The Saint James’s Tower is a monument located in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, France, at the intersection of Rue de Rivoli with Rue Nicolas Flamel. This 52-metre (171 ft) Flamboyant Gothic tower is all that remains of the former 16th-century Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie (“Saint James of the butchers”), which was demolished in 1797, during the French Revolution, leaving only the tower, the tower as the bell tower of the church was built between 1509 and 1523.
The Tour Saint-Jacques stands alone in the middle of a little garden of the same name. The church, itself constructed from the 12th century, was an important pilgrimage site in Paris for Catholics, and a stop on the famous Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle pilgrimage route which leads south through France into Spain. This sanctuary was the meeting point on the Via Toronensis (or Tours route) of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle). Numerous legends have shaped the tower’s mysterious allure over the centuries.
A tower in the flamboyant Gothic style, The tower was designed in a flamboyant Gothic style, as evidenced by features such as pointed, tapering pinnacles and carved niches decorated with statues, gargoyles and other elements. While taking up certain elements of the contemporary Louis XII style, this building shows the extent to which Parisian and particularly religious architecture is reluctant to new developments brought from Italy and remains, like the Hôtel de Cluny, essentially faithful to the style Flamboyant Gothic from the 15th century.
Its sumptuous decor is attributed in part to the patronage of wealthy butchers who operated nearby in the enormous Les Halles market, and for whom the church was named. The Tour Saint-Jacques featuring gargoyles and other decorative molding including the very hard bench called the “Liais” made of stone from the Saint-Leu (Oise) quarry. The sculpted symbols of the four evangelists (the lion, bull, eagle and man), appear on the corners. These statues were restored during the last century, along with the gargoyles and the 18 statues of saints that decorate the walls of the tower.
In the center, when you arrive, discover the statue of Blaise Pascal. The story tells this is where he carried out barometric experiments, it was here that he repeated his barometric experiments carried out in Puy-de-Dôme. On the north-west corner, a statue of Saint Jacques le Majeur dominates the platform on which a small meteorological station was established in 1891. It belongs to the Observatoire de Montsouris.
After the church was destroyed and pillaged in the Revolution, it was used for a time as a stone quarry. The French state acquired the tower in 1836, declaring it a historic monument in the 1860s. It was only during the Second Empire that major restoration efforts brought the tower back to its original, opulent guise. An architect named Théodore Ballu headed the redesign, creating a 19th-century style square and park around it and setting the tower on a pedestal. Statues, gargoyles, and other Gothic elements were also restored or entirely replaced.
Saint-Jacques tower is an old bell tower and was built during the reign of King Francis I. With a dedication to Saint James the Greater,, dedicated to Saint Jacques le Majeur. This veritable sanctuary housed a relic of Saint Jacques and was a famous place of pilgrimage as well as the place of worship for the merchants of the district. The tower’s rich decoration reflects the wealth of its patrons, the wholesale butchers of the nearby Les Halles market. The masons in charge were Jean de Felin, Julien Ménart and Jean de Revier.
This bell tower was built between 1509 and 1523 by Jean de Felin, Julien Ménart and Jean de Revier. It measures 54 meters up to the balustrade. In 1523, Rault, “tailor of images” received 20 books “for having made three beasts (three of the four symbols of the Evangelists ) and a Saint Jacques on the tower and steeple”. This colossal statue was said to be 10 meters high.
The church was destroyed in 1793 (closed during the Revolution and became national property, it served as a stone quarry ). The church, with the exception of the tower, was demolished in 1793; preservation of the tower was a condition of the contract by which the church was bought for the value of its building materials.
It is said that the tower was not demolished because Blaise Pascal repeated there his experiments at Puy de Dôme on gravity, but other sources indicate the Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas church on the Sainte-Geneviève mountain. His statue, installed at the base of the tower, reminds us of this. The purchaser of the church had had the condition not to demolish the tower. At the time, it was one of the tallest monuments in Paris.
In 1824 it was being used as a shot tower to make small shot. It was repurchased by the City of Paris in 1836 and declared a Monument Historique in 1862. A statue of the saint was installed on the top of the tower during the 19th century.
During the Second Empire, the architect Théodore Ballu restored the tower, placing it on a pedestal and designing a small city park around it. This coincided with the construction of the rue de Rivoli and the avenue Victoria nearby, requiring huge quantities of earth to be removed to ensure the rue de Rivoli a smooth flat path. The pedestal allowed the tower to retain its original elevation: nowadays, the change in ground level can best be appreciated in rue St-Bon, just northeast of the tower, where a staircase leads up to the original street level at rue de la Verrerie.
The statue of Saint Jacques, knocked down during the Revolution, is replaced by another, due to Paul Chenillon, who made a plaster model, 3.80 meters high. The Saint-Jacques church in Illiers-Combray, dear to Marcel Proust, retains its head, made in 1858 to serve as a model for the sculptor. It was offered by Napoleon III to the municipal council who had requested it.
