Practically in the shadow of Notre Dame is a delightful little park, Square Rene Viviani, named in honor of a French politician. In the middle of the square is a tall, triangular-shaped bronze fountain in a sunken circular garden. It was created by Georges Jeanclos in 1995 and represents the legend of Saint Julien Le Pauvre, Hospice-keeper. Saint Julien built a hospice by the river, where he selflessly cared for the sick and less fortunate. The surfaces of the 3 panels are covered in stylized droplets, which probably refer to the river location of the hospice. In the center of each panel is a stag’s head-- a talking stag plays an important role in the legend of St. Julien --and water is supposed to stream out of its mouth, but that was not happening on the day I was there. On the edges and at the top of the panels, many small figures can be seen, sculpted to depict Julien supporting and comforting the sick and needy.
In the southwest corner of Square Rene Viviani is one of the oldest trees in Paris. It was supposedly planted in 1602, and right now its trunk is fortified with concrete. It is known as the “Lucky Tree of Paris,“ which will bring good luck to those who gently touch the tree’s bark.
Beyond this tree is the small Church of Saint Julien Le Pauvre, which borders Square Rene Viviani to the south. It is one of the oldest, if not THE oldest church in Paris. It was built in the 12th century on the ruins of a 6th century church. According to the legend, St. Julien The Poor mistakenly killed his parents. To atone for this sin, Julien built a hospice near a river where he and his wife cared for travelers. One of these travelers happened to be Jesus disguised as a leper, and forgiveness for Julien's sin was granted. Fittingly, St. Julien is a patron saint of travelers and ferrymen. I was greatly surprised when I was allowed to take flash photos inside the church, which is a rare occurrence in Paris. The size of the church allows you to relate more closely to its religious nature, to feel more solemnity, and because of its age, to hearken back to a long ago period in the church’s history.
Notre Dame gets the lion’s share of attention in this neighborhood, but this charming park with its fountain, its very, very old tree and small but history-laden church is well worth a visit.
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