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The Paris Heritage Strolls


Preaching pulpits


The pulpit, the stand from which sermons are preached, appeared in churches during the Middle Ages as a replacement for the ambo, a reading pulpit, then the jube, the choir screen that disappeared in the 16th century, after the Council of Thirty.

The pulpit is preferably placed on the right-hand side (side of the Gospel),

except in cathedrals, where it can be placed on the left-hand side (side of the Epistle) so that the preacher does not have to turn their back to the bishop’s throne.

Its preferred location is at the intersection of the apse and the nave, except in large churches where it is brought forward to the middle of the nave.

Most often made up of a drum-shaped tribune with a ceiling on top (soundboard) connected to a staircase, it can be made out of a wide variety of materials (stone, marble, metal, sculpted, inlaid or gilded wood) and often forms a homogeneous ensemble with the front pew opposite, where the parish council sat until 1905.

Generally attached to a pillar, the Old Regime pulpit played on the visual effect first and foremost: it was above all a decoration and, through the subjects it illustrated, was a symbolic extension of the Word. In the 19th century, architects became more involved in making these tribunes. They would often take a functional approach, installing the pulpit between two piles and emphasising its monumental effect.

While recent changes in the liturgy have meant it has lost its initial function, the pulpit - where conserved - remains an essential element of monumental church decoration. The Parisian edifices have retained a truly exceptional set of pulpits, in terms of decoration quality and diversity of style.

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Balades du patrimoine : puce1  (17th) 12 bis, rue Saint-Jean
Saint-Michel-des-Batignolles Church

Inaugurated in 1925, the new Saint-Michel-des-Batignolles Church was progressively decorated on the inside: front pew in 1925, preaching pulpit in 1927, stalls, high altar, ambos and communion grilles in the early thirties. The architect of the church, Bernard Haubold, used a wide range of materials for this ensemble, in colours that interact with those of the elevation: stone, brick, sandstone, enamel, metal and wood are thus combined in a beautiful decorative unit. The furniture, designed immediately after the Colonial Exhibition by the Toulouse Brothers, includes a wide variety of exotic woods in a décor that relies entirely on marquetry effects: African walnut for the frames, Cuban variegated mahogany for the panels, Cambodian mahogany, ebony, sycamore, amaranth, violet from the Indies and lemon tree wood for the geometric friezes.


Balades du patrimoine : puce2  (9th)  18 bis, rue de Châteaudun

The pulpit occupies the entire span of the nave. On a rectangular base, the tribune forms a semi-circular projection; on either side, two monumental angels by Carle Elshoëcht (1791-1856), with their arms folded over their chests, support the soundboard like two caryatids. This ensemble is made of sculpted oak, with occasional gold highlights. A double spiral staircase with a gilded cast iron banister provides access to the tribune. This finely executed, majestic ensemble combines simplicity and monumental force. The front pew, which has since been removed, had a niche on the opposite side with a pediment on top, adorned with a wooden Virgin and Child by the same sculptor. This is the only element that has been conserved and can now be seen on the left-hand side of the nave.


Balades du patrimoine : puce3  (1st) 296, rue Saint-Honoré

A rival of the Slodtz brothers, Simon Challe made the pulpit of Saint-Roch between 1752 and 1758.

The only part of this work left intact is the soundboard, an immense whirling drapery lifted up by a figure holding a trumpet, representing Truth pulling the veil away from Error.

After it was removed during the Revolution, the tribune decoration was replaced in 1823 by Constant Delaperche, a student of David d’Angers. The five reliefs from the drum of the pulpit remain from the Restoration period. These are in a Classical style and combine the Theological Virtues and Cardinal Virtues, from left to right: Justice, Strength, Faith, Hope and Charity (these three figures in a single relief), Truth and Temperance. On the lower level, the Evangelist figures by Delaperche were replaced in the 20th century by the current wooden caryatids, once more illustrating the cardinal Virtues and recreate the programme that Challe initially designed. In spite of its composite appearance, this pulpit has conserved a Baroque feel thanks to the extraordinary movement of the drape and the audacious way it clings to the pillar.


Balades du patrimoine : puce4  (6th)  1, place Saint-Germain-des-Prés

While directing the restoration of the church in the 1820’s, Etienne-Hippolythe Godde, architect of the City of Paris, also produced furniture for the church.

From 1827 to 1829, he designed a new pulpit following drawings by Quatremère de Quincy, a Classical theorist who was considered an authority at the time. For the drum he imitated the geometric shapes of the pulpits in the Roman basilicas, adding a curious dais supported by two draped angels here. The light marble of the frame contrasts with the bronze of the statues and reliefs by the Neo-Classical sculptor Georges Jacquot. The New Law, a graceful woman holding the book of the Gospel, is a counterpart to the Old Law, a veiled figure with a stern countenance, resting on the Tables of the Law. The face is decorated with fine reliefs: Jesus Christ preaching on the mountain, in the centre, and two angels adorned with foliage on the triangular panels. Totally foreign to the medieval character of the architecture, this deliberately antique-looking feature is quite unique in the churches of Paris, as earlier examples were designed to extend the dominant style of the edifice.


Balades du patrimoine : puce1  (6th) 2, rue Palatine

Executed in 1788 following drawings by the architect Charles de Wailly, this pulpit was - as the inscription on the base states - donated by Emmanuel Armand Duplessis

Richelieu, Duke of Aiguillon, former Minister of Louis XV and first churchwarden of the parish.

A drum suspended in the void, supported only by two side staircases, rests on a set of high pedestals. Each of these supports a gilded wood statue by Guédon: Faith to the left and Hope to the right.

