7th Arrondissement of Paris … Charm … Culture … Shopping … Praying for a Miracle …

It has the shape of a butterfly with its wings spread, this 7th arrondissement (district) of Paris. In the south it starts at Sèvres-Lecourbe Métro (underground railway) station and then it spread east to Sèvres-Babylone Métro station and north-west past Ségur Métro station to Champs de Mars Tour Eiffel Métro station. There are another three […]

Artemisia at the Maillol Museum in the 7th Arrondissement

It has the shape of a butterfly with its wings spread, this 7th arrondissement (district) of Paris.

In the south it starts at Sèvres-Lecourbe Métro (underground railway) station and then it spread east to Sèvres-Babylone Métro station and north-west past Ségur Métro station to Champs de Mars Tour Eiffel Métro station. There are another three Métro stations along the northern border: Pont de l’Alma, Invalides and Musée d’Orsay.

Rue du Bac Metro station (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Within the butterfly there are yet another four Métro stations: St.François Xavier, École Militaire, La Tour Maubourg, Assemblée National and Rue du Bac.

It is of course in this district where you will find Paris’ ‘Iron Lady’ – the Eiffel Tower – and also Emperor Napoléon’s tomb under the golden dome of the Église du Dome which is part of the Hôtel des Invalides.

It is also home to several ministries which includes the Hôtel Matignon, the official residence of France’s Prime Minister.

It is not about the tower or the tomb I want to speak today, but about the discreet charm of the eastern part of this district: The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie because there is no doubt that the 7th arrondissement is bourgeois. (In France’s Presidential election this past Sunday – May 6 – the district’s people massively voted for Nicolas Sarkozy: 18,595 votes for him and 7,317 for François Holland, the overall victor and the new President of France.)

On Sundays the district is silent. A couple may ride along one of the many narrow streets on shiny bikes, a tiny crash-helmeted little Parisian in a small seat fastened behind the handles of the bike of one of them.

On weekdays however the district is buzzing: The sidewalks are narrow and packed. All of the pedestrians are shoppers. Either real shoppers who will be stepping into a shop to spend the equivalent of what a blue-collar worker would have to work for for an entire month, or ‘window’ shoppers who look and dream and decide to definitely play the Loto on the following Saturday night.

The shops are small. In most only the owner will be inside standing behind a laptop. He or she will look you over and will quickly calculate your worth in euros and depending on the result may either step forward with a broad smile showing perfect teeth, or will ignore you altogether which will not fail to hasten your quick exit. (The latter has happened to me in a shop selling scented candles and silk flowers: I am happy to report the shop has since closed down.)

What do the small shops sell? Scented candles and silk flowers for one. Then also furniture but the kind one would never have an urge to sit or lie on but rather to lock up in a bank vault. Also handmade jewelry; lamps; cosmetics which promise instant disappearance of wrinkles; chocolates in boxes Marie Antoinette would not have said no to; fake nails; dusters – yes, dusters, those feathery things one swipes over furniture to get rid of dust; scented patterned toilet rolls; coffee of the ‘what else?’ make; crystal and silver and porcelain tableware and ornaments and purses and scarves, and shoes you wouldn’t dare wear on a rainy day because of all the money you had paid for them.

There are no chain clothes stores in the district. And no fast food outlets: No McDo or Pizza Hut therefore.

You will though find what is said to have been the world’s first ever department store. Its name? Le Bon Marché. It’s at Number 27 Rue de Sèvres, but fills a large area between the following streets: Rue du Bac, Rue du Babylone, the short and narrow Rue Velpeau and of course Rue de Sèvres.

One section of Le Bon Marche department store (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

What to say about Le Bon Marché? The name means ‘good market’ or ‘good deal’. One usually says that something was a ‘bon marché’ when it was not very expensive. Believe me, if ever there was a misnomer it is the name of this department store. You will know what I mean when I tell you that it is being said that it is Johnny Depp’s ‘corner shop’. (He and Vanessa Paradis have an apartment in the district.)

On any hour of any weekday and Saturday, taxis wait in front of the Rue du Bac doors of the store to take shoppers back home, and also, on any hour of any weekday and Saturday, luxury hired cars wait on Rue Babylone to take foreign shoppers back to their five-star hotels. The drivers with their special licenses which the driver of the Mercedes in which Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayad met their death on August 31 1997 did not possess, and dressed in cheap dark suits and wearing well-worn rubber-soled shoes stand listlessly beside the cars speaking in foreign tongues waiting to rush over to help carry the full and heavy shopping bags of their clients to the Ritz’s and Crillons of Paris.

