Rue Chanoinesse, in the Île de la Cité, where a police station stands today – irony of history! – there used to be two neighboring shops: a barber and a pastry chef. A pastry chef (originally, pastry chefs sold pâtés, the term has changed over time) renowned in the capital who made small meat pies with an incomparable taste.
Its recipe, rather particular, is at the origin of a black legend of Paris…
In the Middle Ages, this area of the Île de la Cité was inhabited by a large number of students and commoners. Their disappearances became more and more frequent, which was not an extraordinary event at the time. In a crowded medieval city like Paris, there were many who left everything overnight for new adventures, while others were thrown back into a miserable daily grind, or simply dropped off for a scholarship in a narrow alley and sent to the Seine. In short, nothing surprising. Except that these disappearances were proportional to the growing success of the pastry chef…
But a very popular character on the Île de la Cité, a public writer, suddenly disappeared. His love letters were the best written in town, his words appreciated by the needy, his helpful character. The disappearance surprised, and a friend of his took it into his head to find him. As he was walking around the Île de la cité in search of clues, he met the public scribe’s dog in front of the pastry chef’s shop. The friend came in, bought some pies, which he ate with relish on a bench, thinking about the reasons that could have prompted his friend to leave everything behind, even his dog.
He kept the dog with him and every day, during his research, the animal took him to the same place: to the pastry chef. The friend thought he was simply attracted to the smell of meat, until one day a sordid idea struck him. He went to Châtelet to explain the situation to the police investigators. No one, of course, believed his story. But we still agreed to accompany him to the scene.
After investigation, a hatch was discovered between the two shops. The barber, who did not just cut beards, sent his victims to his neighbor, who transformed them into delicious meat. Happy to have put an end to this diabolical trade, the friend simply regretted having one day swallowed one of these little pies…
History or legend? This mystery has never been solved!
Barbers, in medieval times, were always characters that society distrusted. Handlers of sharp objects, they were also called upon for surgical procedures, which were forbidden by the Church to doctors. A close connection with blood that has long placed the barber as a demonic being, conducive to the darkest legends, which have existed in many European cities.
Besides Paris, it is said that in London, in the 18th century, a barber and his mistress cooked pies with the meat of their victims. A story popularized in the cinema by Tim Burton in the film Sweeney Todd. The history of London would be inspired by that of the Île de la Cité, the oldest known to date.
Inside the police station (not open to the public) on rue Chanoinesse is visible a vestige of the former pastry chef’s shop.