The soundboard is crowned by the Charity group by Jacques-Edme Dumont,

who was also the author of the reliefs featuring the symbols of the evangelists on the pedestals. Blessed on 31 January 1789, the Louis XVI-style pulpit at Saint-Sulpice was one of the last large items of furniture to be installed in a Parisian church on the eve of the Revolution.


Balades du patrimoine : puce6  (5th) Place Sainte-Geneviève

A masterpiece of Parisian sculpture of the early Louis XIV period, this pulpit was produced by the master carpenter Germain Pilon, namesake of the famous Renaissance sculptor and author of several large organ cases, and the sculptor Claude Lestocart, a student of Jacques Sarazin, who executed the statues and reliefs following drawings by the painter Laurent La Hyre.

The tribune is supported by a monumental Samson, sitting on a lion he has tamed and holding a donkey’s jaw in his hand. On the mantle of the staircase and the drum, medallions depict the Evangelists and doctors including Saint Jérôme and Saint Augustin. The low reliefs illustrate scenes from the life of Saint Stéphane that relate to his preaching. In projection, the Theological Virtues alternate with the Cardinal Virtues. The soundboard, decorated with cherubs and garlands, is topped by a standing angel, holding the trumpet of the Resurrection and the book of the Gospel. Very similar to the art of Sarazin, this abundant sculpture displays an acute sense of space and rhythm, with a nod to Michelangelo in the form of the admirable figure of Samson. 


Balades du patrimoine : puce7  (4th) 76, rue de la Verrerie

The contract signed in 1753 by Paul-Ambroise and Sébastien-Antoine Slodtz made provision for a vast sculpture programme including a figure of the Religion sitting on the soundboard, as well as two other statues, Paganism and Heresy struck down, which were to be placed under the drum. When Paul-Ambroise died, Michelangelo took over and finished the pulpit in 1759, with the figure of Religion standing alone.

This was destroyed during the Revolution and was replaced in 1835 by the plaster angel that we see today. The most remarkable feature of the pulpit is its sumptuous plant decoration: two palm trees adorned with laurel garlands stand on either side of the drum, the soundboard seemingly supported by the luxuriant foliage at the top of the trees.

This freedom of inspiration is similar to that found in the great pulpits of Flanders and the Netherlands at the turn of the 18th century, each one more exuberant and exotic than the next. In spite of its well-balanced architecture, this church feature is a reminder of the link between Parisian rocaille art and the Nordic Baroque style.


Balades du patrimoine : puce8  (4th) 12, rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Dating from 1749, this pulpit was bought by a priest named Garenne at the Paris Exhibition of Art and Industry and donated to the parish in 1864. While its overall shape is quite simple, its rocaille ornamentation and marquetry panels inlaid with ivory, mother-of-pearl and tin are extraordinarily lavish.

In curved, gilded frames, eleven scenes located within large architectural decors illustrate parables and episodes from the Gospel on the theme of God’s love and humanity’s fight against sin.

The choice of subjects and the style and technique of the work indicate that this exceptional piece comes from Germany, most probably north of Bavaria.


Balades du patrimoine : puce9  (3rd) 13, rue du Perche
formerly Saint-Jean-Saint-François

This is one of the many pulpits designed by Victor Baltard, architect of the churches of the City of Paris for thirty years (1840-70). More modest than his monumental works for Saint-Augustin and Saint-Eustache, an interesting feature of this wall pulpit is its surface-mounted form, an arrangement often found in Protestant temples for example. The two angels that support the soundboard stand with their backs against the background and are sculpted in high relief. The tribune itself is adorned with sculpted panels, three of which have medallions representing the heads of Christ, Saint Jean and Saint François. 


Balades du patrimoine : puce10  (12th) 186, avenue Daumesnil

Given the size of the central volume, it would have been impossible to erect a pulpit in the traditional manner here. Paul Tournon, church architect and furniture designer, therefore decided to turn the ambo to the left of the choir (the place where the Gospel is read) into a pulpit. In 1937, shortly after the church opened, he designed its overall appearance: a grey stone drum supported by coloured marble columns, beneath a shell-shaped soundboard specially designed to provide high acoustic quality. All the sculpted decoration is concentrated in this soundboard. Roger Prat was commissioned to produce the model in 1942, and the soundboard was carved from lime wood by René Rispal.

The symbols of the Evangelists form a central low relief surrounded by four statuettes of the Prophets and, in the lower part, a frieze of figurines with the features of the apostles. With its highly original design, this pulpit is wonderfully adapted to the architectural context and practical constraints of its setting. Echoing the cupolas, the concave shape of the soundboard, emphasised by its bright gilding, helps to create the ascension effect intended by Paul Tournon.


Saint-Michel-des-Batignolles Church     
Saint Germain-des-Prés     


Due to the provisions of the Concordat signed in 1801 between France and the Holy See, which ratified the Revolutionary seizures of the clergy’s possessions and transferred the property of the parish churches and their offices to the communes, the City of Paris currently owns around one hundred religious buildings, including a large number of Catholic churches.

The Concordat regime, which remained in force until the 1905 law separating Church and State, proved to be advantageous for religious buildings belonging to the commune. Making the works of art confiscated during the Revolution available to the clergy, combined with an active policy of commissioning decors and constructing new buildings, made the churches of Paris an artistic series of buildings of exceptional wealth covering the major periods of French art, from the Classical era to the modern period.

The Department of Cultural Affairs of the City of Paris is currently responsible for conserving this considerable heritage. It is in charge of its inventory, maintenance and promotion as well as the restoration work necessary to conserve the buildings which house it.


Find all Vélib’ points at www.velib.paris.fr

Mise à jour le : 14 mai 2014
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