The Chapel of the Epiphany
Welcome to the Paris Foreign Missions (MEP), a catholic missionary society whose priests have departed for Asia and Indian Ocean for the past 360 years. Additionally, each year more than 150 lay volunteers use their skills to serve in the missions.
Under the direction of an architect named Lambert, construction of the chapel began in 1683. Previously, the chapel was located on the ground floor of the main building. It was blessed on October 27, 1663 in the pre- sence of the bishop of Babylon as well as Bossuet, who delivered a sermon for the occasion.
During the stone laying ceremony on April 24, 1683,
a medal bearing the image of King Louis XIV was placed in the foundations as official recognition of the king’s benevolence towards the Seminary.
On August 7, 1683, crypt was blessed under the name Chapel of the Epiphany, which is the first manifesta- tion of Jesus to the Gentiles. It became the provisional chapel.
The construction was completed in 1697. Throughout the 18th century, it witnessed the departure ceremonies of the missionaries.
It was used as a barracks for the National Guard during the Revolution, and in 1798, it was declared na- tional property. It was later put up for sale, and then was discreetly bought back.
In 1802, it reopened its doors under the name of Church of Saint Francis-Xavier, an out-station of the parish of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and saw a great in- crease in the number of missionaries who were sent on mission.
On July 8, 1848, it hosted the funeral of one of its pa- rishioners: François-René de Chateaubriand, in the pre- sence of Victor Hugo, Sainte-Beuve, Honoré de Balzac and almost all the members of the Institut de France.
In 1851, Charles Gounod, chapel’s official organist, composed the music for the “Song for the Departure of the Missionaries”, and for the “Song for the Anniversary of the Martyrs”. In 1874, the construction of a new parish church was completed in President Mithouard Square. The church was called Church of Saint Francis-Xavier of the Foreign Missions. The chapel of the Rue du Bac returned to its earlier function and took back its original name.
Painting of missionaries’ departure
During the maritime travel age, departures for the mis- sions were celebrated emotionally in the chapel. The mis- sionaries stood in a row, facing the public, in front of
the main altar. The public then went into the nave, and each person kissed the feet of the new missionaries, and embraced them, while the “Song for the Departure of the Missionaries” was sung. The painting depicts this touching scene.
In the painting, the painter included himself, on the far left. On the right side of two women is a Dominican friar, called Lacordaire, wearing a black cope. The bearded man, with a frock-coat, kissing the second missionary,
is Gounod. The missionary on the right, with whom
an artist is shaking hands, is the future Saint Just de Bretenières, beheaded in Korea in 1866. On the far right is Mgr Thomine-Desmazures, the first Bishop of Tibet.
At the forefront, the painter has represented his two youngest children. The boy who is turning his head
is Pierre de Coubertin, the future Founder of Modern Olympic Games.
After displaying his painting in his living room, the painter, Coubertin, offered it in homage to the Paris Foreign Missions Seminary. It was placed at the top of the main staircase.
Today MEP has 180 priests in 13 countries.
These priests work in a variety of areas: evangelization of peoples, founding new Christian communities and faith groups, forming local clergy, creating charitable works, organizations in education and health, helping ethnic minorities and migrants, engaging in inter-religious dia- logue and serving French Catholic communities in Asia. Each year, 150 lay volunteers put their skills to work by serving in missions.