Robert Ward

Chapter 2
Bodies in Motion: Paris

Bodies in Motion: Paris…the rue du Bac offers one more point of interest: a five-storey non-entity, with bars on the ground floor windows and a statue of the Virgin in the niche above the gate. The address is 140, and it is a building you could pass a thousand times without a glance if it weren't for the mendicants hovering at the entrance and the crowds with name-tags and matching travel totes who periodically erupt from its courtyard into the street. A modest plaque by the gate (far less conspicuous than the red “Garage Exit: No Parking” signs) reads, La Chapelle de la Médaille Miraculeuse.

If a passing visitor were sufficiently intrigued to look for 140, rue du Bac in her Frommer or Fodor or Fielding, her Lonely Planet or Let’s Go, she would find nothing. And that is strange, considering that each year something in the neighborhood of two million people pass through these unprepossessing gates. In fact, after Notre-Dame and the basilica of Sacre-Coeur (with its magnificent views over the city), this is the most-frequented church in Paris. Granted, the majority of the visitors are French - indeed, Parisian. But not a day goes by without travelers from every corner of the world converging here by the busful.
Why, then, is it not in the tourist guidebooks?

For the simple reason that tourists don't come here. Pilgrims come here. And not those cultural or aesthetic or spiritual pilgrims who flock to Notre-Dame, but real, old-fashioned Catholic pilgrims who come all this way just to say a prayer in a holy place, as pilgrims for a thousand years and more have come to Jerusalem or Santiago or Rome.

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