Rue Saint-Jacques

Arrondissement 5

Numbers: 2, 10, 44-46, 54, 115-123, 158, 176, 216, 241, 260, 272, 277, 278

One of Paris’ oldest streets the road was the main north-south route through Paris under the Romans, who paved it and widened it (to half its present 20 metre width).

Use of St Jacques in the road’s name dates from the 1218 founding of a monastery of Dominican ‘brother preachers’ with a Saint-Jacques chapel. The location of the Jacobin brothers’ monastery was approximately around No. 158. It was closed in 1790 and its building gradually demolished over the first half ot the 19th century. In the early 17th century a second monastery for ‘reformed Jacobins’ was built on the Rue Saint-Honoré.

Pre-revolutonary Paris showing the Rue St Jacques from left to right with the College de Plessis, the Sorbonne University and the Jacobin monastery

The road was definitively named the Rue Saint-Jacques in 1806 and variously widened and extended out to the Boulevard de Port Royal in the 1860s and 1900s.

No. 2 used to stand with other houses and shops in front of the Saint-Sevérin church was finally pulled down in 1907 for the last road-widening.

Saint Sevérin church with about-to-be demolished houses and shops in front of it in 1907 before the road’s definitive widening at its northern end close to the Seine (and the tourists).

But on June 23 1848 workers resisting the closure of the world’s first workshops for the unemployed took shelter in the novelty shop No. 2 (not unlike the one I photographed in 2017 in the Rue des Petits Ponts a few metres away and shown here). The bourgeois armed guard entered the shop after them and massacred all of them.

A small narrow shop like this one a few metres to the north of the Rue St Jacques was the scene of a summary execution of those fighting to defend the first ever unemployment pay system.

The Saint-Sevérin church itself at No. 10 witnessed the summary execution of Communard supporters within the Church’s domed apse on May 24 1871. Many had been defending the barricade across the street at No 54 that was helping protect the Versaillais troops from attacking the Panthéon further up the hill.

Another barricade across the road at No. 195 was bypassed by the Versaillais troops and all its defenders killed on that same day during the ‘bloody week’ of the Commune.

The first student demonstration against the German occupation took place on 8 November 1940, when students gathered at the cross roads of the Rue des Écoles and Nos. 44-46 Rue St Jacques to protest against the arrest of Paul Langevin.

The Jesuit-origin Lycée Louis-le-Grand  at No 123 has helped train French ruling elites since the 17th century now includes the site of the old Collège du Plessis at No. 115.

From 1792 to 1799 the Collège de Louis-le-Grand was renamed the Collège de l’Égalité. Its alumini included Danton, Desmoulins and Robespierre, but also before the Revolution, Moliere, Voltaire, Sade and after Victor Hugo, Delacroix and Marc Bloch.

Part of the Plessis college was used as a prison, initially keeping those sent to Paris to be tried or executed by provincial towns lacking a guillotine, and then as an overflow. It was here that Babeuf met and influenced Buonarroti, Joseph Bodson (or William Bodson), Claude Fiquet, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lefranc, Morel, Claude Menessier, Jean-Baptiste Cazin, Guillaume Massart and Mathurin Bouin and other future members of Babeuf’s “conspiracy”. They were rounded up as Robespierre’s supporters in the summer of 1794 but used the months together to develop a more radical, communistic revolutionary politics.

The Academie d’ Absinthe café used by Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine was situated at No. 176. Absinthe was banned in 1914 in France but it remained the only European country not to allow the name to be used when it was approved by the European Union in 1988.

In 1888 Verlaine restarted his Wednesday literary meetings at the Grand Hôtel des Nations at No 216 where he was living. Later, in 1891, he lived at the dancer Eugénie Krantz’s flat at No 272 before moving to No. 187, which was where in 1893 he asked her to come and live with him.

When she came back to France in October 1910, the Bolshevik Inessa Armand first lived at No. 241 before moving to a flat next to Lenin’s in the Rue Marie-Rose.

Half a century earlier, No. 241 had also been one of the addresses where the teenage Emile Zola had stayed in 1859-1860 soon after arriving in Paris.

Zola moved to the sixth floor of No. 278 in 1864-1865 when he was 24 and worked in a bookshop. This was where his first novel, Contes à Ninon (Stories for Ninon), was published.

