New Delhi, India
June 12, 2009
The first church on this site was built, probably dedicated to St Columba, in the early Middle Ages. By 1053, the name St Pierre le Jeune (St Peter the Younger) had been bestowed, to distinguish it from an earlier St Peter’s. The present church dates back to the 14th century—it was consecrated in 1320, and by 1524, with the Reformation, it had turned Protestant.
All right. Unexceptional so far, though Tarun and I were pleasantly surprised that St Pierre le Jeune actually offers a brief but well-written guide (in about a dozen languages) for visitors. Besides narrating the church’s history, the guide suggests a circuit, explaining the significance and origin of different sections of the church.
We followed the suggested route, beginning by stepping out into the stone-pillared cloister. This surrounds a small garden with a well. Climbing roses—covered with white blooms—trail over the well, and the floor of the cloister is studded with gravestones. The cloister itself is very old: three galleries date to the 11th century; the fourth is 14th century. Although they have been restored, these are believed to be the oldest cloisters north of the Alps.
Back inside the church, we moved to the striking five-arched rood screen, which separates the choir from the nave. This too has historic significance: in 1682, the choir was made part of a Catholic parish, though the nave remained Protestant. The rood screen, with its vivid and well-executed paintings of the Passion and Crucifixion, became the division between the Protestant and Catholic parts of St Pierre le Jeune.
Beyond the rood screen, and further along, stands a fine baptismal font (with, in the background, some of those ubiquitous stained glass windows!). Near it is the Trinity Chapel, with a carved nearly-lifesize angel and an attractive tiled floor. Also worth a mention is an 18th century Silbermann organ, still used in concerts.
But what we found most alluring are the church’s many remarkable frescoes. A vaulted ceiling has a depiction of the four gospel writers. One wall is painted with a scene of Christ walking on the Sea of Galilee, with Peter stretching out desperate hands while the other apostles stand in a ship, watching, and angels blow trumpets in the sky above. My favourite, though, is a quaint fresco near the entrance of the church. This one shows a long line of crowned riders, each in expensive robes and bearing flags. Each flag has the name of a medieval European nation: this is Europe, marching towards the Cross. Delightful!
St Pierre le Jeune is open to visitors from April 1 to October 31, barring Sunday mornings. No entrance fee is charged, and you may take photographs without a flash.
From journal Strasbourg: The Heart of Alsace