If you have ever been to Paris and passed by Notre Dame or the Louvre, you may have seen the Tour Saint Jacques. It stands alone in a small park, near the right bank, a block from the river.
The first time that I saw the Tour Saint Jacques was in 1978, when I was looking after the apartment of friends on rue Tiquetonne. On my daily training run to and along the river, I used to pass the Tour. At that time I was not aware of its history.
Many years later, I was based in Paris, with a small apartment on rue de Lille, one short block from the river on the left bank and opposite the Louvre. It was during that era that I read many of the books of Alexander Dumas, several of which were based in the area in which I was living. Many nights I wandered the streets of the old city, imagining what it may have been like in the era of Dumas’s novels and searching for landmarks that may have still existed.
The Tower of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie was built in 1509-1523 on an existing church, during the reign of Francois I, and funded by rich butchers of the nearby market of Les Halles. It became the departure point for pilgrims setting off on their potentially difficult journey to Santiago de Compostela, some 1,500 km away in Galicia, in north western Spain. According to legend, Charmagne founded the original church to shelter a relic of James the Great.
During the French Revolution, the church was destroyed. Eventually the remains were sold as building materials, on the condition that the 54m high tower was preserved.
In 2003, restoration of the Tour was started and finally completed in 2013. I have never seen the completed work, as I left Paris in 2007 and have not since been back.
This morning, locked down for the 63rd day of the Covid-19 virus in Cape Town, walking my umpteen lap of our basement garage, longing to be on another Camino to Santiago de Compostela, I suddenly remembered Paris and the Tour Saint Jacques.
And a new ambition was conceived…