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March 26, 2017


The Église de la Sainte-Trinité

by soundlandscapes

USUALLY REFERRED TO simply as ‘Trinité’, the Église de la Sainte-Trinité, a Roman Catholic church in Paris’ 9th arrondissement, was built during the Second Empire as part of Baron Eugène Haussmann’s modernisation of nineteenth century Paris.


Église de la Sainte-Trinité from Rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin

Designed by the French architect Théodore Ballu, construction of the Church began in 1861 and was completed in 1867.

The church’s façade was inspired by the Italian Renaissance although the bell tower and dome bear distinctive marks of the French Renaissance.


At the four corners on top of the façade, the four cardinal virtues are depicted: Justice, Temperance, Prudence and Fortitude. Crowning the bell tower are the four evangelists accompanied by their symbols: Saint John (the eagle), Saint Matthew (the angel), Saint Mark (the lion) and Saint Luke (the ox).

Further down, the number three is a recurrent theme: three triple-basined fountains (temporarily out of action due to construction work), surmounted by three statues sculpted by Eugène-Louis Lequesne embodying the three theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity.


The Église de la Sainte-Trinité is a big church. At 90 metres long and 34 metres wide, with the tip of the dome standing 63 metres high, the sense of size is enhanced inside the church where the roof of the chancel rises to some 30 metres.


Trinité boasts two Cavaillé-Coll organs. The smaller of the two, the Orgue de Choeur or chancel organ, is a two manual (plus pedals), fifteen rank, fifteen stop mechanical key and stop organ.


The Orgue de Choeur

The larger organ, the Orgue de Tribune or gallery organ, was built between 1868 and 1869. It is a three manual (plus pedals), eighty-two rank, sixty-stop organ, which today has an electric key and stop action.


The Orgue de Tribune

The large, gallery organ has been renovated extensively and expanded over the decades.

The original organ was badly damaged during the Paris Commune of 1871 after which Cavaillé-Coll had to reconstruct it.

In 1901, the organ builder Joseph Merklin carried out some restoration work and made some tonal changes.

In 1930, perhaps the church’s most celebrated organist, Olivier Messiaen, was appointed. He would hold the post of titular organist for 61 years from 1930 to 1992. Early in his tenure, a second restoration was carried out by the organ-building firm Pleyel-Cavaillé-Coll. On completion of this work the organ was re-inaugurated with a recital by Marcel Dupré and his former student, Olivier Messiaen.

From 1962 to 1967, the organ builders, Beuchet-Debierre, carried out a third restoration.

Towards the end of his tenure as titular organist at the Église de la Sainte-Trinite, Olivier Messiaen had this to say about the magnificent gallery organ:

“As it stands now, the St. Trinité instrument is a masterpiece. The original stops by Cavaillé-Coll have been preserved and I have personally insisted on the fact that these stops should retain their wonderful original voice. The various stops added during the restoration works considerably enrich the instrument with mixtures (pleins jeux, nasards, tierces) and a complete battery of reeds. The electrification and the addition of general combinations result in faster response and more frequent and more varied changes of colours. Nevertheless, the most beautiful voices remain those of Cavaillé-Coll: the montres, the flutes, the very powerful reeds, the extraordinary Basson 16′ and the wonderful Quintaton 16′ on the Positif: they were all designed and built by Cavaillé-Coll … I have never heard, anywhere in the world, a sound of such quality.”


Despite the twentieth century modifications to the gallery organ, it is easy to imagine its late nineteenth century voice echoing through Sainte-Trinité at the funerals of Hector Berlioz and Georges Bizet, both of which took place in this church.


Sadly, on my visit to the church I wasn’t able to record the sounds of the Cavaillé-Coll organ but I did nevertheless capture the sound of music. It wasn’t the sound of conventional organ and choral music from the nave of the church but more contemporary music I found below, in the crypt.


The crypt below the chapel of the Blessed Virgin

Sounds from the crypt of the Église de la Sainte-Trinité:

In the crypt I discovered a service taking place with the celebrants mainly, but not exclusively, African. It made a refreshing change from the rigid conformity that usually takes place in the conventional catholic services held in the nave above.

I think Olivier Messiaen would approve.


7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Heide
    Mar 26 2017

    Ah, but you are a trickster to pique my interest with such a detailed and ravishing description of the organs … only to confess you haven’t recorded them! Well, no matter. The service you recorded was lovely — spiritual and serene and meditative in its own right. I especially loved the very ending, when the music slowly faded as the gentleman recording it made his way back out into the world. Thank you for this most unexpected Sunday-afternoon treat.

    • Mar 31 2017

      Sorry about the organ – right place, wrong time! I do think though that I was lucky to capture the multicultural singing in the crypt. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting but it was all the better for that.

  2. Mar 31 2017

    Fascinating as always – particularly reading of the Bizet and Berlioz funerals. So many buildings we’d just walk past, not knowing the momentous occasions they held. Thank you Des!

    • Mar 31 2017

      Thanks Susanna.
      I wonder what the choice of music was for the funerals of Berlioz and Bizet?
      One of the reasons I am fascinated by exploring sound, and particularly urban soundscapes,is that it almost always opens up a compelling world of social and cultural history. Remember our visit to the Hôtel Dieu? A perfect example.

      • Apr 7 2017

        Yes! Exactly. Sound is the perfect discipline for the curious.

  3. Apr 2 2017

    Dear Sir, I am one of the organiste titulaire of the main organ of la Trinité and, reading your article, I am sorry you couldn’t capture the sound of the instrument. We will have a concert there on April the 23h. Please check our Facebook page (Grand Orgue Trinité Messiaen). It will be a pleasure to welcome you at la Trinité in the future.
    Sincerely yours
    Thomas Lacôte

    • Apr 2 2017

      Dear M Lacôte,
      Thank you so much for your comment and the introduction to your Facebook page. I shall certainly come to your concert on 23rd. I look forward very much to hearing you play the magnificent organ.


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