Monday, December 21, 2009

Shopping Destination: Artisanat Monastique

One of my favorite places for one-stop shopping is Artisant Monastique in the 14th. Located in a medieval - and still functioning - monastery, this heavenly boutique carries handcrafted goods -- specialty foods and liquers, bath products, household cleaning products, beeswax candles, textiles, ceramics, toys and more from 250 monasteries and convents all over France. The saleswomen are volunteers. They are very friendly and helpful, but this being outside of tourism central, very few speak English fluently, although like many Parisians they understand more than they speak. Just bring your good attitude, your best high school French and a language guide book with you for good measure and you'll do fine.

Antique linen and lace junkie that I am, I just head straight down to the basement where they keep the real reason I keep coming back -- scads of hand-embroidered table and bed linens, lace veils, handkerchiefs, blouses and gloves, all in near-mint condition. The story behind this treasure trove is as lovely as the goods themselves.

Everything here was once part of the handmade trousseaux of young nuns who entered France's convents in bygone eras. As brides of Christ, they surrendered their worldly goods, when they took their vows. After their deaths, their families gave the convents permission to sell the contents of their trousseaux.

This is a good source for purchasing a little shower gift or "something old" for brides -- wrapped with a bar of scented soap from the boutique.

This boutique is not in the heart of Paris so you're not likely to just stumble across it. But if you have a little time it's well worth the effort. Just take the Port Royal RER. As you exit the station walk, straight down the avenue Denfert Rochereau. Since my last visit two years ago, they've upgraded their sign so it's not so easy to miss. It's right across from the St. Vincent de Paul hospital complex.

Artisanat Monastique, 68 bis avenue Denfert-Rochereau (RER Port Royal).

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