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Darius' Church and Highlander

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Darius' Church and Highlander

St. Julien at night.

From the first season onward, the 13th century Church of St. Julien le Pauvre in Paris was a shooting location for Highlander: the Series, which ran for six seasons, from Fall 1992-Spring 1998. Located on the Left Bank of the Seine in the Latin Quarter, St. Julien sits across the river from Notre Dame in a little park called the Square René Viviani, just upstream from the Quai de la Tournelle where Duncan's barge was moored. The church made its television debut in the pivotal Season One episode Band of Brothers, which also introduced Duncan MacLeod's friend and mentor Darius, a 2000-year-old Immortal priest with an unusual past. According to legend, Darius had been a Goth warlord on the verge of conquering Europe when he took the Quickening of a Holy Man before the gates of Paris. Suddenly he changed, abandoning his life of conquest to work for peace from Holy Ground. In the series, St. Julien represented Darius' chosen plot of Holy Ground, his present-day home, workplace, and all-important sanctuary from the death and violence of The Game.

St. Julien le Pauvre was not the only place where scenes that took place in Darius' Church were filmed. Members of the production staff have mentioned on several occasions that a ruined abbey outside Paris and a standing set on a sound stage were also used as locations. But since the west entrance of St. Julien le Pauvre appeared so often in the series as an establishing shot for Darius' Church, it will always be Darius' Church as far as Highlander fans are concerned.

The real Church of St. Julien le Pauvre was never mentioned by name in the series, even in the credits. On the few occasions when it was referred to by a character in Highlander, it was simply called Darius' Church, which just happens to be what most of the fans called it anyway. Thus the place became even more firmly linked with the character. There was one exception to the rule--in the episode Saving Grace, Inspector LeBrun called the church St. Joseph's Chapel when he radioed for an ambulance. It has never been determined whether this aberration was in the script or whether it was simply an ad-lib on the part of Hughes Leforestier, the French actor who played LeBrun. Interestingly, there is a St. Joseph's Chapel inside St. Julien le Pauvre. Each of the two side aisles has a small chapel in its apse, and the chapel of the north aisle is now dedicated to St. Joseph. Perhaps the scriptwriter or the actor knew about it and decided to use this detail in the episode. Whatever the explanation, the name St. Joseph's Chapel was never mentioned again in the series, but it did turn up occasionally in fanfiction and strangely enough, in Rebecca Neason's Highlander spin-off novel Shadow of Obsession. In the novel, Neason did not call Darius' Church St. Joseph's Chapel, but instead used the name in describing a small chapel attached to the main building. (There was once a small chapel located on the south side of St. Julien le Pauvre, but it was named for St. Blaise and St. Louis, and was demolished well before 1816, the date Neason gives for this chapter of the novel. In the same chapter she also mentions the name of the actual street where the church is located, the rue St. Julien le Pauvre, but never identifies the church by name).

Whether the writers and producers of Highlander knew it or not, St. Julien was actually a very appropriate choice for Darius' Church, historically speaking. It is quite possible that some sort of religious building may have existed on that very spot when Darius' encounter with the Holy Man was supposed to have taken place. A basilica named for St. Julien the Martyr is known to have been there as early as the 6th century, and prior to that an oratory and hostel for travelers stood on the site. St. Julien is located at the junction of two important Roman roads from the south (the present day rue Galande and rue St. Jacques). Darius would very likely have come north by one of these two roads after the sack of Rome in 410, and passed through this junction on his way to the Gates of Paris. The rue St. Jacques, then as now, led to the Petit Pont, the sole bridge connecting the Left Bank to the Ile de la Cite in the fifth century. At this time, the Ile was the only part of Paris that was protected by a wall, and the so-called "Gates of Paris" probably stood at both ends of the bridge. How fitting that Darius' Church is located so very near the place where, according to legend, his life was changed forever.

Although Darius himself was killed by renegade Watchers at the end of Season One, his church continued to be featured as a location in the series. Sometimes, the church simply functioned as Holy Ground, a neutral space where Immortals could talk or negotiate instead of fighting, or escape from an attacker. (For example, in the Season 5 episode Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Steven Keane takes Amanda captive and demands a meeting with Duncan MacLeod at the church to negotiate the terms of her release). To use Darius' Church in this way makes perfect sense--the concept of Holy Ground as a sanctuary for Immortals is a vital part of series canon in general, and the story of Darius in particular, since he spent most of his later life in sanctuary. One might easily speculate that Darius' Church (and its proxy St. Julien) must have offered protection to many over the centuries.

