Welcome to the church of Les Invalides.
As noted before in previous guides, Les Invalides is a building complex consisting of three
major parts; the Musuem area, the church and the dome. The church in this case, was built
in second place, after the museum area but before the dome.
Soon after the main Hôpital des Invalides, Louis XIV decided that the veterans also required
a chapel to pray in. The soldiers’ chapel opened in 1677, only one year after the completion
of the main Hôpital des Invalides, but the chapel was officially finished later in 1679.
The chapel is known as “Église Saint-Louis des Invalides”. After it had been completed,
daily attendance was required for the veterans staying at Les Invalides.
When entering this church, many people say it is unlike any other church in Paris, and
I’m sure you can agree. In contrast to many of the Gothic churches in Paris, the Saint-Louis
church is very light and the much of the interior is made up of white shining marble. Another
thing which separates this church from the others is its connection to the Les Invalides
and its military background. The background is embraced throughout the church, as you
can find a multitude of different banners and flag hanging from the walls. The church
is also unique due to the fact that it is still rather unknown. Many of the people who
visit it never heard of it prior to their Paris visit, so it is still somewhat of a
hidden gem inside the Les Invalides. Another evidence of the church’s military connection
can be found under it, in its crypt. Under Les Invalides and Église Saint-Louis lie
a large number of French 19th and 20th century officers and generals interred.
“The Soldiers Church”, as it is sometimes called, is not only known for its military
background. The church also houses one of the largest instruments in France; its beautiful
organ. The organ is located at the back of the chapel, above the entrance. As you can
see if you take a look at it, it is not only big but also very beautiful. The original
organ was built during 1686 but has throughout the year received many restorations. There
are still however, some original stops from the 17th century left in the organ.
During the French Revolution, buildings and symbols of the monarchy and the Catholic Church
were often attacked and damaged. The Église Saint-Louis was no exception and the church
was ransacked during the revolution and lost many of its treasures. During a period after
the revolution, the church was unofficially said to have lost its religious purpose and
it was unofficially renamed to “The temple of Mars” after the Roman god of War.
After the Revolution, all French orders of chivalry were abolished. Later when Napoleon
Bonaparte came to power, he wanted to reward civilians and soldiers for brave deeds and
not for their nobility rankings. This led to the formation of a new Order called Légion
d’Honneur; the Legion of Honor and the place you are standing at was the place of Order’s
very first decoration ceremony on July 15th, 1804.
The troublesome times of the Revolution was not the only time the church lost some of
its valuable treasures. The church also lost many of its flags and banners when the Governor
of Les Invalides burned them in 1814. He didn’t burn them without a reason though. During
this time France had lost the Napoleonic Wars and the enemy Coalition forces were surrounding
Paris, so it was simply an act to prevent the enemy from capturing the old flags and
banners. In 1837, the chapel area of Église Saint-Louis
was separated from dome area by a large glass wall. From that date and on, the chapel area
is considered to be the Église Saint-Louis des Invalides and the dome area has been given
a new name; Église du Dôme