You probably won’t have too much time left after visiting the Château de Versailles, but if you do, then the Cathédrale Saint-Louis de Versailles is well worth a visit. Situated in the old part of Versailles, it is only a ten minute walk from the Château gates.
The land on which the Cathédrale now stands was originally declared a deer enclosure by Louis III to satisfy his passion for hunting. The Parc-aux-Cerfs (Deer Park), now known as the Saint-Louis area, has quite a colourful history.
The area owes its development to Louis XIV, who urbanised the Parc aux Cerfs to accommodate the many people working at the ever-expanding Château.
Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, settled here after the end of her physical link with Louis XV in 1752. Still a friend and confidante to the King, she established lodgings for often very young women who were kept there to satisfy the lust of the king. This establishment adopted the title of Le Parc aux Cerfs.
No two historians have the same point of view on what happened at Le Parc aux Cerfs. A debate continues about the number of mistresses of Louis XV, their age, if the house was a harem or a brothel, a palace or a cottage, if there was one, two or three houses. The views range from an absolute contempt for a debauched King to a benevolent tolerance for royal human weaknesses.
However, it was this same King, Louis XV, who commissioned architect Jacques Hardouin-Mansart de Sagonne to build a church in the area.
Louis XV laid the first stone on 12 June 1743, and the church was consecrated on 24 August 1754.
For the facade of Saint-Louis, Mansart Sagonne was inspired by the Église Saint Roch in Paris. Église Saint-Roch is a late Baroque church in Paris, dedicated to Saint Roch. Located at 284 Rue Saint Honoré, in the 1st arrondissement, it was built between 1653 and 1740.
Clicquot built the original organ in 1760. The king commissioned painters, such as Jean Restout, François Boucher and Jean-Baptiste-Henri Deshays to embellish the edifice. It was renovated in the 19th century by Cavaillé-Coll. Organ enthusiasts will be interested to know that it has 3131 pipes.
On May 4th, 1789, the opening procession of the États Généraux set out from the Église Notre-Dame (then the Royal Parish) in Versailles, crossed the Place d’Armes and arrived at Saint-Louis. It was from the pulpit of this church that Monseigneur de La Fare, Bishop of Nancy, delivered his famous sermon condemning the excesses of the Court.
During the Revolution, the church was closed and became a Temple of Abundance. Most of the silverware was confiscated, the bells melted down, and paintings transported to the Central Art Museum in Paris. After the Revolution, the damage was gradually repaired, the paintings returned, and new works of art introduced.
In 1797, Saint-Louis became the Cathedral in place of Notre-Dame (Versailles) and the first Bishop of Versailles, Monseigneur Charrier de la Roche, ratified the choice in 1802. He had the honour of welcoming, on January 3rd, 1805, Pope Pius VII, who had come to Paris for the Emperor’s coronation.
The Cathédrale Saint-Louis de Versailles is a good example of balance and grace without the overpowering appearance often associated with the baroque style. Renovations in 2002 introduced a more contemporary style while still maintaining harmony with the original.
For a cathedral near the most visited site in France, you will appreciate the lack of tourists. We had the Cathedral to ourselves.