St. Roch

By Augustus J. C. Hare


Englishmen are often specially imprest with Paris as a city of contrasts, because one side of the principal line of hotels frequented by our countrymen looks down upon the broad, luxurious Rue de Rivoli, all modern gaiety and radiance, while the other side of their courtyards open upon the busy working Rue St. Honore, lined by the tall, many-windowed houses which have witnessed so many revolutions. They have all the picturesqueness of innumerable balconies, high, slated roofs, with dormer windows, window-boxes full of carnations and bright with crimson flowers through the summer, and they overlook an ever-changing crowd, in great part composed of men in blouses and women in white aprons and caps.

Ever since the fourteenth century the Rue St. Honore has been one of the busiest streets in Paris. It was the gate leading into this street which was attacked by Jeanne d'Arc in 1429. It was the fact that the Cardinal de Bourbon and the Due de Guise had been seen walking together at the Porte St. Honore that was said to have turned half the moustache of Henri of Navarre suddenly white, from a presentiment of the crime which has become known as the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. Here, in 1648, the barricade was raised which gave the signal for all the troubles of the Fronde. It was at No 3--then called L'Auberge des Trois Pigeons--that Ravaillac was lodging when he was waiting to murder Henry IV.; here the first gun was fired in the Revolution of July, 1830, which overturned Charles X.; and here, in the Revolution of 1848, a bloody combat took place between the insurgents and the military. Throughout this street, as Marie Antoinette was first entering Paris, the poissardes brought her bouquets, singing:

"La rose est la reine des fleurs.
Antoinette est la reine des coeurs."

("The rose is the queen of flowers, Antoinette is the queen of hearts") and here, as she was being taken to the scaffold, they crowded round her execution-cart and shouted:

"Madame Veto avait promis
De faire egorger tout Paris,
Mais son coup a manque
Grace a nos canonniers;
Dansons la carmagnole
    Au bruit du son
    Du canon!"

("Madame Veto had promised to have the throat cut of all Paris, but her attempt failed, thanks to our gunners. Let us dance the carmagnole to the music of the cannon's roar!")

Turning east toward Old Paris, we pass, on the right of the Rue St. Honore, the Church of St. Roch, of which Louis XIV. laid the foundation- stone in 1633, replacing a chapel built on the site of the Hotel Gaillon. The church was only finished, from designs of Robert de Cotte, in 1740. The flight of steps which leads to the entrance has many associations.

"Before St. Roch," says De Goncourt, "the tumbrel in which was Marie Antoinette, stopt in the midst of howling and hooting. A thousand insults were hurled from the steps of the church as it were with one voice, saluting with filth their queen about to die. She, however, serene and majestic, pardoned the insults by disregarding them." It was from these steps, in front of which an open space then extended to the Tuileries gardens, that Bonaparte ordered the first cannon to be fired upon the royalists who rose against the National Convention, and thus prevented a counter-revolution. Traces of this cannonade of 13 Vendemiaire are still to be seen at the angle of the church and the Rue Neuve St. Roch.

[12] From "Walks in Paris." By arrangement with the publisher, David McKay. Copyright, 1880.