Paris Center Stories: The Little Tin Church

Once a month we share a photo from our archives. Today, we rediscover "The Little Tin Church" that used to sit in Reid Hall's back garden.

Joelle Theubet
April 06, 2018

“On Sunday morning, November 13th, at 11 o’clock, the first service was held in the new iron St. Luke’s Church, in the rue de la Grande Chaumière. The church was crowded with many standing throughout.” So writes the Rev. Newell in his church records, mentioning for the first time the small chapel that stood from 1892-1929 in what are now the Reid Hall gardens. Known to many as “St. Luke’s- in-the-Garden” and more affectionately as the “Little Tin Church,” the chapel was an important fixture in the lives of the American students, artists and wealthy expatriates who called this neighborhood of Paris home.

Indeed, philanthropist Elizabeth Mills Reid’s connection to the local expatriate community, and her admiration for the artistic atmosphere of Montparnasse inspired her to look for property in the area where she could establish a accommodations for the young American women who came to study art in Paris. Through her acquaintance with Mr. Newell, Mrs. Reid discovered the ideal location at 4, rue de Chevreuse in the vacant buildings that once housed the Institute Keller, a residence for young boys. That this space connected onto Mr. Newell’s gardens and small chapel added to the property’s appeal.

Early services in the corrugated tin edifice were officiated by John B. Morgan, a cousin of Pierpont Morgan. The church soon gained a loyal following as it provided the only English-speaking services on the Left Bank. In 1898 one of the pensioners and female art students at the nearby Académie Colorossi, Anna Lester, described the haven that was the church in a letter home to her parents:

“I went to St. Luke’s Chapel Sunday morning and enjoyed the service very much. It is just back of the girls’ club… and well heated. It is only plain boards, no paint, but has stained glass windows and in back of the alter a lovely piece of Tapestry, so soft and beautiful in color.” (Anna Lester, April 3, 1898)

Later parishioners of the Little Tin Church even included a young Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley, who lived around the corner on rue Notre Dame-des-Champs.

St. Luke’s-in-the-Garden continued its mission through the First World War and into the roaring twenties. The Little Tin Church closed its doors in 1929 when the community moved into facilities provided by the American Student Club on boulevard Raspail.