Visiting the Sacré-Cœur Basilica

It’s kind of hard to believe that Parisians most­ly hate the Sacré-Cœur Basil­i­ca with its pure off-white stone and mas­sive domed tow­ers in a Romano-Byzan­tine style entire­ly uncom­mon in France. It’s quite pret­ty, but its his­to­ry… not so much. 

It occu­pies prime real estate as it is posi­tioned at the very top of a hill drenched in both reli­gious his­to­ry and the blood of the Paris Com­mune. Mem­bers were slaugh­tered by loy­al­ists to the estab­lish­ment (includ­ing the actu­al French Army) dur­ing the 1871 com­mu­nist uprising. 

The Catholic Church, sid­ing NOT with the Com­mu­nards but with the loy­al­ists to the exist­ing pow­er struc­ture (basi­cal­ly Napoleon III at that point, although he was deposed), had the neigh­bor­hood bull­dozed (or what­ev­er count­ed as bull­doz­ing in 1871, maybe lots and lots of hors­es with shov­els? Dyna­mite?) to not only build a tri­umphal­ist mon­u­ment for the defeat of the Com­mu­nards, but also to spark the revival of tra­di­tion­al, Catholic val­ues in a world that had become sul­lied with the Com­mu­nards’ blas­phemies. These includ­ed foul atroc­i­ties such as the abo­li­tion of child labor, the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state, and the right of work­ers to take over a busi­ness desert­ed by it’s own­er. You know, the kind of crazy Stali­nesque stuff that would have Tuck­er Carlson’s face boil­ing even red­der than that one time, or all of the times. Sacre Rouge!

So yeah, the « Basil­i­ca of the Sacred Heart » is an icon of archi­tec­tur­al dra­ma and balls-out class warfare. 

For­tu­nate­ly for appre­ci­a­tors of sassy archi­tec­ture,  hyp­o­crit­i­cal reli­gion and the vio­lent and bru­tal repres­sion of the poors alike, this sacred and holy mon­u­ment is open to the pub­lic on mul­ti­ple levels. 

The hike up to the top of the sur­round­ing Mont­martre neigh­bor­hood on which the Basil­i­ca stands can be intim­i­dat­ing (even the metro sta­tions have an unholy series of  stair­cas­es to climb), but if the result­ing view of the city isn’t enough of a pay­off, the peace­ful­ly silent inte­ri­or and beau­ti­ful­ly gild­ed and paint­ed ceil­ing of the church might be. There’s also a funic­u­lar from the Square Louise Michel that will cut some of the climb but not all of it (take note, mobility-impaired). 

The Sacré-Cœur Basil­i­ca has kept a nun on-duty con­stant­ly since 1875 (before con­struc­tion was even com­plet­ed) in a per­pet­u­al prayer of ado­ra­tion of Christ; not one nun obv, because they pray in shifts. That’s a lot of time to con­tem­plate raz­ing a work­ing-class neigh­bor­hood of peo­ple who fought for the abo­li­tion of child labor, but you do you, sis­ter.

They also have a free overnight lodg­ing in the con­vent for trav­el­ers who show up and need a place to crash. Kind of like if Jesus had an Airbnb but being an actu­al com­mie, you could crash there for free. In fact, this aspect is actu­al­ly the most Christ-like thing about the whole place. These guys real­ly need to pick a side and stay there because their phi­los­o­phy is kind of bewil­der­ing, to be honest. 

To request a berth in the best-locat­ed manger ever, e‑mail the sis­ter in charge at  ephrem@sacrecoeurdemontmartre.fr and sound pious. 

You sum­mit­ted the Eif­fel Tow­er? Well I slept in the Sacré-Cœur Basil­i­ca (Mic drop)…

Oh, and in 1971, the French Com­mu­nists seized the Basil­i­ca and occu­pied it for a month, call­ing for a world­wide com­mu­nist upris­ing. They held the nuns hostages and everything. 

Fun fact: I was once in the same sit­u­a­tion, but it was a McDonald’s that a protest group ‘seized’ and I thought, « Well, well, well, how embar­rass­ing. I’m in a hostage sit­u­a­tion in a McDon­alds in Paris ». They let us go, by the way. It was most­ly symbolic.

But back in 1971, Parisians were too busy get­ting salty over the mar­ring of their love­ly sky­line with the Awful Tow­er, AKA the Mont­par­nasse Tow­er (hat­ed by every­one except pho­tog­ra­phers who can use it to get real­ly bomb shots of the Eif­fel Tow­er), so they kind of were like, « Mmmmkay, » to the Occu­py Sacré-Cœur thing. 

The com­mies even­tu­al­ly slunk off to go do oth­er com­mie stuff like cre­ate a beloved, uni­ver­sal, gov­ern­ment-run health­care sys­tem that is among the best in the world. I feel so oppressed every time my pre­scrip­tion med­ica­tion co-pay is like 2€ that I can bare­ly type right now. Stal­in would cer­tain­ly be pleased. Free­dom isn’t free, even if the ambu­lance ride is. 

But! Back to vis­it­ing! If your legs don’t cry out for mer­cy by the time you reach the entrance of the Basil­i­ca, you can climb to the top of the high­est dome for a tru­ly spe­cial view of the city and an up-close look at the intri­cate archi­tec­ture along the way. 

Fair warn­ing, how­ev­er, here is anoth­er climb that is not for the faint of heart. It’s 300 steps in a nar­row, closed in, and wind­ing stair­case, with no ele­va­tor. What would Jesus do? CARDIO, baby. That’s why his heart is typ­i­cal­ly rep­re­sent­ed on fire, out­side his body, just like every­one who climbs the Butte Mont­martre (shoutout to my Pol­ish grand­par­ents for this total­ly not-trau­ma­tiz­ing image on the wall of the actu­al bedroom).

Gringo Jesus feels the burn

Address: 1 Parvis du Sacré-Cœur, 18th arrondissement

Metro: Anvers (line 2), Abbess­es (line 12) 

Neigh­bor­hood: Mont­martre, 18th arrondisse­ment

Near­by: Square Louise Michel

Open­ing times: Every­day from 6 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. (last entry at 10.15 p.m. for vis­i­tors). The dome (access from the left side of the basil­i­ca) is open from 9 a.m. — 8.30 p.m. from June to Sep­tem­ber; 9.30 a.m. ‑7 p.m. from March to April; 10 p.m. ‑5.30 p.m. from Novem­ber to February.

How to book tick­ets to vis­it Sacré-Cœur

Admire the view and explore the church for free. It costs €6 to climb to the bell tow­er (tem­porar­i­ly closed but check their web­site for updates).

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