But more often than not, Darius' Church was used as a symbol to remind us of Duncan's wise mentor and the important role he played in the Highlander's life. Recognizing the character's popularity with fans and his usefulness as a mentor and father figure for Duncan, the series writers had originally intended to write new flashbacks featuring Darius to be included in future episodes of Highlander. But the tragic death of Werner Stocker in May 1993 made this impossible. In a few episodes like The Watchers and They Also Serve, Darius flashbacks were cobbled together using old footage from the first season episodes, but this device obviously had its limitations. Eventually, someone (probably David Abramowitz) must have realized that the image of the church itself could be used to invoke the memory and presence of Darius and began to use it for that purpose. St. Julien in its role as Darius' Church had become something of a series icon, a powerful symbol in the Highlander canon.

After his death, Darius' teachings stayed with Duncan, and the memory of their friendship and the time they spent together in Darius' study at the church rectory lived on in his heart. In Duncan's mind, and in the minds of the audience, Darius and the church where he had served for so long were practically synonymous. It was to Darius' Church that Duncan often went when he needed solace or guidance, as if the place itself contained something of the spirit of its former inhabitant from which he could take comfort.

In the Season Four episode Deliverance, Duncan flees to the church in the throes of a Dark Quickening and as he approaches the entrance he seems to see his old friend waiting for him at the doors, arms held wide. Inside, he lies on the floor before the altar, begging Darius, "Help me, or if you can't help me, stop me." As if in answer to that plea, Methos (who has been acknowledged by his creators to be a deliberate attempt at filling the void left by Darius) appears to help MacLeod find his way out of the darkness. (A holy spring plays an important part in Duncan's deliverance from evil in this episode. One wonders if the writers knew that a holy well with healing powers once existed on the premises of St. Julien itself).

In Forgive Us Our Trespasses (Season Five), Duncan unburdens himself to the absent Darius after he has been challenged by Stephen Keane over the death of Sean Burns. Regretting the demands of honor that require him to answer the challenge, Duncan says, "He's a good man, Darius. I don't want to kill him. All he's done is judged me like I've judged others. I'm so tired of the killing." At the end of the fight, with Keane at his mercy, Duncan forbears to take his life, as Darius would have wanted.

In Armageddon (Season Six), Duncan bears a heavier burden, one that encompasses both Duncan's personal guilt over the death of his student Richie, and his responsibility to save humanity. Ahriman, an evil entity who comes back once every thousand years, is threatening the world once again, and Duncan is the only one who can defeat him. He turns to Father Beaufort, the mortal priest who took Darius' place at the church, seeking information that might help him fight the demon. Beaufort himself has been driven almost to suicide by the demon's torments, but in his very despair he provides Duncan with the one clue he needs: "Everything I have read says it is useless to fight it, that it feeds on our hate and fear, that its very presence breeds hate and fear. How can we destroy something that thrives on destruction?" And as if Darius himself were speaking through him, Duncan answers, "Peace, Father. Never will I renounce the good mind. It was there all the time. In peace." (Peace, of course, was Darius' watchword, a lesson he tried time and again to drum into Duncan's head). In the episode's climax, the church becomes a kind of spiritual battlefield as Duncan engages the demon in a duel of wills in the sanctuary and wins the battle by refusing to give in to violence (a radical idea for an action series with a reputation for violent content). Afterwards Duncan's Watcher Joe Dawson comments, "Armageddon in Darius' Church!" while shaking his head in disbelief.

Over the six seasons of Highlander, Darius' Church has proven to be more than just a convenient piece of consecrated Parisian real estate. It has become a poignant symbol, not only of Darius, the wonderful character whose name it bears, but also of the philosophy of peace and non-violence he tried to instill in all his students, especially Duncan. And in a larger sense, I believe Darius' Church is also a symbol of the show's underlying spirituality. As a fan, I have often found it difficult to convince people who have never seen an episode that spirituality can actually exist in a show where people are always trying to chop off each other's heads with swords. Certainly Highlander is dark and often violent, and its own creators have described it as "A show about death and dying disguised as a show about living forever." Yet, odd as it seems, despite the violence, death, and dark irony depicted in the episodes, the overwhelming message the series delivers is one of redemption rather than damnation, and of peace rather than violence as the ideal way of life. Darius' Church, as it evokes our memories of Darius and what he stood for, represents the "other side" of Highlander, the light that balances the darkness.

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(This page last updated 02/28/2002)

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