Val-de-Grâce (92)

One of the best examples of Baroque religious architecture in Paris is the monastery of Val-de-Grâce, built by Anne of Austria, princess of Spain and wife of Louis XIII. 

The queen wanted to give her thanks because, after twenty-three years of marriage without having had a child, an heir to the throne was finally born in 1638, the future Louis XIV. 

On the 1st of April 1645, the selfsame Louis XIV, at the age of just 7, placed the first stone of the building that had been designed by François Mansart. The complex had a dominant central axis marked by the church that had a convent on one side and a palace on the other.

But Mansart’s moody character, his disregard for the costs and the tendency to make changes in the plans made him a difficult architect to work with. This led to him being replaced a year later by Jacques Lemercier, and later by Pierre Le Muet and Gabriel Le Duc. The works were finally completed in 1669.

On the outside, the façade raised over a high flight of steps has a portico over columns in the central part. Above is a triangular pediment and an imposing vault designed in similar style to that of Saint Peter’s in Rome. It measures 19 metres in diameter and is 41 metres high.

Val-de-Grace follows a very Italian style. It has a Latin cross ground plan, in which it is dominated above all by the by the large space of the transept covered with a cupola. From the central space open out the four arms of the cross and four secondary chapels situated in the diagonal axis.

To enter these chapels you have to pass under some small semicircular arches. Beneath the cupola is the main altar. In this cupola there is a fresco by Pierre Mignard with more than 200 figures in at a scale of three times life-size. The baldachin, the six columns that surround the altar, are a replica of those produced by Bernini for the church of Saint Peter’s in Rome.

The most outstanding art is the sculpture. It is one of the most important series of classical religious sculpture in France, a large part of which was produced by Anguier.

Henrietta-Marie of France, the wife of Charles I, is buried in Val-de-Grace, along with 26 members of the French royal family.

We recommend you make a visit and do not miss the opportunity to see one of the most beautiful churches in Paris.

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