The school for deaf children founded by Charles-Michel de L’Épée at No 254 became a centre for revolutionary republican clubs in 1848. Those based here included: the Club des Intérêts du Peuple, the Club démocratique Ibérique and the Comité électoral démocratique du 11ème arrondissement.

The plaque at No 254 recalls the Institute’s history of welcoming pilgrims on their way to St Jacques de Compostelle in the Middle Ages, but not its revolutionary credentials in 1848.

Further south down the street is a plaque outside No 260/262. This honours Emile Durkheim, the ‘founder of sociology’, who lived there from 1902 to 1912.

The military hospital, Val de Grâce, at 277bis, now houses an interesting museum. During the First World War Apollinaire was a patient there, while Louis Aragon and André Breton first met when they were stationed there.

In 1979 the military teaching hospital in the old abbey was moved to a new building with an entrance in the Boulevard de Port-Royal. It was finally closed in 2016, after having treated people like Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and the Algerian president from 1999 to 2019, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Marc Blondel died there in 2014.

Today outside the Val de Grace hospital the authorities have hung a copy of De Gaulle’s 18 June 1940 proclamation calling for the French to fight together to ‘Save France’.

Plus d’informations

PLACES

Rue de Varenne

Arrondissement 7

Numbers 12, 24, 56, 57, 77

This street is best known for No. 57, the Matignon Palace. The hôtel Matignon has been the official home of French prime ministers since 1922. In 1914, then the Austrian Embassy, it had been sequestered by the government who then bought it and what was Paris’ largest private garden in 1922.

The left’s prime ministers are few in numbers: only Léon Blum, Pierre Mendès France, Michel Rocard reported on in Left in Paris spent a few years there.

Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet rented a flat at No. 56, the Hôtel Gouffier de Thoix, from 1960 until Aragon’s death in 1982. The town house was built for the sister of the mistress of England’s Charles II between 1719 and 1727. Nationalised as the goods of foreigners during the French revolution, and then rented out, today it is used by the prime minister’s office.

From 1960 Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet used their flat in the Hôtel Gouffier de Thoix at No. 56 as their Paris base, while spending much of their time at the old Villeneuve watermill that Aragon bought for Elsa in 1953 in the ancient Rambouillet forest to the West of Paris.

Under the Occupation, the German Military Court was based at No. 12.

The painter Eugène Delacroix lived at No. 24 in 1820.

Nearly a kilometer long this street is filled with huge 18th century private houses that have become government buildings, embassies and the house at No. 77, now a museum, where Rodin lived, in the hôtel Biron. This was built for a former wig-maker who became a housing speculator in 1727-1728, and was sold to the hero of the 1745 battle of Fontenoy, the General Biron in 1753. His nephew ended up on the guillotine in 1793.

Under the restoration the building was given to the catholic girls school, the Ladies of the Sacré-Cœur, and then taken back by the state in 1905. By then it was nearly falling down and scheduled for demolition.

77 rue de Varenne around 1900,. It was then a convent school. This was shortly before it was returned to the French state after the 1905 legal separation of the Church from Government.

Several artists then moved in temporarily, including Matisse and Jean Cocteau, as well as Isadora Duncan’s Dance School.

In 1908 Auguste Rodin moved in. In 1916, the year before his death, he promised to give his entire works to the state if it transformed the building into the Musée Rodin, and this was then voted on by the National Assembly and by the Senate. Rodin died in 1917.

Most probably the street’s Varenne name comes from a corruption of the French word garenne meaning a hunting reserve, suggested also by the nearby Rue de Bellechasse (the ‘great hunting’ street. In the 16th century the area was part of the forest attached to the Louvre Palace. it was originally cut through in the early 17th century, got its name in 1651 and was extended to its present length in 1850.

PLACES

Art

Gustave Courbet sketched this self-portrait at Sainte-Pélagie prison after the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871. He was one of many artists who supported the Commune and is in a line of socialist, anarchist and communist artists who lived and/or worked in Paris and contributed their visions of a world transformed

References to include: Eugène Delacroix

In 1895 Toulouse-Lautrec painted one of a series he had begun in 1889 commissioned by the Moulin Rouge at the Place Blanche. In it he inserted (bottom right) tributes to the editor of La Revue Blanche, Félix Fénéon, and to his friend, Oscar Wilde (second bottom left), whom he had met and painted in London the day before Wilde was jailed for indecency.
Portrait of Felix Feneon by his former fellow political prisoner charged with anarchist sympathies Maximilien Luce. This was pained in 1901