Notes From a Visit to Paris

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.

-Marie Curie

Mary Moynihan, writer and Smashing Times Artistic Director, is currently visiting cultural sites in France and Italy, and meeting with partner arts organisations across Europe. While in Paris, Mary visited a number of cultural sites including the Louvre, the Panthéon, the Centre Culturel Irlandais (Irish Cultural Centre), the iconic Shakespeare and Company independent bookshop nestled in the shadow of Notre-Dame, and the beautiful Jardin de Luxemburg. Mary is currently researching a new arts exhibition for Smashing Times to premiere in 2025, provisionally titled Irish in Resistance, which aims to remember and celebrate the stories of Irish people involved in the Resistance and in Escape Lines during World War II. As part of her research, Mary visited the Panthéon in France which is currently hosting an exhibition remembering the lives of members of the French Resistance from World War II.

The image above is Panthéon, a photographic artwork by Mary Moynihan, April 2024. It shows a view of Paris from the top of the Panthéon, Paris.

I recently visited the Panthéon in France which is located on the Sainte-Geneviève mountain in the heart of the Latin Quarter in Paris. In the past, a panthéon was a place where Gods were worshipped. Today, the Panthéon in Paris holds the remains of numerous French citizens and is the last resting place for writers, scientists, generals, and politicians who have contributed to the history of France in some way. The building was originally built as the church of Sainte-Geneviève and became a Panthéon during the French Revolution. The building has oscillated between these two functions throughout the 19th century, and today is a national necropolis dedicated to remembering and honouring the lives and contributions of both men and women to the French nation.

In addition to remembering the lives of French citizens, the Panthéon is home to a unique cultural programme with permanent artworks on display, alongside a current, temporary exhibition remembering the lives of members of the French Resistance during World War II. The latter focuses on Missak Manouchian, an Armenian-born poet and French Resistance fighter, and Mélinée Assadourian, an Armenian-born writer and member of the French Resistance, as well as several of their comrades.

The Nave

As I entered the Panthéon, I was immediately struck by the height and depth of the space. It is vast. I took my time to soak up the beautiful, imposing architecture of the nave or central part of the building, and to enjoy the numerous artworks, including wall murals and sculptures, that illustrate the story of Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris.

A permanent art installation has been installed in the nave of the church, created by German painter and sculpture Anselm Kiefer and French composer Pascal Dusapin. This exhibition was commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron, and its creation was the first time in almost a century that new artworks were installed in the Panthéon. The installation was launched during a Remembrance Day ceremony to mark the entry of the French writer and World War I veteran Maurice Genevoix (1890–1980) into the Panthéon on November 11, 2020. The installation was made in tribute to Genevoix, who wrote the celebrated book Ceux de 14, based on his experiences of fighting in the trenches during World War I.

The book served as inspiration for Kiefer’s installation in the Panthéon, which consists of six large glass and steel showcase structures spread out in the space. Anselm was inspired by Genevoix’s quote on ‘nature as a beautiful counterpart to evil’ and our ability as humans and artists to create poetry out of misery and destruction. The six showcase structures are filled with transcriptions of phrases by Genevoix and other writers, including the Romanian-French poet Paul Celan and the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, and items including rusted barbed wire, cement, lead books, red poppy flowers, golden earns of corn rising out of ruins, and worn-out bicycles, all drawing correlations between the destruction and misery of war versus the beauty of life and nature.

Kiefer states: ‘Genevoix is a poet, and yet how do you make a poem about this? The cold, the mud, the lack of sleep, the death, the massacres. From this horror he has drawn a superb book whose elements are affection, brotherhood, absurdity, and the consoling beauty of nature. In spite of the subject he cannot – one cannot – avoid beauty. Can the artist prevent evil, the worst horror under his hands, from becoming beauty? Because for an artist, a poet, a writer, there is nothing he cannot use as a material. It is a paradox.’

A sound installation is played in the space at regular interviews. This is created by Pascal Dusapin and composed of a musical ensemble of singers, both male and female, recorded by the French Chamber choir at the Philharmonie de Paris concert hall. The soundscape features the resonance of the names of 15,000 soldiers (representative of all those who died in the first World War), with the names read and recorded by French actors Florence Darel and Xavier Gallais. As you walk through the Panthéon, you can hear the names spoken and echoing through different parts of this huge building. The overall exhibition evokes a sense of mourning and loss from the devastating impact of World War I, intermixed with seeds of hope coming through the dirt and destruction.

