Monday, August 4, 2008

Tour St-Jacques (St. James Tower)

Built in 1512, the 170-ft. tall late Gothic tower is the only surviving part of the 16th-century church Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie (Saint James of the Slaughterhouse) that was demolished in 1797. Its congregants were the wealthy wholesale butchers from the nearby Les Halles market, accounting for its extravagance.

Fifteenth-century alchemist and philanthropist Nicolas Flamel, a patron of the church, is buried under its floor. Flamel was alleged to be the eighth “Grand Master of the Priory of Sion,” and he was mentioned as a character in Dan Brown’s 2003 novel, “The DaVinci Code.”

This church is located along the route taken by pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, one of the three great places of pilgrimage of medieval Christendom (along with Jerusalem and Rome). In the Middle Ages this was an assembly point for pilgrims on their journey to northwestern Spain, the legendary burial-place of the remains of the Apostle James (“Santiago” in Spanish). These pilgrims, coming from the north of Paris along Rue Saint-Martin, continued on their way south via Rue Saint- Jacques (St. James street) on the Left Bank.

During the 1870s, when Rue de Rivoli and Avenue Victoria were constructed, huge quantities of earth were removed to ensure a flat path for these new streets, which flank the present-day Square de la Tour St-Jacques. Thus the street level was lowered considerably. The present-day pedestal at the base of the tower shields its foundations, which used to be below street level. Nowadays, this change in ground level can best be appreciated in rue St-Bon, just northeast of the tower, where a staircase leads up to the original street level at Rue des Lombards and the church of St-Merri. During this same time period, a statue of Saint James was installed on the top of the tower.

A statue of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) at the base of the tower is here because of his experiments in atmospheric pressure performed using this tower. He determined the effect of altitude on the height of a column of mercury relating to air pressure. A series of meteorological instruments are mounted at the top of the tower and remain in use today.

A major restoration of Tour St-Jacques, lasting many years, was completed just a few months ago. The grassy square at the base of the tower is located on the Right Bank just north of the Île de la Cité. It can be reached by crossing the Pont Notre-Dame.

Métro: Châtelet

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