These were my first glimpses of Notre Dame. At first I was a little ‘underwhelmed’ to tell the truth, but only because I have been to all 3 of the world’s largest cathedrals: St. Peter’s in Vatican City, Italy; Cathedral of Sevilla in Spain; and St. Paul’s in London, UK, and this one was, well, not as large as those three. But, as the afternoon progressed, I warmed up to Notre Dame as it is considered one of the best examples of Gothic architecture. One friend of mine called Notre Dame ‘dark and creepy.’ It is a bit darker than some, I agree, but I wasn’t feeling creeped out at all.
I was visiting during the 850th celebration year and they had just installed new bells which was a big deal. Good timing. Plus, this was Lent with only a week to go before Easter. And, it was a Friday in Lent. All these things came into play as I understood more and the day went on. More good timing.
Statue of Charlemagne (Charles the Great), created in 1886
From this vantage point, I was standing at the top of several tiers of bleachers which were filled with people sitting and viewing the cathedral’s façade. I joined the line forming on the right side of this photo. Since entry was free, the line moved pretty fast.
“In 1450 a pack of man-eating wolves broke through the city walls and mauled 40 hapless civilians to death. An angry mob eventually cornered the wolves by the doors and stoned them to death.” (This was from an article published by Lonely Planet and BBC Travel.) My goodness. Luckily there are only gargoyles now-a-days.
I also learned via this same article that during the French Revolution, they turned the cathedral into “a temple to the Cult of Reason.” They removed all crosses, statues, and turned it into a warehouse for a time. (Which is funny to hear since I saw some alcoves with statues and/or paintings hanging which are still warehousing storage items!)
Lastly, who remembers the high-wire artist Phillippe Petit who at the age of 21, broke into the cathedral at dawn in 1971 and shuffled between the two towers on a wire. Then in 1974, he crossed between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Interesting little known facts which happened to pop up on my Facebook page this morning.
The intricacy of the façade was amazing.
Churches began building on this site in the 5th or 6th century but when you walk in now, it is the 12th century you are seeing, such as the stained glass.
After entering and inhaling the beauty, I noticed people were sitting in pews toward the front of the altar, and, since I was tired, I figured I’d grab a seat. I noticed there were high and low priests scurrying about in preparation for something, which I was assumed was a mass. But, it did seem weird as it was 3:30 on a Friday afternoon. I asked the woman next to me and in halting English she told me yes, a mass at 4:00 p.m. So I waited. I had nothing else pressing on my schedule.
Upon entering the cathedral, I bought a book on the cathedral, as I had done at St. Paul’s. So, I started reading while sitting in the pew, looking around (mostly up), and taking photos. I read that during Lent, they bring out something very special only on Fridays leading up to Easter. Apparently I was in the right place at the right time.
I then noticed the pews were filling up quickly and becoming full. I had a seat only about 10 from the altar, which was pretty close.
Notre Dame apparently has a special treasure – Christ’s holy Crown of Thorns. Per the book, “It’s documented history dates back to the 4th century. Physically, the relic consists of a ring of plaited rushes to which the thorns are attached to form the mock crown. The relic was acquired by King Saint Louis who humbly carried it to Notre Dame on 18th of August 1239……” It is brought out on the first Friday of every month, every Friday during Lent, and Good Friday.
The mass began and there was a bit of hymn singing which sounded wonderful with the acoustics in the cathedral. The priests then started acting like security guards and taking their places (after meeting in dark corners talking about it, which I was watching closely) in various aisles and watching everything and everyone very closely.
Then a procession began on the right of where I was sitting with the priests carrying the crown of thorns in a magnificent gold cradle as the priests and nuns walked through the nave, and came down the center aisle. My Catholic background came back to me as I remembered all the pomp and circumstance the Catholics perform in their ceremonies. That is what I always liked about the church. The incense, the repetitive praying, the robes, drama, etc. But that was still not enough to keep me as a practicing Catholic. However, here I was witnessing one of the holiest ceremonies of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Curiously, I then watched each row start filing out of the pews with every person walking up to the altar to kiss or touch the Crown of Thorns. Whoa. Well, I figured since I was there….yes, I did it too. Just to be part of this ceremony was pretty cool and if any of my prayers were answered by participating, then awesome.
Instead of going back to my pew, however, and waiting through the next hour for all the other participants to get their turn, I took off and wandered around the cathedral and took photos.
Above are two photos of practitioners paying their respects to the crown.
This was one of the old chandeliers with candles.
Here is a diorama of workers building the cathedral.
These photos are taken from behind the altar.
Have to admit the Angel of Death and the fellow spilling out of the coffin was a bit on the ‘scale of creepy.’
St. Joan of Arc
I have to admit, I had a few scandalous thoughts passing across my mind when looking at these priests. In light of all the awful crimes involving sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church, were any of these priests guilty?
Here’s an example of a stained glass window which actually has panels that open to bring in fresh air.
There were areas of worship in alcoves which were also being used as storage rooms. I found that interesting. A cathedral has no storage areas?
Outside were of course the flying buttresses (this was one of the first churches to use this design) and the gargoyles.
This is where I saw what looked to be a man giving a love lock to his significant other (see the woman in white on the left).
Those are a lot of locks.
If I ever return to Paris, I will take the Batobus. This is public transportation on the Seine River and would be an interesting way to see the city – without the guide speaking through a megaphone.
I was thrilled to unexpectedly come upon Shakespeare & Company made famous by mentions by Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Woody Allen movies, and so many others. What a great bookstore! It just oozed with the energy of the hundreds of authors and readers wandering those cramped aisles. If I lived in Paris, I would spend time just people watching in this bookstore while purchasing books every time I visited.
This photo of an Isadora Duncan type, was above a doorway. This bookshop was filled with treasures tucked in the nooks and crannies.
Not far I came across this Metro stop which is one of the well-known stations they have kept in its original Art Deco style.
I was now hitting rush hour and people starting to gather around this statue. Seems to be a popular meeting place as another time I saw hundreds of young people hanging around the entire perimeter and sitting on the steps.
This doorway struck me as being absolutely amazing.
I realized there was another way to get back to my hotel. This is the back of St. Sulpice Church and to top it off, I found a street with restaurants.
ONeil’s was a brew pub and since I have been in many of these with my son and daughter-in-law, I figured it would be a comfortable and reasonably priced place to have dinner.
This was when I was introduced to flammekueche! (The lights in here were red, hence the photos are red, too.) This dish is a pizza of sorts only the crust is very thin. The topping I chose as onions and mushrooms with cheese, too. It is something I hope I can figure out how to make for myself at home one day. Great meal to end my day.