After viewing the artworks, and before heading to the Crypt downstairs, I was mesmerised by the swinging motion of Foucault’s pendulum located in the centre of the nave. Foucault’s pendulum is a scientific instrument that consists of a hefty object suspended from a long string and can swing in any direction. It is a simple experiment to demonstrate the earth’s rotation, originally named after 19th-century French astronomer and physicist Léon Foucault. The pendulum in the Panthéon is a sphere of brass and lead, painted bright gold and weighing 2kg. It is suspended from the dome of the Panthéon on steel wire 67 metres long. I found that watching this huge golden sphere swinging gently through the air had a calming effect on me, as if my own energy was directly connected to the earth’s rotation.


The Crypt

The crypt underneath holds the remains of citizens honoured by the French state, including the writers Voltaire, Emile Zola, and Alexandre Dumas; the Genevan-born philosopher, writer, and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau; and the Polish-French physicist and chemist Marie Curie. More recent inclusions are those of the French politician and activist Simone Veil, and the dancer and singer Joséphine Baker. Some of these citizens are buried in the crypt while others are remembered through the presence of a cenotaph or inscription.

I found it very moving to visit the burial place of Simone Veil (1927–2017), an extraordinary French lawyer, politician, and feminist; a Holocaust survivor; and the first female president of the European Union. Simone died in 2017 and after hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions to have Veil’s remains transferred to the Panthéon, her remains were transferred there for re-burial in 2018. ‘Veil is only the fourth woman to be honoured in her own right among the 72 men in the imposing building, over the door of which is written “The nation thanks its great men”.’’[1]

In 2022, I created a short film called The Shoah, which I adapted from a speech by Simone titled ‘The Shoah: A Survivor’s Memory – The World’s Legacy’. The film is a creative re-imagining of Simone remembering her survival from the concentration and death camps during World War II, and her desire for peace. As part of the work, I researched the life of Simone and found her to be an inspiring figure in relation to equality and peace.

Simone was 16 years old when she and her family were deported from France to concentration camps, where most of her family perished. Simone and her two sisters survived, while her parents and brother died in the camps. Simone dedicated her life to the fight for equality and freedom, and remembers how, in the camps, women showed an immense capacity for resistance and helped each other in generous, unselfish ways. After the war, Simone became a French lawyer, politician, and Minister for Health, where she presided over the first bill legalising abortion. She has always fought to defend the rights of women, as well as prisoners and children. In 1979, Simone became the first President of the European Parliament and was committed to a Europe of solidarity, in which atrocities against civilians, such as what she saw happen during World War II, can never happen again. This is particularly salient in view of the devastating wars currently happening in the world today, and the genocide taking place in Palestine.



Mary Moynihan at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, beside a plaque to remember Irish people in resistance who supported the liberation of France during WWII
Mary Moynihan at the Shakespeare and Company Independent book shop in Paris nestled under the shade of Notre-Dame. The book shop was founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919, the first publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922

Live to Die

Situated within the crypt is a current exhibition running from February 24–September 8, 2024 titled Live to Die. The exhibition celebrates and remembers the lives of married couple Missak Manouchian and Mélinée Assadourian.

The exhibition was set up to mark the couple’s entry into the Panthéon on February 21, 2024. The exhibition is situated in the crypt, near the vault where Manouchian and Assadourian have been laid to rest. By honouring the two, the Panthéon has stated that it is remembering all foreign Resistance fighters who stood up for democracy and the liberation of France during World War II.

Mélinée Assadourian was an orphan of the Armenian genocide. In 1926, she and her sister were sent by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief to France to continue their education. She went on to train as an accounting secretary and stenotypist. Mélinée lived in France as an Armenian refugee until her death in 1989. She and Missak Manouchian met and were married; they worked together both in peace time and during the war as part of the Resistance. According to an article in France24, ‘Mélinée played an active role in the Resistance as a member of the FTP-MOI. She only managed to escape the November 1943 roundup because she was in hiding.’[1] After the war, Mélinée went on to publish some of her husband’s writings and worked to keep his memory and the memory of his comrades alive.

The exhibition is mainly focused on Missak Manouchian (1906–1944), recalling his life, from his arrival in France in 1924 to his involvement in the Resistance with the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans de la Main d’Œuvre Immigrée and his execution by the Germans in 1944. The exhibition includes handwritten notebooks by Manouchian, as well as archives, original documents, photographs, and the last poignant letters written by him and his Resistance comrades who knew they were to die.

The exhibition is curated by Denis Peschanski, emeritus research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). He is a specialist in World War II and memory sciences, and has published numerous book and articles, and co-authored films on themes including the occupation of France during World War II, the Pétain regime, and the Resistance – the latter with a specific focus on the role of ‘foreigners’ who fought for the liberation of France.

