On August 9, 1945 at 11:02 in the morning, a nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. It was a Sunday morning, and mass was taking place in the cathedral, as there was a significant Catholic population in Nagasaki. The cathedral was almost completely vaporized. In the bits and pieces that were salvaged was the almost intact face of an angel. She came to be known as “The Angel of Nagasaki” and became a symbol of peace and hope. The angel was donated to UNESCO in Paris in 1976 on the occasion of the organization’s thirtieth anniversary. Today, it is located in the calm of the Japanese garden (7 Place de Fontenoy, 7th).
Today’s expression, un ange passe (uhn anzj pass) literally means “an angel passes.” It’s used to try to dispel a sudden and awkward silence that has fallen, like if a teacher asks a question that no one knows quite what to do with. And although the expression seems to work quite effectively, no one seems to understand the etymology of the phrase. It may be the Christianized version of a pagan phrase referring to the passage of Mercury (Roman) or Hermes (Greek) as he delivered the message of the gods, aided by his winged feet and cap. Were people quieted because they could feel Mercury passing, or did the transmission of his solemn messages require that he silence those he passed? It’s a mystery. In any event, when you pass by the Angel of Nagasaki in the Japanese garden, you’ll feel a peaceful calm in the heart of bustling Paris.
- Nagasaki mayor slams nuclear stance (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)
- The Bombing of Nagasaki August 9, 1945: The Un-Censored Version (rinf.com)
- Nagasaki Marks 68th Anniversary of US Atomic Bombing (voanews.com)