Grace at St-Étienne-du-Mont

A visit to Prof. David Landreth’s office hours last Tuesday, while we were on the subject of rood screens (because the rood screen in Notre-Dame de Paris was removed by Louis XIV in favour of something Baroque), reminded me of the church of St-Étienne-du-Mont in Paris, which I’d visited last year:

Jubé, Saint-Etienne-du-Mont Church, Paris. Photograph by Pierre Metivier.

While defining chancel and nave, the rood screen also gives a sense of spaciousness rather than of a wall, and under the rood (that dark wooden crucifix) it suggests what the author of Hebrews says about the Christian’s status before God:

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

‘The veil op’d, and the water poured forth from Jesus’s side,’ it seems to say (and you must appreciate the cascading spiral stairs, which are also reminiscent of the ‘vail of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen of cunning work’, with angels across the front corresponding to cherubim), ‘enter ye from his courts of praise into the very Holy of Holies.’ The curtain has been drawn open. I only wonder that the architect made these choices under a Roman Catholic government, to have the space so open underneath, not fenced off with so many bars.


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