Missak Manouchian was a survivor of the Armenian genocide. His parents died in the massacre and he and his brother escaped to Marseille in France. Manouchian joined the Communist party; he was a poet, and was initially opposed to violence. When World War II broke out, Manouchian was imprisoned because of his beliefs, but then released, after which he joined the French Resistance. He became the head of the FTP-MOI, a subgroup of the Resistance mostly made up of fellow Armenians immigrants from Hungary, Romania, and Poland – however the group also include people from Poland, Spain, and Italy. Because of the attacks carried out by Manouchian and his comrades, a number of them were listed on an infamous Nazi propaganda poster called ‘l’Affiche Rouge’ (the Red Poster). Manouchian was eventually captured by the Nazis and executed at the age of 37 on 21 February, 1944 by Nazi soldiers, alongside members of his Resistance group. A few hours before his execution, he wrote the following to Mélinée: ‘I will die with my twenty-three comrades with the courage and serenity of a man who has a clear conscience.’ In the letter he said he had no hatred for the German people and declared his love for France and his wife. He wrote: ‘I wish for happiness for all those who will survive and taste the sweetness of the freedom and peace of tomorrow.’

According to the exhibition literature, those sentenced to death included twenty-two men and one woman. Mélinée and Missak and their comrades from many different countries and backgrounds represent ordinary workers and artists who stood up for freedom in a time of totalitarianism. Manouchian’s thoughts in his final moments were: ‘The sun is out today. It’s in looking at the sun and the beauty of nature that I’ve loved so much that I say farewell to life and to all of you, my beloved wife, and my beloved friends.’[2]





The Panthéon is an extraordinary place to visit. I enjoyed the architectural beauty of the building itsel,f as well as the artworks and testimonies to the various citizens honoured within the space. The one critique I would have relates to gender representation. The Panthéon was originally designed to honour the ‘great men’ of France, and thankfully this has now changed to include women. Marie Curie was the first woman to enter the Panthéon in 1995 and other women include Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Germaine Tillion, and, as mentioned, Simone Veil and Joséphine Baker. However, the past work of women artists needs some more representation within the space, coupled with an equal focus on the stories of women in any exhibitions that are presented in the future.

If you get the opportunity to visit the Panthéon, entry tickets are available at the door but it is always wiser to pre-book your tickets online. The entry ticket gives you access to the nave and crypt, but you need to purchase a separate ticket to climb the winding stone staircase with its 206 steps, up to the dome where you can go outside and enjoy a panoramic view of Paris. Click here for the Panthéon website.


Irish Culture in Paris

I took time to visit the Centre Culturel Irlandais, or Irish Cultural Centre, which is situated in the College des Irlandais, or Irish College, formerly a home to a large collegiate community of Irish priests, seminarians, and lay scholars whose origins stretch back to 1578. In 2000, the Irish government provided initial funding for the restoration of the building, expressing the desire for the space to become a major cultural and educational centre, a flagship building in the heart of Europe, providing a vision and profile of the personality of Ireland.

What is unique about the centre is that it offers artists, students, and researchers the opportunity to take part in a range of residency programmes linked to an interest in Irish culture. There is a vibrant and creative resident community active within the centre’s grounds. The 18th century building itself provides a calm and peaceful atmosphere and is set in the heart of the Parisian Latin Quarter, close to the Panthéon, Notre-Dame, and the Sorbonne. There is an open call each year for Irish artists and artists based in Ireland who wish to apply for residencies from one to three months in duration. The call usually opens in November of each year, with a deadline in January.

The Centre Culturel Irelandais describes itself as a ‘place of energy with a distinguished track record of showcasing the Irish arts and a curatorial practice informed by contemporary concerns.’ The space houses regular exhibitions, concerts, performances, talks, readings, and screenings, and is a place of dialogue, debate, creation, and innovation. There are up to 40 artists in residence each year, who devise new artworks that go on to be shared with audiences in Ireland and across the world.

When I visited the centre, the celebrated Irish musician Sharon Shannon was rehearsing for a one-off performance as part of the centre’s ‘Chapel Sessions’. The event took place on 17 April, 2024. Sharon has been described by Irish President Michael D Higgins as a ‘national treasure’. She has recorded over 20 albums and toured world-wide with a host of renowned singers and musicians. While visiting the grounds of the centre, I stopped to see the plaque erected in the inner courtyard to remember and commemorate Irish people who were involved in the Resistance during World War II. One of the people instrumental in having the plaque erected was Irish lawyer John Morgan who has researched numerous stories of both Irish men and women who were involved in the Resistance and in escape lines during World War II. Smashing Times are planning to share a number of these stories with our audiences as part of a large-scale visual art, photography, and film exhibition planned for 2025. Many thanks to the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris for remembering these brave men and women and for promoting Irish artists and culture into the future. Click here to visit the website of the Irish Cultural Centre.


Mary Moynihan. Paris, France. April 2024


Mary Moynihan, MA, she/her, is an award-winning author of novels, poetry, films, and plays, and a creator of art and photography. She is Artistic Director of Smashing Times International Centre for the Arts and Equality and Artistic Curator for the annual Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival.