Montparnasse has proved to be a part of Paris worthy of several Arts Adventures. I previously detailed my exploration of the Cimetiére du Montparnasse, and I enjoyed seeing the graffiti and street art of Montparnasse. Since my time in Paris was limited, I tried my best to find multiple things to do in each neighborhood, as I didn’t want to waste my time zig-zagging across the city. Something I had read about briefly that sounded interesting was the “industrial church,” which is the description applied to the Church of Notre Dame Du Travail. I couldn't imagine how a church could look industrial and still feel like a church, so I wanted to see it for myself.
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It was a little difficult to find, because as I walked in the direction I thought I had to go, I came upon the Place de la Catalogne, which was a large circle surrounded by a curved building (which you can see here). I didn’t realize until I had walked all the way around the circle that additional streets branched off the circle, but with the origin of those streets starting underneath the curved building. It was there that I found Rue Vercingetorix, which led to the church at 59 Rue Vercingetorix.
I went walking down that street looking for an industrial building, but there were none! I finally found the address at #59, but instead of an industrial church, I found this very classic-looking church, as you can see from the exterior view above.
I crossed the street and went up to the sign just to the left of the door to confirm that this was indeed the place. So I went in with the hope of discovering why this was considered an "industrial" church. As you’ll see in the pictures below, the metal beams found inside do indeed provide an industrial feel, and when you remember that you're in Paris, it might be easy to see some partial inspiration from the Eiffel Tower (which was completed in 1889; the church was completed in 1902).
A view inside The Industrial Church.
Structural comparison between The Industrial Church (left) and the Eiffel Tower (right).
So what’s the story behind the Industrial Church? It’s the work of architect Jules Astuc, and the metal structure of the interior was made utilizing 135 tons of iron and steel.
But Astuc wasn’t completely on his own in this design; the concept came from Roger Soulange-Bodin, who was the priest who founded Notre Dame du Travail. He wanted a church that would “unite workers of all classes within the realm of religion.” He wanted the workers who would become the members of this church to feel at home by reminding them of their factories, which, when you think about it, almost seems counterintuitive. Church is supposed to offer a respite from one’s work life, and I can’t imagine that work in French factories in the early 1900’s was such a pleasant place that the workers would want to replicate the experience at church on the weekend.
But you’ll see in the slideshow here that the church is not all hard and cold metal; there’s inviting art, and the nave and alter area are somewhat traditional.
But make a note of the 2nd and 3rd slide - do you see the face of Jesus from the Shroud of Turin displayed to the left of the alter? I'm guessing it's a replica, but why is it here? Scroll down for more on this ...
In addition to the face from the Shroud of Turin near the altar, they also prominently display a replica of the full Shroud of Turin in one of the recessed areas on the side, along with a chart explaining how to read the various markings and what it all means. There must be some sort of historical connection, but I can't find any information. If you know any details about this, please share them with me.
The church was completely empty while I was there except for a nun sitting in a side office, who went about her work without any notice of me and my picture-taking. It was very peaceful, both inside the church and in the quiet neighborhood surrounding it.