It’s fair to assume that many of you have gazed at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church in Paris: after all, it stands right in front of Les Deux Magots, one of the famous Left Bank cafés where you can channel Jean-Paul Sartre while sipping an expensive espresso.
If you ever ventured inside the church –the oldest one in Paris– you must have noticed how dark it is and how the frescoes on the walls disappear under the grime of time and the soot from burning wax. Sainte Rita, the patron saint of lost causes, gets her fair share of candles.
Before a tasty lunch at Le Pied de Fouet last October, my friend Raegan and I walked into Saint-Germain. We could hardly believe the transformation that was taking place. It is undergoing an extensive renovation to bring back the frescoes, columns, and ceilings to their original glory. And how glorious they are! The contrast between the restored choir and the soon-to-be cleaned up nave is stupefying. The choir is now bright and cheerful; the deep blue ceiling peppered with stars strongly resembles the “sky” at the Sainte-Chapelle. The restoration work will continue through 2021; if you’re in the area, you should definitely check it out so you can do your own before-and-after comparison.
As we walked away, I was reminded of another church we had visited together: Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, in 1998, when The Last Supper was getting its own beauty treatment. We arrived a mere fifteen minutes before closing time and the refectory was almost deserted. About half of Da Vinci’s masterpiece had been restored and seemed to be unveiling its vivid colors just for us. Magical.