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The Paris Heritage Strolls


Ways of the cross of the 20th century




A substitute for the journey to the Holy Land in the footsteps of Christ, the devotion to the way of the cross developed in the West from the 14th and 15th centuries onwards, as an initiative of the Franciscans. Groups of wooden crosses (essential), sometimes combined with pictures of the Passion (of secondary importance), were sometimes set up in places of worship.

As a real exercise in style which offered freedom of choice in terms of numbers (like comic strips, film and theatre), within a specific place and for a specific duration, the way of the cross fascinated a number of artists in the 20th century.

In the interwar period, with the renewal of sacred art, a difference arose between two concepts of the Passion, one Doloristic (focussing on its sorrowful aspects) and violent (a concept mainly developed in painting), the other more serene and peaceful (seemingly preferred by sculptors).

Two ways of the cross produced during this period in the inner Parisian suburbs are worth a look: the one by Henri Marret at Saint-Louis de Vincennes (St. Louis of Vincennes), and the one by Angel Zarraga at Saint-Ignace-de-la-Cité-Universitaire-de-Paris in Gentilly. The Second World War, and especially the Vatican II Council in 1962, which gave priority to people over objects, affected artists’ orientations.

Decoration became secondary, and productions of sacred art, especially ways of the cross (with the wooden cross taking precedence over the image), became rare as artists opted for a more sober look. Finally there was a renewed desire for spirituality in contemporary art. Recent works still display a wide variety of choices, between expression and narration, between details and symbols, between pathos and restraint.


The 14 stations of the cross

1 : Jesus is condemned to death
: Jesus is given his cross
: Jesus falls the first time under the weight of his cross
: Jesus meets his mother
: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross
: St. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus Christ
: Jesus falls the second time
: Jesus consoles the holy women of Jerusalem
: Jesus falls the third time
: Jesus is stripped of his garments
: Jesus is nailed to the cross
: Jesus dies on the cross
: Jesus is removed from the cross and his body is given to his mother
: Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb

Of the 14 stations set out by Popes Clement XII and Benedict XIV in the 18th century, certain scenes that do not feature in the Gospel (the three falls of Jesus, his meetings with Mary and Veronica) were removed and replaced by others (Jesus in the olive garden, the denial of Saint Pierre, the flagellation and the crown of thorns and the promise of heaven made to the good thief). Finally, since 1958 a 15th station has sometimes been added, showing the resurrection of Christ.

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Balades du patrimoine : puce1  (13th) 80, boulevard de l’Hôpital
Francesca Guerrier - enamelled lava rock
- 1962-1963
Saint-Marcel Church

Francesca Guerrier was put in touch with the clergy of Saint-Marcel Church by her friend Isabelle Rouault, author of the cartoons for the stained glass windows in the chapel, while the church was under construction in 1966. The parish council bought the fifteen stations of a way of the cross that she had initially designed for a church in

Saint-Germain-en-Laye (and exhibited at the Simone Badinier Gallery in Paris). Her desire for sobriety fitted in with the austerity of the concrete architecture designed by

Daniel Michelin in the Vatican II tradition.

The rejection of effects resulted in the choice of thick, clean lines, carved deeply into the material, large partitioned masses and tint areas chosen from a limited, dark palette (blues, mauves and greys). The square format and very close focus on the protagonists placed in barely evoked landscapes emphasise the rigour of Christ’s trial. Everything up to the numbers and the cross seems harshly treated by the frame, in a layout reminiscent of the ways of the cross sculpted in the thirties by Delamarre at Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue and by Bouchard at Saint-Léon. This gravity is tempered by the air bubbles, the brilliance of the enamels and the depth of the colours that soften the rigidity of the frame and the sharpness of the lines. Enamelled lava rock was chosen for its high level of resistance and the artist’s taste for the fired arts. This was a return to the attempts at enamel painting that had culminated in the development of the procedure by the chemist Mortelèque in 1830.


