Val de Grâce: a Saving Grace

The Val-de-Grâce church is much of a saving grace in its neighbourhood.

The area has greatly suffered in the hands of ruthless brutalist architects from the 1970s.

Val de Grâce (the valley of grace literally) is a beautiful name.

Val de Grâce, a Saving Grace

On the last day of January 2022, I was able to roam around the area to take pictures of the buildings from new angles. As it happens, what I did was absolutely forbidden since this area is still military ground. Daisies were already out this year, a full month in advance.

The ‘Val de Grâce * is the earliest military hospital in France. The magnificent church and its monastery were built by Anne of Austria. She was the wife of Louis XIII, to thank God for the birth of her son, crowned as Louis XIV. During the revolution, the buildings were used as a military hospital […]

They used to “house the ‘École d’Application du Service de Santé des Armées’, where military physicians and pharmacists [could] hone their skills after having received their civil degrees. Instruction has been carried out by well-known pharmacists, physicians and scientists.

Le Val de Grâce Jacques Nauroy, Revue d’Histoire de la Pharmacie – 1973

At the end of the 1970s, one erected a horrible building over there.

Many VIPs went to that hospital.

To name a few: François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, Palestine’s Yasser Arafat, Abbé Pierre and Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Val de Grâce
Photo by David Monniaux — Wikipedia Commons – 2005 – CC BY-SA 3.0,

The modern military hospital is now derelict.

In 2020 the then President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron decided the PariSanté Health Research campus would settle down in this building, once rehabilitated.

Val de Grâce
A tree outside the walls

Now, the Val de Grâce is mainly housing a 17th-century baroque Abbey and church.

Even though it is located in the midst of the City — 5th district — it looks both remote and quiet.

We were having a stroll in the vicinity and were taking pictures of trees (see above). This led us to visit the museum of military medicine early this month.

Indeed, as we walked around, we bumped into an old friend who lives in the neighbourhood. We asked her about what was being done with this hospital and what was inside the Abbey now. She mentioned the museum of military medicine, which we then visited and therefore gained access to the Abbey.

We then found ourselves almost alone inside the Church and enjoyed the beauties of this place and namely the cupola painted by Mignard.

Val de Grâce
“La gloire des bienheureux,” a fresco painting by Pierre Mignard


Val de Grâce
La Gloire des bienheureux by Pierre Mignard
Val de Grâce
A tilt-shift of the Val de Grâce from the East side
La gloire du Val de Grâce

A poem by Molière available from Gallica [‘Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France’]

Yann Gourvennec
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