Know that in the store’s food section – La Grande Épicerie – only the highest quality of fruit, vegetables, fish, meat etc is sold. You can also buy non-perishable food from all over the world and if you do not mind paying for American jerky what you would normally pay for caviar at home, then this shop is for you. It even sells sugar crystals in whatever color you can think of.

But the 7th arrondissement is also wealthy in culture and there is something too for the devout.

If you are among the latter, you need only give a few paces along Rue du Bac from Le Bon Marché and you will be in front of a modest four-storey building. This is the Chapel of Miracles. You won’t be able to miss it because of a sculpture of the Virgin and a young nun in a niche on the façade. There will also be a beggar or two outside the building pleading, “Madame … Madame … s’il vous plait … c’est vraiment pour manger…” (Madame, please, it is really to be able to eat). You will see the beggar – the woman in long skirt and black jacket on the photo below.

The Miracle Chapel (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

I wrote about the Chapel of Miracles here so do visit the site because whatever you would want to know about it you would be able to find there.

But I will briefly recap:

The Chapel of our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (to give its correct name) is at No. 140 Rue du Bac.

There,in the chapel of the convent of the Daughters of Charity, on the night of July 18, 1830, the Virgin appeared to one of the nuns. She was the 24-year-old Zoe Labouré known as the Sister Catherine. The Virgin told Sister Catherine that those who come to the altar and ask for her graces with confidence would receive them. The Virgin also gave instructions to Sister Catherine to have a medal struck which the faithful should always carry on them. Having told her priest confessor about the apparitions of the Virgin (there were eventually three) and about the medal, such a medal was struck and when a deadly cholera hit Paris in February 1832 which claimed the lives of more than 20,000 Parisians, those who survived attributed their survival to having worn the ‘Miracle Medal’ and having prayed to the Virgin and Sister Catherine in the Chapel for protection.

Praying for a miracle (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Sister Catherine died on December 31, 1876, and nuns who prepared her body for burial in a cemetery outside Paris were amazed that rigor mortis had not set in.

In 1933 when her body was exhumed for reburial in her former convent’s chapel, by then known as the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, it was found that no decomposition had taken place.

She was declared a saint by Pope Pius XII on July 27, 1947, and today, two million people visit the chapel annually.

Some come to pray to her and the Virgin for a miracle while others just go to sit in the chapel for a few silent moments of reflection.

Saint Catherine now lies in a glass case in the chapel, but I need to tell you that her body has been waxed.
She or the Virgin or maybe she and the Virgin are still performing miracles as plaques of gratitude put up in a front courtyard testify.

The body of Saint Catherine in the Miracle Chapel. (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

The body of Saint Catherine in the Miracle Chapel. (Copyright Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Just a few of the thank yous for a miracle (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)


You can buy the medal and other religious artefacts at the chapel’s shop.

Here is the chapel’s official site.

Now for the district’s culture.

At 59-61 Rue de Grenelle, which crosses Rue du Bac (it is a short walk only from the chapel) you will find the Maillol Museum – Musée Maillol.

Maillol – Aristide Joseph Bonaventure Maillol – was a French sculptor and painter. He was born in Banyuls-sur-Mer on December 8, 1861 and died on September 27, 1944 in Paris when a car in which he was a passenger skidded of the road, killing him instantly. If you’ve been to Paris and you’ve walked through the Tuileries Gardens you would have seen his bronze sculptures of rather plump naked ladies. There are 20 of them.

Maillol in the Tuileries Garden in Paris (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The Maillol Museum is the permanent home to more of his sculptures, sketches and tapestries as he also worked in tapestry form. The museum is not overly crowded, and on my last visit a few days ago I even found myself all alone in one of the rooms (see photo) surrounded by 8 of his sculptures. It was a magic moment.

I found myself all alone in the room in the Maillol – a Magic Moment (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The museum also has temporary exhibitions and currently there are three: Artemisia; Wilhelm Uhde; Camille Bombois and Séraphine Louis, known as Séraphine de Senlis.

Wilhelm Uhde (1874-1947) was a German (born in Pomerania, today Poland) art collector, dealer, critic and author. As such he ‘discovered’ Camille Bombois and Séraphine de Senlis, and in 1928 he organized what was to be the world’s first ‘Naïve Art ‘exhibition where Bombois and Séraphine were also exhibited.

