SOPHIE WALKING TOURS OF PARIS
#1 ~ Le Marais
Sophie’s First Home in Paris
In November of 1795, Louis Barat called for Sophie to meet him in Paris. He had established residence at 2, rue de Touraine, in the Marais—one of Paris’s oldest neighborhoods. Wishing to pull her into the orb of work that he was doing in a Paris only recently emerged from the Terror, he continued his sister’s education and oversaw her work in what might today be called a “safe house.” Freedom of religion had been restored earlier that year, but there was still enormous tension with the Vatican, and non-juror priests (of whom Louis was one) were still very much at risk.
Eventually Louis had to go into hiding again and Sophie returned to Joigny. But she returned two years later, and it was in this house on November 21, 1800, that Sophie took her first vows under the direction of Father Joseph Varin.
Today this address is a private residence and no longer fronts on the rue de Touraine, but rather on rue de Saintonge, #4.
If you are not staying in the Marais, take the Metro to the Filles du Calvaire station. Exit and walk south on the rue Vieille du Temple. Continue through large intersection (6 streets) until you arrive at the next intersection. Turn right on rue du Perché. Continue for one more block, and turn right on the rue de Saintonge. Number 4 is on your right.
Sophie’s Walk with Célestine
In Sophie’s Fire, Sophie runs into her [fictional] Joigny friend Célestine while out delivering a secret message to another “safe house” in the neighborhood. Their reunion leads to a walk that takes them past many sites that are Paris landmarks to this day.
To continue on this walk, and see many things that Sophie would undoubtedly have seen in this part of Paris, go back to the rue de Perché and turn left; then turn right on the rue Vielle du Temple and then left one block further on the rue des 4 Fils. Continue for less than a half mile until you reach the Boulevard Beaumarchais and turn right. Continue south along the boulevard until you reach the Place de la Bastille. This is the site of the Bastille Prison, destroyed during the Revolution, and it is where Sophie signs Célestine with the cross as the two sit beside a fountain (no longer there).
To continue to the Seine, bear right along the Boulevard Henri IV. When you reach the river, gaze across at the Ile St. Louis. Or walk across the bridge and stop for ice cream at the famous Berthillon (29-31 rue Saint Louis en l’Ile).
To finish the Sophie-Célestine Walk at the Place des Vosges, return along Boulevard Henri IV, but turn left immediately onto the quai des Celestins, and then make an immediate right onto the rue du Petit Musc. Stay on this for four blocks until you hit the Rue Saint-Antoine. Turn left here, and then turn right at the next corner onto the Rue de Birague. This will take you directly into the Place des Vosges, where Sophie and Celestine enter the [fictional] Café Olympe.
This is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Paris. Treat yourself to a glass of wine.
#2 ~ The 7ème Arrondissement
The Hôtel Biron, the Mother House, and St Francois Xavier
Sophie’s later life in Paris
In one of her more spectacular real estate deals, Sophie acquired the enormous and beautiful Hotel Biron in 1820. She had been looking for a larger space for her growing school and novitiate, and this property became available. With a little help from the newly restored king, Louis XVIII, she was able to buy it. It is now the Musée Rodin, located on the rue de Varenne, just east of the boulevard des Invalides.
The best way to begin this tour is to take the Metro to the Varenne station. Walk about 200 feet down the rue de Varenne and you are there. If you don’t wish to visit the museum, you can pay one euro and gain access to the beautiful gardens. There is only one vestige of the almost eighty years that the Society spent in this space: stained glass windows that were built into the chapel, now the back side of the ticket office and gift shop. If they are not covered with vines, the windows can be seen by looking back at the gift shop after you have exited. One shows the old seal of the Society; the other shows the seal of the Children of Mary (Enfants de Marie).
From the Hotel Biron to St. Francois Xavier
On the Feast of the Sacred Heart in 2009, Sophie’s “châsse” (the gold and crystal reliquary in which her body rests) was moved back to Paris from Belgium, where it had been since the RSCJ and all other religious orders were essentially expelled from France in 1904. The Jesuit church of St. Francis Xavier agreed to house her coffin in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart. So Sophie is back at home in France, surrounded by her beloved Jesuits.
To reach the church, leave the Hotel Biron, turning back toward where you exited the Invalides Metro station, and turning left on the Boulevard des Invalides. Know that Napoleon rests under the golden dome of the Invalides ~ and remember that he had her mail opened by his secret police! Continue along the east side of the street, next to the gardens of the Musée Rodin. When you get close to the next cross street (rue Babylone), note the large structure almost at the corner: today, part of a French lycée. This is the Mother House that Sophie had constructed in the 1840s (??)—and the building in which she died on May 25, 1865. There is some controversy over exactly which window was hers at the end, but it was surely one of the two at the corner of the building, looking out over the rue de Babylone.
By now you are in sight of St. Francois Xavier, a large neo-Renaissance church at the intersection of the rue de Babylone and the Boulevard des Invalides. Cross the street carefully, walk into the church, and look to the right into the Chapel of the Sacred Heart. There you will find Sophie in her golden crystal châsse.