Balades du patrimoine : puce2  (12th) 186, avenue Daumesnil
Georges Desvallières
- oil on canvas rolled out on concrete - 1934-1936
Saint-Esprit Church

Under the direction of Georges Desvallières (1861-1950) and Maurice Denis, who founded the Studios of Sacred Art in 1919, over thirty artists took part in decorating Saint-Esprit Church in the interwar period.

The ambition of Desvallières, who advocated a severe concept of religious art, was for “no-one to enter Saint-Esprit Church without understanding that Jesus suffered for us”.  This wish guided him in designing the way of the cross. Revisiting and modifying the way of the cross that he had made for Sainte-Barbe de

Wittenheim Church near Mulhouse circa 1930, the artist painted 15 large square or rectangular canvasses, which he rolled out on concrete at the bottom of the frescos, between long historical texts.

The cohesion of the whole is provided by the chromatic unity (of browns, greys and green) and the repetition of certain formal or symbolic elements (such as the pillar or the arch). The energetic touch (the painter lacerates his canvas with big brushstrokes, even cutting into it with the handle of his paintbrush), the limited, dark palette, and finally the composition emphasise the extreme violence of the Passion of Christ. He chose Dolorism and dramatization, and expression to the detriment of detail. This poignant way of the cross is probably the masterpiece of the man they called the “Déroulède of piety” or the “Michelangelo of the Maccabees”. The same harshness can be seen in the canvasses painted by Paul Bret in 1935 for the way of the cross at Saint-Joseph-des-Carmes Church.


Balades du patrimoine : puce3  (19th) 9, rue de la Mouzaïa
Pierre Avon
- cut paper glued to plywood - 1998-1999
Saint-François-d’Assise Church

Pierre Avon, who was introduced to engraving by Rémy Aron and is a graduate of musical analysis, has created a very original and powerful way of the cross for Saint-François-d’Assise Church. His contribution underscores the great challenge that the way of the cross still represents for contemporary artists. Creating each station in a 40 x 32 centimetre frame with cut paper glued to plywood, he follows in the footsteps of Matisse by removing the distance between drawing and colour, and makes use of a technique that was central to 20th-century art, from Cubism to Pop Art and abstraction, through Dadaism and Surrealism. He also evokes narrative figuration and the works of Francis Picabia and Eduardo Arroyo in the way he synthesises the shapes.

Using a limited range of colours similar to the colours of camouflage, the artist suggests a strange similarity with images of war, and gives the protagonists the look of toy soldiers. Pierre Avon made use of historical research to depict Christ carrying just the horizontal beam or patibulum rather than the complete cross. His iconographic approach and aesthetic choices thus combine to give the Passion of Christ great resonance in the world of today.


Balades du patrimoine : puce4   (17th)  12 bis, rue Saint-Jean
Henri-Marcel Magne and A. Messager - wooden marquetry - 1936-1937
Saint-Michel-des-Batignolles Church

The way of the cross commissioned for Saint-Michel-des-Batignolles Church and completed in 1928 was only erected by Cardinal Verdier in September 1937. Made up of 14 rectangular panels (of around 42 x 72 centimetres), flat or curved to fit the base, this ensemble fits in perfectly with the architecture: the marquetry fits in with that of the stalls, front pew, pulpit and ambo; the colour scheme of brown and ochre tones reflects the sober tones of the interior decoration; and finally the decorative effect of the wooden pieces evokes the vibrancy of the tesserae in the mosaics and the interlocking pattern of the bricks.

The precious technique of exotic wood marquetry echoes the wood of the cross and is also used to depict small scenes; it also combines chromatic sobriety and ornamental richness. The different wood species, veins, shades and textures create an infinite number of effects, giving the illusion of printed pictures.

