La Basilique de Sacre Coeur

I was eighteen years old and had just graduated from High School when I went to France on a mission trip with some other young Evangelicals. We were working with a mission called Slavic Gospel Association. Our mission was to transport Bibles into the communist countries.

At the end of the mission we spent a few days in Paris. I remember being charmed by the city, visiting the Eiffel Tower, and visiting my first Gothic Cathedral–Notre Dame. I especially liked wandering through the artist’s quarter–Montmartre.

It was there, on the first night in Paris, that I first visited a great Catholic Church. I went around a corner with my friends, and there like some incredible dream, was the great basilica of the Sacred Heart–all in white and illuminated against the night sky. My friends didn’t want to go in, but I did. Inside the darkness was puncuated by pools of candlelight and there was a great silence. I don’t remember much else except that I sat in a back pew, and finally got over my Protestant objections, put down a kneeler and knelt to pray.

I realize now that the Blessed Sacrament has been exposed for adoration in that church non stop since its foundation. Even then Christ was drawing me into his Catholic Church. When the Basilica was built after the terrible years of the French Revolution the resurgant Catholics wanted the basilica to be a ‘city set on a hill’ a ‘light that would draw all men to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.’

Here’s one man for whom it did just that.

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  • jedesto

    Fr. L, your experience of Sacre Coeur mirrors my own, although I am a cradle Catholic. The first impression it makes on one is unforgettable.

  • Patricius

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Peregrinus

    Yes, Patricius, the correct name is La Basilique du (i.e., of THE) Sacre Coeur de Montmartre. I think that we all know what was meant.The blog seems to imply that Sacre Coeur is a great church and that Notre Dame is not a great one. Certainly Sacre Ceour is a lesser church than Notre Dame, except perhaps in respect to architectural value. (I would deny that it is greater even in that respect.) Unfortunately, I was only able to peek inside the Basilica during my visit to Paris. I hope to spend a good amount of time in the church during my next visit, God willing.

  • Fr Longenecker

    Didn't mean to imply that Notre Dame was inferior in any way–its just that I had the experience described in Sacre Coeur and it is the Solemnity of Sacre Coeur today…

  • kkollwitz

    Possibly my wife's favorite church. Very unusual architecturally, in some sense like the Basilica in DC. They both lie within the traditional vocabulary of Christian architecture, but neither refers to any particular style.Montmartre = Mount (of) martyrs.

  • Alphonsus Rodriguez

    Fr. Longenecker,I visited the Sacre Coeur during my first trip to France in 1982 when I was twenty six years old. I, too, was an evangelical (Baptist) protestant. Until I went to France, I had been inside very few Catholic churches. The Sacre Coeur had an extraordinarily profound and enduring effect on me as well. It was really all rather disorienting wandering around in the darkness punctuated by the light of thousands of candles, not really having any idea of the significance of anything I was seeing and virtually no understanding of the Catholic Faith. Certainly I missed the central feature of the Church–the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance high above the altar. I suppose it is hard for someone brought up in the Catholic Faith to realize how completely uncomprehending the average protestant is regarding the Faith.I didn't know what a sacrament was. I didn't know what the altar was for. At one point, I remember a little procession & the sound of tinkling bells moving through the crowd of visitors (looking back, I suppose this was the priest & altar servers heading towards the main altar to offer the Mass). I could not have been more at sea if I'd been in a Hindu temple. Still, the experience made an indelible impression. I remember that at the time the way I dealt with the experience was to regard it as a first-hand encounter with full-blown Catholic superstition in its natural habitat. The sort of strange experience one expects to find in foreign travel. But of course that was not my real experience–that was not really the impression that had been made. It took twenty years for me to take my place in the Church–a grace for which I give thanks before Mass every Sunday. After a twenty-two year hiatus, I was able to return to Paris and visit this wonderful church once again, this time as a Catholic, this time to kneel with other Catholic Christians before the sacramental presence of Our Blessed Lord and give thanks for his infinite mercy and patience. Lots of people criticize the architecture and other features of the Sacre Coeur. I love all of it. It is a very special holy place.

  • Lee

    What is it with this place and evangelicals??I went on a tour of Europe with my Baptist high school. We went to Montmartre one night while in Paris and visited this beautiful place. While inside, nuns began to play music. I remember thinking, "Wow, this sure is different." I was clueless!Eight years later…I'm Catholic.

  • Patricius

    I believe that the architect was inspired by the domed Romanesque churches of the Perigord – an unusual reference which contributes to the very distinct character of this church. What makes it really special, however, has to be the continual prayer.

  • kkollwitz

    "La Basilique du Sacre Coeur de Montmartre"Uh-oh. Let's not mention Las Vegas and Los Angeles.Too late.


    I love this Church! I was there on New Year's Eve a couple of years ago and even on this day it was buzzing with prayer.Thank you for returning me so vividly to y many sacred visits there!

  • Elsasser SC

    The Basilica was built in the aftermath of the french defeat to Prussia in 1870-71 and the cruel communist insurrection of the Paris Commune that resulted in many martyrs including Mgr Darbois archbishop of Paris.It was actually completed in 1914 dedicated just after WWI.It illustrates a deep popular devotion to the Sacred Heart in the context of a very troubled phase of french catholic history: the reconciliation of french nationalist republicanism with catholicism, the Pope defining himself as the prisonner of the Vatican, the french separation of Church and State.This very popular song around that time illustrates this:"Dieu de clémence,Ô Dieu vainqueur !Sauvez Rome et la France.Au nom du Sacré-Coeur. (bis)In spite of living 3 years in Paris, I actually visited the Basilica with my 2 younger sons only last year. A very deep experience.On a practical note for travellers:- perpetual adoration available round the clock (need to register online or by phone during the night)- the last mass of the day available (10 pm every day of the week!)