Sacré Coeur has been described as ‘the ugliest cathedral in the world’. According to a prominently displayed placard, JP2 was impressed, however, on his visit, and so was I. I haven’t wandered, aimless as a cloud, around Montmartre for a while and, usurious prices and tourists notwithstanding, it still has a village feel about it, and one might imagine the smell of linseed from painters, scratching and starving in chic little garrets, as women in need of a shave with husky voices eye up the punters at the pavement cafes and small children whine at the number of stairs they have to climb.
It came as quite a pleasant surprise to find myself in the middle of Mass on arrival. The gawkers, like myself, were steered in ragged platoons around the nave and chancel, while the curé intoned the liturgy to the assembled faithful – quite a turn-out as it happened for a warm Thursday afternoon, hands akimbo at the appropriately religious angle, punctuated by a remarkably melodic precentor singing responsorial prayers. I arrived just in time for the Peace, which will make one or two readers snigger. At least they get it over with rather faster than elsewhere, moving smoothly into the Pater Noster. I stayed for the Agnus Dei, then left, restored and comforted, before the collection.