Monday, September 21, 2015

A True Icon. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.


W

  e had made our way to Île Saint-Louis, crossing over from the Left Bank. We turned onto Quai d'Orléans, walking towards the famed cathedral.  I stopped several times just to take photos.  I was glad it was overcast today - without the sun to cast shadows, I think I got a nicer shot.

Z asked me if this was the church named in the novel, "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" and I told him yes because the novel was written by the French author Victor Hugo in 1831 and much of the story centers around the cathedral.

For me, it's my all time favorite cathedral to visit and I have been to many, many, many cathedrals and churches!

From this vantage point, you can see the famed flying buttresses aka exterior arched supports.

We entered the grounds through the square named after Pope Jean XXIII.   To me, it's not a square, it's more of a garden and a very pretty one at that.


We exited on the walkway between the cathedral and the Seine.


The whole time I'm walking, I'm just gazing up at the facade of the building.


I will forever be awestruck by its splendor.  Like a few other tourists,  I paused to admire one of the rose windows.  Even from the outside, the window is a masterpiece of design and construction. 


I also stopped to look at the statue of Saint John Paul II.  The former Pope was canonized by Pope Francis on April 27, 2014.  Usually, when I see a statue like this, it's of a historic figure that has been really long gone....like a hundred years long gone.  I knew of this man in my lifetime.  Seems surreal to me to be seeing him as a statue.  I now feel old.


Of course, Z had to ask me about the gargoyles.  I told them they're drainspouts but he didn't believe me.  They extend far off the side of the building so the rain water drains away from the walls to prevent damage from the building.  I didn't point out the chimeras to him though.  They're just simple decorations - creatures peering down to look at the world below.  The gargoyles and chimeras are actually very whimsical.  I think the sculptors were accorded freedom to come up with all sorts of stylized creatures.


We exited Square Jean XXIII to a mob scene.  The small plaza, in front of the entrance to the cathedral, was packed with tourists.  Sigh.  Worse yet, the line to get in seemed like a mile long and it didn't seem to be moving all that fast either.  But, we had no choice so we took our place in line and patiently moved along with it.


On the flip side, being far back in the line gave me a good vantage point from which to take a photo.  I can always find the silver lining in the cloud.

The center portal - Portal of the Last Judgment.  Built in the 1220's to the 1230's, it represents the
Last Judgement as described in the Gospel of St. Matthew.



The Portal of Saint Anne.  The portal was built in honor of the mother of Mary, Saint Anne and depicts scenes from the life of the Virgin, the annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, and includes Jesus’ grandparents - Saint Anne and Saint Joachim.


Patience, patience, patience.  We eventually made it up to the ticket kiosk.  It cost 8.50 euro for each of us to enter.   They control the number of people entering so even after getting our tickets, we had to wait a few minutes before we could actually go inside the church.  Photography was allowed but not flash. I have pretty steady hands but even so, it's difficult to take photos in dim light.  I always just hope something comes out decent.

Anyway, the moment I enter Notre-Dame I am impressed.  It's beautifully light by chandeliers but I am sure that on a sunny day, light filters in through the many stained glass windows that line the upper gallery.




Of course, Notre-Dame is famous for its two Rose Windows.  The South Window is the one that is most admired and if you don't know exactly where it is inside the church, just look for a bunch of people looking upwards.  Everyone is gazing up at this masterpiece and trying to take photos of it.


The South Rose Window was a gift from King Saint Louis and is dedicated to the New Testament.  The South Rose Window was constructed in 1260 as a counterpoint to the North Rose Window, which was built in 1250.  Unbelievable that these windows have been around for more than 700 years!!

Like its north sister, the South Rose Window spans 12.9 meters (42 feet) in diameter and if you include its bay is nearly 19 meters (29.5 feet).


Many years ago, I tried my hand at doing stained glass.  It's not easy to cut out pieces of glass and solder metal around them to connect them to each other.  As I look at the window, all I can do is marvel at the work that it took highly skilled artisans to create this magnificent piece of art!  Truly amazing!  My photo doesn't really do it justice.  You really need to see it in person and this might sound like an extreme suggestion but bring along pair of binoculars.  The window is so high up, it's hard to appreciate the detail from where you stand.

Continuing towards the altar you walk along a large, carved wood wall that was installed around the choir, forming a chapel space where the cathedral's priests could go to for prayer and quiet reflection.  The carvings depict scenes from the life of Jesus.  The South wall, shows scenes from His apparitions after the Resurrection.

I found it difficult to take photos of the wall, partly because of the lighting and partly because there were so many people around.  If I stood back far enough to get a good shot, in less than a second someone would walk into the frame and the moment they left, someone else would be in the shot.  After a few frustrating attempts, I turned on the video camera.  This way, I also managed to capture the entire wall which is quite long.


Next, I went to see the various chapels - each one was beautiful as the last.  I never noticed anyone using them for prayer.  With the mob of tourists wandering about (....and despite the signs to be silent, few people were), I don't know how anyone can find peace here.






At the back of the cathedral were some panels describing the construction and renovation of the cathedral over the centuries.


We made our way to the north side of the church.  There, we passed by the North Choir Wall which depicts scenes ffrom Jesus’ childhood, his baptism, and part of Holy Week. The wall that portrays the rest of Jesus’ life, in particular his death on the cross, is sadly no longer in existence.


We passed by the North Rose Window which to my eye, is just as beautiful as the South Rose Window.  Perhaps the latter gets the notoriety because on a sunny day, the color of the glass must be more intense because of the sun.  The North Rose Window is always in shade.




We walked down the center aisle and made our way towards the altar.  The centerpiece is a marble sculpture titled, *Descent From the Cross* that was carved by sculptor Nicolas Coustou in 1725.


Thank God for a zoom lens!!


Here are few of the random photos I took on our way out of the cathedral.





I stopped at the East Portal to take a photo of a famous carving of St. Denis on the Portal of the Virgin.

Saint Denis came from Lyon’s Christian community and was sent to Paris to found the Church there in the 3rd century. He would become its first bishop.

In 257 AD, he was decapitated in Montmartre with his companions after they were discovered by a Roman governor.  Legend has it that he then got up, walked six kilometers with his head in his hands, and gave his head to a Christian woman before collapsing on the ground.

On the Portal of the Virgin, St.  Denis is surrounded by two angels, and can be recognized since he’s the only one holding his head in his hands. He's got a very serene look on his face for someone who's just been decapitated.  At his feet, there is a man holding an axe, and at the very bottom, a panel representing the executioner’s crime.

Every time I leave this cathedral, I just can't imagine that there could be a more magnificent cathedral anywhere in the world.  Perhaps there is one but until I see that one, Notre-Dame is the pinnacle for me.

After a quick photo op with Z posing in front of the famed cathedral, we left to continue our first day of exploring Paris.

I'm enjoying every minute of being back in one of my favorite cities in the world!