OK — so today was the first of two back to back holidays — celebration of the end of World War II today and Ascension Day tomorrow, Thursday, Plus it's a school vacation. We were asking the hotel manager about that this morning. I said, “It's too late for it to be the Easter vacation.” The manager replied, “Right This is Spring vacation.” I asked, “Oh, do they have spring vacation instead of Easter vacation?” “No, they have both of them, a week each. They get a week off every six weeks.” So I thought about that and said “So do they go to school year round?” “No, they get all of July and August off too.” By this time Nancy and I were looking incredulous, and the manager laughed — “Yes, French children don't have to work very hard, do they?” Nancy commented to me, “they're pretty civilized here — I knew it!”
When we went out this morning to walk around the neighborhood of the Pantheon, where we've been staying, everything seemed really quiet — very little traffic, automobile or pedestrian. It felt strange, after this bustling week. This is a very old area, dating back before the Middle Ages to the early settlement history of Paris, when it was ruled by the tribe called the “Franks.” The king and queen were Clovis and Clotilde, whom I remembered learning about in French history back in middle school (the school was run by French-speaking nuns from France).
Paris was miraculously saved from conquest in the 400s by Ste. Genevieve who later was considered the patron saint of France. Her abbey had been right where we were standing. The abbey church was destroyed after 1000 years of existence in the 1400s because right next to it the archbishop had built a new, much larger church to accommodate the students and faculty of the Sorbonne as it grew enormously, starting in the 1400s. The footprint and large pieces of those ancient buildings were still there, from 400 CE to 2013 — from the period of establishment of the Christian religion to today. That's almost too hard to comprehend!
The enormous building that we've been contemplating from our 7th floor window since we arrived here, the Pantheon, was built in the 1800s, to replace the church that had been built in the 1400s — three churches to honor St. Genevieve on top of the same hill, over a period of 1600 years! We also this morning visited the Pantheon, originally built as the Basilica of St. Genevieve. But the Pantheon,, shortly after its completion, was taken over by the French patriots, after the French Revolution in 1789 — the one in which King Louis XIV and Queen Marie-Antoinette had been beheaded by the Guillotine, the spiffy new invention of the day. The Revolutionaries stripped all religious symbols from the main portion of the church, and in their place put huge sculptures of revolutionary scenes and heroes. In an exhibit there were items that had been stripped from the church in making it a secular place of assembly and pride in the republic, free of kings and religion. These included cherubs and angels.
It was clear that the building had started as an ornately decorated religious shrine, and then had been transformed into a shrine to the Republic and to its heroes. Since then, many French political, military, and literary figures had been interred in graves in the crypt. It is truly a shrine that plays “homage to great men” — and one woman, Marie Curie, who is buried here with her husband and fellow scientist, Pierre. Thus we began to understand why our little hotel, next door, is named, “Hotel of the Great Men.” The whole historical morning, spent exploring a space of maybe 10 square blocks, was fascinating, and awe-inspiring. For someone who has spent her life in areas where “ancient” has described buildings and sites established in the 1700s to the 1900s, this little enclave of continuous habitation with buildings still intact, was truly mind-bending. It put me in the same compartment timewise as the people who established Christianity, a period of time and a sequence of events from which I've always felt seriously distant.
To put it another way, the past lives I've been told about by different psychics at different times have all involved France since the time of Christ, with me being in different convents and always managing, as i have in this lifetime as well, to be “kicked out.” Standing on the place of this particular convent, dating from 400, sent shivers down my spine!