The Dome church of Les Invalides and Napoleon’s tomb

0

The glittering golden roof of the Dome church is an unmissable landmark in the Parisian landscape. Situated in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, the monument is the symbol of the Hôtel des Invalides. Since its edification commissioned by King Louis XIV in 1706, the sanctuary has been turned into a French military memorial. Inside you’ll find the remains of some of France’s war heroes (De Lattre de Tassigny, Duroc, Foch, Lyautey, Turenne). But visitors come first and foremost to admire the monumental tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte which lies in the crypt. I’ve been there twice and each time it seemed like I had a date with the history of France!


The Dome church of Les Invalides

Visit of Louis XIV to Les Invalides in 1706. Painting by Pierre-Denis Martin

Visit of Louis XIV to Les Invalides in 1706. Painting by Pierre-Denis Martin

In 1676, King Louis XIV commissioned from Jules Hardouin-Mansart the construction of a place of worship in the centre of the complex of Les Invalides. The project combined a veterans’ chapel (now Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides) and a chapel reserved for the exclusive use of the King (now the Dôme des Invalides). The royal church was dedicated to Saint-Louis and is therefore often referred as Eglise Saint-Louis des Invalides.

Works on the Dome church took 27 years to complete. 


The church and its gilded dome

The Dome church of Les Invalides © French Moments

The Dome church of Les Invalides seen from avenue de Tourville © French Moments

The monumental dome was inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is one of the greatest examples of French Classical architecture. It dominates the court of honour and can be best admired from place Vauban.

The wide staircase (15 steps) leads to the majestic entrance of the Dome church.

The first level of the façade is ornate with Doric columns and two niches containing the statues of St. Louis and Charlemagne.

The first level of the Dome church © French Moments

The first level of the Dome church © French Moments

The second level consists of Corinthian columns. It is adorned with four statues placed in front of the pilasters. They represent Justice, Temperance, Prudence and Strength. 

The second level of the Dome church © French Moments

The second level of the Dome church © French Moments

The two first levels are crowned with a triangular pediment which features the coat of arms of the King of France (three fleurs-de-lys).

The pediment of the Dome church © French Moments

The pediment of the Dome church © French Moments

The top of the dome is ornate of gilded garlands, helmets and trophies.

It ends with an elegant lantern adorned with the allegories of Faith, Hope and Charity.

It summit is marked by a three-side obelisk topped with a cross.

The tall dome was gilded the first time in 1706. As a result of adverse weather conditions, it was regilded many times: 1815, 1853, 1867, 1934… The last restoration was undertaken in 1989 or the fifth time for the Bicentenary of the French Revolution. It was decorated with 550,000 thin leaves of gold (that is 12 kilograms of gold!). The gold was applies with a polecat hair brush. Due to bad weather, the work was kind of rushed. The tiny coating of gold refused to stick correctly to the structure. Even today you can see the gold missing by looking at the dome with binoculars.

The pinnacle at the top of the dome reaches 107 metres (351 ft). It was at the time of its inauguration one of Paris’ tallest structure.


Inside the Dome church of Les Invalides

Upon entering the Dome church, notice the monumental bronze doors. Their leaves are adorned with the symbols of the King of France. Look for:

  • the monogram of Saint-Louis (SL),
  • the initials of Louis XIV (composed of the first letter of the king’s name (L for Louis), doubled and interlaced to form one symbol), and
  • the fleurs-de-lys (the official emblem of the kings of France from 1150 to 1830).

The doors were restored to their former glory in 2008.

Once inside the Dome church for the first time I experienced a great sense of majesty and awe. You don’t know what to look for so much the decoration is sumptuous: painted cupolas, pilasters and columns, low-relief sculptures, stained-glass windows.

Look at the floor: it is covered with polychrome marble marquetries.

Floor mosaics inside the Dome church of Les Invalides, Paris © French Moments

Floor mosaics inside the Dome church of Les Invalides © French Moments

Then, lift your head towards the magnificent ceiling! It is decorated with a circular painting by Charles de la Fosse (1692). It depicts the Glory of Paradise, with Saint-Louis presenting his sword to Christ.

The central part is flanked by four side-chapels with small domes and two side-halls (the arms of the transepts). They contain the tombs of famous military leaders: Lyautey, Foch, Vauban (his heart only), Joseph Bonaparte, Jérôme Bonaparte and his son, and Turenne.

The main altar and its canopy

Notice near the stairs that lead down to the crypt the glorious main altar. It was designed by Visconti between 1842 and 1853. This masterpiece of marble and bronze is 7 m high. Four spiral columns support a magnificent canopy.

Behind it, a glass partition separates the Dome church from the adjacent Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides.


The crypt and Napoleon’s tomb

When the mortal remains of Napoleon was transferred from St. Helena Island to France (read my article on the repatriation of Napoleon’s remains), the tomb was moved inside the St. Jérôme chapel. Plans to transfer it right under the Invalides’ golden dome were designed by architect Louis Visconti (1791-1853) in 1842. The architect had a circular hollow dug in the centre of the dome to create a sort of an open crypt.

Dome church, Paris © French Moments

The grand interior of the Dome church of Les Invalides © French Moments

The excavation is 6 metre deep and 15 m wide (21 m including the circular gallery).

The coffin of the emperor was moved to the crypt in 1861 and placed inside a massive sarcophagus during a ceremony presided by his nephew, Napoleon III.

You can access the crypt and its circular hallway by taking the stairs near the main altar.