Henri-Marcel Magne (1877-1946), the author of the cartoons produced by A. Messager, opted for a very graphic, synthetic style, where the dynamic line interacts with the tint areas and areas of more nuanced colour. The black background prevents any sense of depth, projecting figures compressed by an omnipresent frame onto the plane of the picture.

In Paris, Magne painted on canvas, glass and cement, and designed cartoons for stained glass windows, mosaics and marquetry: in the pre-war period he designed the marquetry decoration for the stalls and the large organ case at Sacré-Coeur Church.


Balades du patrimoine : puce1  (17th) 27, rue d’Armaillé
Cécile Bouvarel
- stone mosaics - 1991-1993
Saint-Ferdinand-des-Ternes Church

Mosaic painter Cécile Bouvarel created the 14 stations of the cross at Saint-Ferdinand-des-Ternes Church between 1991 and 1993. This series blends in harmoniously with the Romano-Byzantine style of the church, thanks to the tonality of the ensemble (light and luminous), the shape of the stations (a 33 centimetre square with a semi-circle on top that evokes the cupolas of the nave), and finally the choice of technique (mosaic, a legacy of Byzantium). The sober, raw material contrasts strongly with the precious, finished material.

On the one hand the stones (travertine, granite, shale and marble), in a limited chromatic range, are cut or shattered, never polished, to keep their original roughness. On the other hand, the few tesserae of gold and silver have a very smooth, even appearance, sparkling among the matt stones. The delicateness of the ensemble, full of restraint, meets the refinement of the sober layouts and sometimes audacious viewpoints, which place figures with blank faces within allusive, even empty settings.

The Parisian churches have conserved many ways of the cross made of glass or stone mosaics, in particular those by Mauméjean at the Churches of Saint-Dominique and Saint-Jean-Bosco, and the Chapel of Sainte-Thérèse-de-L’Enfant-Jésus at the Orphelins Apprentis d’Auteuil. Cécile Bouvarel thus follows a tradition which she revives with a modest approach, a very internal concept of the Passion, and a synthetic and decorative style.


Balades du patrimoine : puce6  (6th)  1, place Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Pierre Buraglio
- enamelled canvas - 1990
Saint-Germain-des-Près Church, Saint-Symphorien Chapel

In 1990, the City of Paris and the clergy of Saint-Germain-des-Prés commissioned a piece by Pierre Buraglio, whose artistic approach encompasses the act of faith. After being assigned the task of artistic direction and creative production at Saint-Symphorien Chapel, Buraglio left the place, which he intended to “serve without altering”, to design a monochromatic blue stained glass window, a red parietal painting and a way of the cross made up of 15 panels of enamelled canvas measuring 12 centimetres on each side. The artist chose to work with enamel, a technique frequently used in 20th-century ways of the cross. He revived this tradition by rejecting the precious, brightly coloured aspect of the medium. He in fact opted for discretion and restraint, in terms of colour (Sevres blue pattern on a white background) as well as composition (a few concise lines standing out against the void).

He preferred to evoke rather than illustrate the Calvary, showing objects and traces, at the edge of abstraction. Thus, the landscapes and instruments of the Passion are substituted for the absent bodies: the events are sometimes viewed from a distance, sometimes from close up, but always from the front, in accordance with Buraglio’s wishes: “When working on a plane surface, I want the plane to arrest the gaze”. The way of the cross recounts the Passion of Christ without pathos, all dramatization pushed out of the frame. The blue tonality and clean lines are reminiscent of the work of Matisse at the Rosary Chapel in Vence. However, Buraglio used a wide range of sources, from The Hours of  Estienne Chevallier by Fouquet to Jawlensky, through the Chinese Zen tradition.



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



(2) Georges Desvallières
Copyright: © Adagp, Paris 2007

(3) Pierre Avon
Copyright: © Studio photo CDAS

(5) Cécile Bouvarel
Copyright: © Adagp, Paris 2007

(6) Pierre Buraglio
Copyright: © Adagp, Paris 2007

Mise à jour le : 14 mai 2014
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