As you visit our church, let yourself be carried away by its symbolism as you follow, with one of the parishioners, the path of Christian believers from their birth to their death and on to Eternal Life.
People who ask for baptism (catechumens) enter through the main or west door found at the back of the church. This door—probably from Port Royal Abbey that was destroyed in 1712 by King Louis XIV– marks both the entry into the church, a place of prayer, as well as into the Church, the community of Christians.
To the left as you come through the main door stands the baptismal font – its octagonal shape symbolizes the Resurrection. In this spot you are under the benevolent gaze of Christ having a « Meal at the House of Simon » (painted by Jean H Restout in 1741).
From the main entrance the new Christian walks into the nave—the place where the people of God gather.
The central part of the nave is Romanesque, dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries. It was enlarged in the 12th century with a belfry and Gothic aisles. Sit down for a moment and look towards the east and the rising sun, the symbol of the Risen Christ. The inclination of the sanctuary’s axis is often interpreted as a reminder of Christ‘s bowed head on the Cross, although the topography of the site certainly has a lot to do with this suggestive twist! In front of you, is the sanctuary where only 5 stalls remain of the 30 that existed in the 18th century.
They are copies of those found at the Vaux-de-Cernay Abbey nearby. If the nave and the transept – the north south crossing between the nave and the sanctuary – give the church the shape of a cross, then the sanctuary represents Christ’s head.
The Clicquot organ built in 1732, located in the upper gallery behind you, was transformed into a romantic organ in the 19th century.
Go left into the ambulatory where you can discover several great Catholic saints that surround the sanctuary like a crown. First among these saints are Saint Dominic and Saint Catherine of Siena who receive a Rosary from the Virgin Mary.
Continue your visit and take a look at the stained glass window with Saint Martin (+395), the patron saint of our church, a roman legionnaire, cutting his cloak in half to share it with a beggar.
The following night, as seen in the lower part of the panel, Christ appears to Martin wearing the same half of the cloak which he had given away. Here you have the whole Gospel in one stained glass window! After Martin’s election as bishop of Tours, he became a great missionary of the French countryside and created many rural parishes.
In the central stained glass window, the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist, and Saint Mary Magdalene (to whom the chapel of the Castle of La Madeleine in Chevreuse is dedicated) are at the foot of the Cross. Christ on the Cross dominates the sun and the moon, showing us that this event transcends time. You can see the coat of arms of Charles de Guise, the Cardinal of Lorraine, who bought the Castle of La Madeleine in 1555. This stained glass window dates back to the 16th century while those on either side were made in the 17th century.
If you turn to your right, you will be able to observe a stained glass window showing the archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will give birth to the Son of God.
Continue walking down the nave towards « The Holy Conversation, » a painting by Palma Vecchio depicting the Madonna and Child surrounded by saints. Further on, you will undoubtedly recognize the landscape of the Chevreuse Valley crowned by its medieval castle in the painting of the Assumption of Our Lady.
Let’s take a closer look at the sanctuary—the place where the sacred mystery of the Eucharist unfolds.
The Son of God, Jesus Christ, became incarnate as a man among humanity. He died and rose again for our salvation as recalls the Glorious Cross [dating back to the 16th century) that hangs above the altar.
A second cross on the tabernacle of the high altar reminds us that at each Mass, Christ’s sacrifice is renewed. During the Eucharist, the bread and the wine become His Body and His Blood making Jesus fully present to us. When the tabernacle holds consecrated hosts, a small red lamp is lit to signal the Real Presence of Christ to everyone. The representation of Jesus revealing His Sacred Heart on the door of the tabernacle expresses the vital role of the Eucharist.
Through communion, the believer receives the graces of the sacrifice of the One who was truly innocent among us all-Jesus, the Lamb of God. This symbol adorns the old Baroque high altar of the 18th century. These graces associate the communicant with the mystery of the Resurrection, which enables us to pass from a mortal and imperfect life, symbolized by the six stone columns of the sanctuary (symbolic number of mankind), to Eternal Life symbolized by the eight arches (symbolic number of the Resurrection) above them.
Steeped in this mystery, look up at the six stucco paintings by Charles de Coubertin (1857) which surround the sanctuary. They depict the great patron saints of our valley: Saint Lubin, Saint Magdalene, Saint Giles and Saint Martin, as well as the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.
Now, follow the vegetation that leads your eye up to the vaulted ceiling showing Heaven painted in deep blue and covered with stars. This rendering of what awaits us after death is echoed in the painting of the Pilgrim on the Way of Saint James, (1836) painted by Dumoulin, a pupil of Ingres, situated to the right of the side door. Here we are reminded of our mortal condition as simple pilgrims on this earth.
As you leave our church, take a look at the bell tower that was destroyed in 1309 by a hurricane and rebuilt in the 17th century. By its square base (four is the symbolic number of the earth) and its octagonal spire (symbolic of the Resurrection) dating from the 19th century, it symbolizes Christian faith rising up to Heaven. May the memory of this visit accompany you as you travel through our beautiful Chevreuse Valley.
God bless you!
( égliseChevreuse english SB EC MW EPVC)
Photos HB, F.Genestoux, popgouv 14.4.20