The Lost Saint-Martin-des-Champs Priory has become a Museum

Situated somewhere between République and also the Seine, today the humanities et Métiers museum is definitely one of the best cultural institutions in the city and has a collection that dates completely back to the 18th-century. But what much traffic towards the musée don’t know would be that the now-museum is placed from the backdrop of Saint-Martin-des-Champs Priory (Prieure Saint-Martin-des-Champs), a former ecclesiastical complex.

Wander with the lively and bustling Le Marais district of Paris today and you’ll soon find a maze of medieval-esque streets, independent boutiques, and the joie de vivre spirit that’s so synonymous with Paris. Literally translated as ‘the swamp,’ once upon a time what are now the 3rd and 4th arrondissements from the city would have been muddy marshland outside of the city walls.

However, as Paris’s population grew, the town required to expand outside the ^Ile de la Cité area and that from the Latin Quarter (Paris used to be referred to as Lutetia during Roman times and the Roman ruins to be seen today are largely found in the 5th arrondissement) and thus people in the church began the Herculean task of creating Le Marais habitable.

As such, the first buildings to spring up in the region were those of churches, throughout the middle ages. It wasn’t until centuries later where wealthy Parisians who wished to escape the cramped confines of the city centre moved just across the River Bank and constructed the truly amazing mansions (h^otels) of Le Marais that also stand to this day.

A history of Saint-Martin-des-Champs Priory

There’s an attestation of a church dedicated to St. Martin of Tours existing on the site since a minimum of the 8th-century if this part of the world belonged towards the Merovingian Dynasty. The area of worship soon grew as well as an abbey was built on the site but was destroyed just a few centuries later by the Normans.

It wasn’t until 1060 when Henry I decreed the Abbey be rebuilt once more in the order of Saint Augustine. Just like the ‘Champs 'Elysées’ (the long-lasting shopping street of the 8th arrondissement), the Priory (Prieure) of Saint Martin would have been surrounded by fields, hence the name ‘des Champs’.

In 1079, the monastical complex was handed to the Abbey of Cluny, one of the most important seats of power in Medieval France. The Abbey you see today was constructed throughout the 12th-century (round the same time as Notre Dame Cathedral) and it is typical of French Gothic architecture.

19th-century etching from the Priory via Wikimedia

For those people who are particularly thinking about both ecclesiastical and architectural art history, in france they Gothic would be a style that emerged from the mid-twelfth century onwards and is characterised by high vaulted ceilings, flying buttresses, high ceilings, and more.

For the next centuries, the Priory thrived. Additions were added to the complex and so now hardly any remains from the original ecclesiastical buildings. However, s you might well imagine following the Priory’s lands were confiscated throughout the French Revolution following new laws of 1790, the buildings fell into great disrepair and lots of from the original ecclesiastical complex buildings were demolished entirely.

How to go to the Priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs (Musée des Arts et Métiers)

Nevertheless, what’s left of the Priory, is widely regarded to become among the best types of Parisian architecture. What was once the main church of the priory now houses the transportation exhibition area of the museum, which in turn is dedicated to the history of transportation, technical developments, and important inventions.

The museum is vast, spanning the space of several blocks and it has been housed inside the former priory since the late 18th-century, and finally opened its doors towards the public in 1802. And even though this really is one of the most underrated of Parisian museums, the gathering boasts over 80,000 objects and it is never as busy as say, the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay.

Entrance towards the Arts et Métiers museum pays, though is included within the incredibly well-reviewed Paris Museum Pass (see the full details for purchasing the pass here). Nowadays treasures of the cultural hub range from the original Foucault pendulum (a duplicate of which are available in the Paris Panthéon), some incredibly stunning interior architecture, and exhibits on everything from communication to energy.

If you haven’t got the opportunity to visit the museum, there are still lots of French Gothic and medieval architecture elements to enjoy for free in the roadside. For example, besides the former Abbey’s distinct Dark ages look, there’s a tower of which a component dates back to the original 1140 abbey. The only real other feature to possess survived the ages may be the refectory, which is the library.

Today, you’ll know you’re around the right place (323-325 Rue Saint-Martin) whenever you spy the 1712 La Fontaine du Vertbois. Both fountain and the tower were restored in 1882. When you get the opportunity to browse the nearby area, then it’s worth noting that there’s no lack of fun, quirky, and unusual things you can do.

For example, if you’re planning to reach the nearby Arts et Métiers metro station, the make sure to correspond via line 11. After all, this part of the station is decorated inside a steampunk-inspired, copper-plated, Jules Verne inspired style. The other metro station nearest Musée des Arts et Métiers is Reaumur-Sebastopol, that is with line 4 from the metro.

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