At the bottom of the rue Marx Dormoy, near the La Chapelle Metro station sits Le Capucin. It’s the epitome of the banal Parisian cafe, the kind of place where you can still eat hard boiled eggs at the bar. On this morning, my neighbour at the counter is one of the city’s street cleaners, his flourescent green plastic broom – matching his uniform – propped up outside at the doorway. The coffee is unsurprisingly tasteless, but it jolts me in to action, and sends me off on my mission.
My goal is to find the Croix de l’Evangile, the only remaining such cross in the city (more on these later), but in a thoroughly aimless manner. In a part of the city seemingly without any monuments or points of interest, what would there be to see and discover?
Heading northwards on the Rue Marx Dormoy, I am immediately in the territory of the old village of La Chapelle Saint-Denis. Although established sometime in the 6th century, it has always been more a place of passage. This particular road – which later morphs into the Rue de La Chapelle – is an ancient route previously known as l’Estrée,which took people – including the French royal family – between the centre of Paris and the abbey at Saint Denis.
The tracing of this path was primarily for practical reasons. Being situated between the hills of Montmartre and Belleville, it offered the easiest route to travellers. But if there are no longer any royal carriages trundling up and down the road, it does still retain its regal aspect. In 1724, Louis XV stipulated that the road should have a width of ‘18 toises‘, and a row of trees on either side measuring exactly 18 feet – although these have since disappeared!