At the foot of the tower, was created in 1856, on the site of the leveled mound and the old district of Saint-Jacques-la-Boucherie, the first square in Paris (the square of the Saint-Jacques tower ). At the foot of the tower, at the end of the 19th century, the outdoor hiring of workers took place, a meeting place for them, as was the Place de Grève (now the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville).
In the 19th century, a sentimental and nostalgic song by Édouard Hachin whose plot takes place near the Tour Saint-Jacques, and entitled La Tour Saint-Jacques, was a huge success. She is now forgotten.
Since 1965, a plaque offered by Spain to the city of Paris, “on the initiative of the Society of Friends of Saint Jacques”, has made it a starting point for pilgrims to Compostela. René de La Coste Messelière even wrote about it that it was “the first and highest milestone on the way to Saint-Jacques”, an assertion without historical foundation. The plaque indicates that “millions of pilgrims” set off there for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a symbolic figure which underlines the importance given to this pilgrimage from the 19th century. The origin of this presentation of millions of pilgrims comes from the mention of crowds in medieval texts, in particular the Codex Calixtinus. These crowds do not correspond to counts as it has been understood but to the fact that to promote itself, Compostela applied to itself the texts of the New Testament speaking of the heavenly Jerusalem.
On the platform is installed a small meteorological station since 1891. It depends on the Observatory of Montsouris. The carved symbols of the four Evangelists, the lion (Mark), the bull (Luke), the eagle (John) and the angel (Matthew), appear in the angles. The current statues date from the beginning of the 20th century, like the gargoyles and the eighteen statues of saints which decorate the walls of the tower. The sculptures date from two periods. Some are from the origin of the construction in the 16th century, others were created in the 19th and 20th centuries.
A statue of Blaise Pascal is located at the base of the tower, commemorating the experiments on atmospheric pressure, though it is debated whether they were performed here or at the church of Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas. A meteorological laboratory is also installed at the top of the tower. The tower inspired Alexandre Dumas to write the play La tour Saint-Jacques-de-la-boucherie in 1856.
A relic of the saint preserved in the church linked it the more strongly and in modern times occasioned its listing in 1998 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO among the sites and structures marking the chemins de Compostelle, the pilgrimage routes in France that led like tributaries of a great stream headed towards Santiago in the northwest of Spain.
The tower was surrounded by scaffolding and obscured by sheeting for some years as surveyors investigated the condition of the stone. Recent findings show that most of the stone and its ornamentation originates from the late-medieval era of the tower’s construction, and was not added by the 19th-century restorers. Unfortunately, the survey also indicates serious cracking. The top three quarters of sheeting were taken down in March 2008, revealing a renovated upper section of the tower.
From October 2008 to February 2009, the scaffolds and sheeting were completely removed and the surrounding park’s landscaping was being restored. Finally, on 18 April 2009, the park was re-opened to the public. Since the end of restoration work in 2013, launched ten years earlier, visits are once again possible. They are organized by an association authorized by the City of Paris and are limited to 17 people per hour, in particular because of the narrowness of the staircase.
If the general architecture of the building remains faithful for the most part to the flamboyant Gothic style of the 15th century, it does not take up any less certain novelties induced by the new Louis XII style which then triumphs by marking a transition between the Gothic art and the Early Renaissance.
Under this influence, the bays of the bell tower, formerly overlooking the chamber of the bells, as well as in all the niches, show a very marked tendency to separate from the ogival arch to approach the full arch while the bell arches, brace arches and other broken counter-curves, very characteristic of this new style, triumph.
If unlike the castle of Blois or Chateaudun which are contemporary to it, no contribution of strictly Italian ornaments further enriches the flamboyant repertoire, we are moving little by little towards a more measured and refined art breaking with the decorative overload diluting the lines of the architecture that could be observed a decade earlier on the Butter Tower of Rouen Cathedral.
This return to murals marked by the use of a real grid of the facade and a new use of flexible and rounded forms already announces the hybrid achievements of the Saint-Eustache church, which was completed late at the end of the 16th century. while undergoing full whip the influences of the art of the Rebirth, will not remain about it less Gothic by its architecture.
The base of the tower, perched on a pedestal with stairs, features ornately carved arch structures, statues and small gargoyles. A statue of the French mathemetician and physicist Blaise Pascal stands within the arch structure, built to commemorate his experiments on atmospheric pressure. They were either carried out here or nearby, according to conflicting accounts.
At the northwest corner, admire the biblical sculptures of the Four Evangelists (lion, bull, eagle, and man), these are replicas rather than the originals, restored during the 19th century. The gargoyles and statues of saints adorning the walls of the tower are also replicas.
There’s also a statue of Saint Jacques le Majeur that stands on a platform. A tiny meteorological station was built here in 1891 by the Observatoire de Montsouris, a still-operating Observatory close to Montparnasse in southern Paris.