Dome church of Les Invalides © French Moments

Statue in the crypt, Dome church of Les Invalides © French Moments

When entering the crypt you are welcomed by two large statues that guards the entrance. One of them carries a globe (the emperor’s power) and wears the laurel wreath (a reference to Julius Caesar to whom Napoleon identifies himself to).

The sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon's tomb, Les Invalides © French Moments

The tomb of Napoleon, Les Invalides © French Moments

The sarcophagus was sculpted from blocks of purple quartzite from Finland (other sources mention Russia). Purple is a colour associated with imperial power.

The tomb is supported by a plinth in green granite from the Vosges mountains. Around it, on the polychrome marble floor, is a sun which includes the names eight great victories of Napoleon: Austerlitz, Marenco, Moscowa, Wagram, Rivoli, Pyramides, Iéna, and Friedland.

Napoleon's Tomb, Dome church of Les Invalides © French Moments

The names of Napoleon’s famous battles surrounding the sarcophagus © French Moments

They are in turn surrounded by a circular laurel wreath.

Napoleon's Tomb, Dome church of Les Invalides © French Moments

The laurel wreath on the floor, surrounding the plinth of Napoleon’s Tomb, Dome church © French Moments

The corpse is enveloped in 5 additional coffins : one made of block-tin, one of mahogany, two separate ones of lead, and one of ebony.

Napoleon's sarcophagus, Dome church of Les Invalides © French Moments

Napoleon’s sarcophagus, Dome church of Les Invalides © French Moments

The circular gallery

The circular gallery that surrounds Napoleon’s tomb is decorated by the Victoires sculpted by Pradier. The 12 winged female statues are dressed in classical style. They are carrying the attributes of victory (laurel wreath, sword, trumpet or palm branch) which all refer to Napoleon’s successful military campaigns. Lastly the statues are facing the sarcophagus in homage for the emperor. 

Napoleon's sarcophagus, Dome church of Les Invalides © French Moments

The Victoires statues that surround the tomb of Napoleon, Dome church of Les Invalides © French Moments

The inner wall of the gallery features a set of 10 bas-reliefs sculpted by Simart. They represent the main civil achievements of Napoleon: pacification of the nation, administrative centralisation, State Council, Civil Code, Concordat, Imperial University, court of accounts, code of commerce, Major Works and the Legion of Honour. 

The tomb of Napoleon II

Tomb of Napoleon II, Napoleon's Tomb, Dome church of Les Invalides © French Moments

The tomb slab of Napoleon II, crypt of the Dome church © French Moments

On the side of the crypt lies the grave of Napoleon’s son, Napoleon II (1811-1832) also known as the King of Rome (Roi de Rome) or The Eaglet (l’Aiglon). On top of it stands the 2.60 m tall statue of Napoleon in his coronation robes.

Napoleon's tomb, Les Invalides © French Moments

Statue of Napoleon near the Emperor’s tomb in Les Invalides © French Moments

Famous visitors to Napoleon’s tomb

During their state visit to France, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the tomb of Napoleon at Les Invalides in August 1855 followed by a military review at the Champ-de-Mars.

Queen Victoria's visit to Napoleon's tomb in 1855

Queen Victoria’s visit to Napoleon’s tomb in 1855

Other celebrities included Victor-Emmanuel II, king of Sardinia and soon-to-be King of Italy (1855), Tsar Alexander II of Russia (1855) and Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1867.

Adolf Hitler visited the tomb of Napoleon on the 19th October 1940 during his visit to Paris. It was him who ordered the remains of Napoleon’s son to be transferred from Vienna to Paris on the 15th December 1940. However his heart and intestines have remained in Vienna, in keeping with the tradition of the Habsburg house.

Hitler's visit to Napoleon's Tomb in 1940

Hitler’s visit to Napoleon’s Tomb in 1940

>> Get your Tickets for Les Invalides: the Army Museum [Priority Entrance], Napoleon’s tomb and see war memorabilia! <<
Crypt of the Dome church, Les Invalides © French Moments

In the crypt of the Dome church, Les Invalides © French Moments


Visit the Hôtel des Invalides

The esplanade des Invalides, Paris © French Moments

The esplanade des Invalides, Paris © French Moments

The Hôtel des Invalides is a gigantic complex built by Louis XIV as a home for the wounded and disabled soldiers of his army. The French emperor was buried beneath the Dôme church in 1840.

  • Les Invalides has two entrancesEsplanade des Invalides, 129 rue de Grenelle AND Place Vauban. Visitors with motor disabilities are invited to enter on the Place Vauban side. Check out google map for the exact location of the statue of Napoleon at Les Invalides.
  • Open every day from 7.30 am to 7 pm (last admission and exit at 6.45 pm). From April to September, the domain is open until 9pm (last admission and exit at 8.45pm) on Tuesdays.
  • Closest métro station: Invalides (lines 8 and 13, RER C), La Tour Maubourg (line 8), Varenne (line 13).
  • Other sites to discover at Les Invalides: the Army museum, the Liberation Order museum, and the Relief Map museum. The tomb of Napoleon I is situated inside the Dome Church.
  • Check out the official website for more info on your visit of Les Invalides + museums.

Did you like what you read? If so, please share this article on Facebook or twitter! 🙂

Pin it for later:

Discover the stunning Dome church of Les Invalides, including Napoleon's Tomb © French Moments Discover the stunning Dome church of Les Invalides, including Napoleon's Tomb © French Moments

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
>> Get your Tickets for Les Invalides: the Army Museum [Priority Entrance], Napoleon’s tomb and see war memorabilia! <<

 

Share.

About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

Leave A Reply

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.