St Etienne du Mont, Paris
Behind the Pantheon, the temple of French secularism, and at the summit of the Colline de Sainte Genevieve, is the late gothic/early renaissance of St Etienne du Mont. The Church is justly famous for its glorious jube, an assemblage of twisting staircases and icing sugar details in pale yellow sandstone, which in fact extends down the arcades on both sides of the nave. But there are other treasures – a sumptuous neo-gothic shrine for the patroness of Paris, the young Ste Genevieve, and, beyond the choir, eluding the attention of many visitors but worth the perseverance required is a sizeable room intended for catechesis, with a series of magnificent seventeenth century stained-glass windows.
These remarkable windows are almost at ground level. They were clearly intended as a visual aid for the catechist as he explained the seven sacraments. In vivid colours (and quite as vivid detail) the windows explain the sacraments by revealing their Old Testament ante-types. They are to be ‘read’ sequentially and tier upon tier. The quality is outstanding and the effect of a wall of glass in the rather gloomy room is almost overpowering.
How astounding that the culture which lodged the mortal remains of Voltaire in a deconsecrated church only a stone’s throw away should, a generation or so earlier, have celebrated the Catholic faith with such splendour and vigour. Give thanks that the Faith survived the Enlightenment and the Revolution, and pray for those who, today, are still being catechised in the light of those marvellous windows.