Séraphine was Uhde’s maid.  One day, living in Senlis, Uhde was astonished to learn that a painting of apples he was admiring in a neighbor’s house was painted by none other than his maid, Séraphine. As he was to learn she was painting in secret by candlelight at night.


He became her mentor (he was homosexual so the friendship which developed was strictly platonic).

Unfortunately she had mental problems and after several sojourns in asylums died in one in 1942 penniless and alone and was buried in a common grave for paupers and the nameless.

Uhde had in fact announced her death back in 1934 because as far as the art world was concerned she was indeed no longer alive then.

Believe me you will love her work – and oh how I would love to be owner of a Séraphine de Senlis painting …




A Seraphine

Camille Bombois (1883-1970) – in France the name Camille can be either that of a male or female – in this case it was that of a man) was a one-time farm worker, wrestler and circus performer. Like Séraphine he also painted at night and tried to augment his meager wages by selling his painting on Paris’ sidewalks especially those of Montmartre. There, one day in the 1920s Udhe ‘discovered’ his work and exhibited these in the 1928 Naïve Art exhibition.

The Artemisia exhibition which opened on Wednesday, 14 March this year (2012) and runs through to Sunday, July 15 (so do the Séraphine and the Bombois) is currently Maillol’s main attraction.

Maillol Museum (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Artemesia – Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1654) – a woman, painted in a time and place when painting was not something women did. Her works are full of violence, yet beautiful. The violence can be explained in that she was raped as a young girl by one of her father’s friends.

Having adopted the deuterocanonical Boof of Judith as inspiration for her art, she put the suffering of women – obviously also the suffering she had undergone when raped –  in her paintings but also her revenge on men, as she did in her Giuditta che decapita Oloferne (Judith beheading Holofernes) which is part of this exhibition. (Deuerocanonical is a term used in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox religions for certain books and passages of the Old Testament but which is not accept by Jews and Protestants as canonical.)

I gave her year of death as 1654, but the date is disputed as some art historians say that she might have lived until 1656 when she succumbed to the pest. The year 1654 was the last that anyone had seen her though.


Another Maillol in the Tuileries Garden in Paris (Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The Maillol Museum is open every day (this includes Sundays and public holidays) from 10.30 a.m. to 7 p.m. On Fridays it remains open until 9.30 p.m. It costs an adult €11 ($14 – £9) to go in. It is not really necessary to make a reservation as I always recommend for the Louvre.

The nearest Metro station is Rue du Bac of which you can see a photo above.

The Virgin and Sister Catherine on the facade of the Miracle Chapel in Paris (copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

6 Responses

5-9-2012 at 18:43:35

Thank you to much, Marilyn for this survey of the 7th arrondissement. When I was a very young bride, I lived in Rue Duvivier, a tiny apartment, our “nid d’amour” until our first child was programmed. (Rue Duvivier is parallel to Rue Cler, and perpendicular to Rue Saint-Dominique.) Then we moved to a wider apartment near the Parc Montsouris. My sister has been living near the UNESCO for 35 years. That is why I appreciated so much your article. Thanks a lot.

5-9-2012 at 19:56:39

Helene, I also lived in the 7th as a young bride. My husband and I lived in Rue de Grenelle. We lived there for just 6 months in the apartment of a colleague of my husband who had been posted to the Far East. It was a great time we had there as Saint Germain des Pres was very close and we used to go to Lipp’s for a drink. Then we moved to the 6th and then to the 13th and today I live not far from Parc Montsouris. I walk there whenever the weather allows me to do so because I love to sit beside the lake and watch the ducks and swans.

5-9-2012 at 20:43:32

Ca alors !!! On dit que “les grands esprits se rencontrent” … En voilà encore la preuve !Depuis que j’habite à Antibes je ne monte pas souvent à Paris. Mais lorsque je le ferai, je vous le dirai et nous nous donnerons rendez-vous près de la statue de Tom Paine avant d’aller boire un verre à la Cité U.
Mais d’ici là, si vous aviez des envies de Méditerranée, vous savez à qui vous adresser. Bonsoir Marilyn.

5-10-2012 at 06:21:38

C’est un ‘date’ pour Paris ou le PACA!

5-22-2012 at 16:29:54

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5-23-2012 at 10:43:05

It’s onerous to seek out knowledgeable folks on this subject, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks
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