windows at both ends of the transept refer to Peter and Sulpice, the patron saints of the church, and not an imaginary Priory of Sion."

In 2005, the Catholic Church refused Ron Howard permission to film inside Saint-Sulpice when he was making a movie version of The Da Vinci Code.



The interior of the Church

110 meters long, 57 meters in width and 33 meters tall, it is slightly bigger than Notre-Dame and thus the largest church in Paris. It is dedicated to Sulpitius the Pious.


The present church is the second building, erected over an ancient Romanesque church originally constructed during the 13th century. Additions were made over the centuries, up to 1631. The new building was founded in 1646 by parish priest Jean-Jacques Olier (1608-1657) who had established the Society of Saint-Sulpice, a clerical congregation, and a seminar attached to the church.

Work would continue for about 140 years: The church was mostly completed in 1732, but the facade at the west end was not begun before 1776.

The result is a simple two storey west front with two tiers of elegant columns. The overall harmony of the building is, some say, only marred by the mismatched two towers, though these were adorned by Jean François Chalgrin shortly before the French Revolution.

The chancel is the work of Christophe Gamard, Louis Le Vau and Daniel Gittard, but the work was completed by Gilles-Marie Oppenord, a student of François Mansart, 1714-1745. The façade, originally by Giovanni Servandoni has been modified by Jean Chalgrin and others. Large arched windows fill the vast interior with natural light. At either side of the front door are two enormous shells given to François I by the Venetian Republic. The two shells rest on rock-like bases, sculpted by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle.

During the 1700s, an elaborate gnomon was constructed in the church (see below).

The church has a long-standing tradition of talented organists that dates back to the 18th century. The church boasts a masterfully designed 6,588 pipe organ([1]) constructed by Aristide Cavaille-Coll in 1862. The Grand-Orgue of Saint-Sulpice is one of only three "100 stop" organs in all of Europe. Aside from necessary updating and modification of the electrical and mechanical operations, the organ is maintained today almost exactly as Cavaille-Coll finished it. Its organists have also been renowned starting with Nicolas Sejan in the 18th century. Charles-Marie Widor (organist 1870-1933) and Marcel Dupré (organist 1934-1971) were two of great organists of the 20th century.

Nineteenth-century redecorations to the interior, after some Revolutionary damage, when Saint-Sulpice became a Temple of Victory, include the murals of Eugène Delacroix, that adorn the walls of the side chapel. The most famous of these are Jacob Wrestling with the Angel and Heliodorus Driven from the Temple. Jules Massenet set an act of Manon at fashionable Saint-Sulpice.

Marquis de Sade and Charles Baudelaire were baptized in Saint-Sulpice (1740 and 1821, respectively), and the church also saw the marriage of Victor Hugo to Adèle Foucher (1794).

The Gnomon

The gnomon (in the background) and the brass line on the floor
In 1727 Languet de Gercy, then priest of Saint-Sulpice, requested the construction of a gnomon in the church. It was made to help determine the time of the equinoxes and hence of Easter (since Easter Sunday is to be celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon after the spring equinox). A meridian line of brass was made, running across the floor and then ascending a column or "obelisk" of white marble, nearly 11 meters high. In the south-end window a system of lenses was set up, so that a ray of sunlight shines onto the brass line. At the winter solstice (December 21), the ray of light touches the brass line on the obelisk. At the equinoxes (March 21 and September 21), the ray touches an oval plate of copper in the floor near the altar.

Constructed by the English clock-maker and astronomer Henry Sully, the gnomon was also used for various scientific measurements, which fact may have protected Saint-Sulpice from being destroyed during the French Revolution.

Esoteric fame

On a popular level, Saint-Sulpice has gained a peculiar mystique because the church is somehow associated with the supposed mysteries surrounding the "Priory of Sion", said to be a powerful, centuries-old covert order guarding some incredible secret (usually taken to be that the line of Merovingian kings survives into modern times; further embellishment would make the Merovingians descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene). However, serious researchers have dismissed the "Priory" as a twentieth-century hoax originating with one Pierre Plantard and some of his associates.

References to the church of Saint-Sulpice are found in the so-called "Dossiers Secretes" or Secret Dossiers that turned up the French National Library. While these documents are supposedly records of the Priory of Sion, the evidence is that they were salted into the archives by Plantard or his companions.

In the glass windows at both ends of the transept are seen the letters "P" and "S", initials of Peter and Sulpitius as patron saints of the church, but the letters would also lend themselves to the alternative interpretation "Priory of Sion": Conceivably it could be these letters that originally inspired Plantard to involve Saint-Sulpice in his elaborate "Priory" hoax. Also, the site already held certain "occult" associations in popular culture: There are references to Saint-Sulpice in Joris-Karl Huysmans's 1891 novel Là-Bas, dealing with Satanism. Furthermore, ritual magician Eliphas Levi (born Alphonse Louis Constant) once attended the seminary attached to the church, though this influence may have little to do with his later career.

The "Dossiers Secretes" includes a document titled Le Serpent Rouge - Notes sur Saint-Germain-des-Prés et de Saint-Sulpice de Paris. Here is found a series of thirteen prose poems containing allusions to the interior of Saint-Sulpice. The wording is deliberately obscure throughout, but clearly some secret is supposedly encoded in the interior of the church. The reader is told that in order to "put the scattered stones together again" (?!) one must "look for the line of the meridian while going from east to west, then looking from south to north, finally in all directions to obtain the desired solution, place yourself in front of the fourteen stones marked with a cross".

Bill Putnam and John Edwin Wood comment: "If you stand on the meridian line in Saint-Sulpice and look to the north and south you see the rose windows of the north and south transepts with the letters P and S incorporated into their designs. The fourteen stones marked with a cross are the stations of the cross." (The Treasure of Rennes-le-Château - A mystery solved, p. 248; in this book authors Putnam and Wood provide an annotated English translation of Le Serpent Rouge.) The poems also mention the goddess Isis, without ever clarifying how this deity is supposed to fit into the picture.

Various esoteric writers have elaborated on these themes. In chapter eight of The Templar Revelation by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, Saint-Sulpice is noted as being "distinguished by the fact that the Paris meridian (...) is marked by a copper line across its floor. Built on the foundations of a temple of Isis in 1645, it was founded by Jean-Jacques Olier, who had it designed according to the Golden Mean of sacred geometry. It was named after a bishop of Bourges at the time of the Merovingian king, Dagobert II, and his feast day is 17 January - a date that recurs in the (...) Priory of Sion mysteries (...;) the seminary attached to it was notorious for unorthodoxy (to say the least) in the late nineteenth century. It also served as the headquarters for the mysterious seventeenth-century secret society called the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, which, it has been proposed, was a front for the Priory of Sion."

Much of this would be disputed or dismissed by reputable historians (including the notion that the Priory of Sion is older than the 1950s). The meridian line on the floor of Saint-Sulpice is not a part of the Paris Meridian, which passes about 100 meters (yards) east of it. There is no evidence that there was ever a temple of Isis on the site.