The Notre Dame de France Church is one of my favorite London secrets. Hidden away in one of the busiest places in the world, just off Leicester Square in the center of London, and with its doors open and free entrance for everyone, you have to know it’s there to find it. For years I walked straight past with no inkling of what I was missing.
The Notre Dame de France, a small church with some of the loveliest murals I’ve ever seen, is right under our noses. The church was bombed in the 1940s during the Second World War and rebuilt in 1955. It is home to the French Catholics living in London. In the late 1950s, the French cultural advisor in London suggested Jean Cocteau be commissioned to decorate the inside walls of the church.
Cocteau was one of France’s leading modernist artists of the twentieth century. He was a poet, painter, filmmaker, playwright, designer, and novelist. His unique vision and talent are seen in the simple yellow, blue, red, green, and mauve lines that make these images of the Virgin Mary, the Roman soldiers, the angels, the feet of Christ on the cross. It is said he spoke to the figures as he created them, saying to the image of the Virgin Mary: ‘O you, most beautiful of women, loveliest of God’s creatures, you were the best loved. So I want you to be my best piece of work too…’ There is even a self-portrait of Cocteau in the mural. The result was Cocteau’s incredible 1960 murals of the Crucifixion, the Annunciation and the Assumption on the white walls of this calm round white chapel.
The address of Notre Dame de France is 5 Leicester Place. Whether you are religious of any faith, an art lover, or just tired out by the busyness of London, you won’t be sorry you went inside.