“Our Lady of Paris” or simply Notre-Dame is renown to many & perhaps associated with Victor Hugo’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame”, published in 1931. It was largely an attempt by Hugo to make his contemporaries more aware of the value of medieval architecture which was often neglected or destroyed & replaced by new buildings.
This historical Catholic cathedral sits on the eastern half of Ile de la Cite which is formed by 2 meanders of the River Seine & is situated in the 4th arrondissement of Paris & is considered one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture.
It is such a beautiful day & the pigeons are out in full force….. sunbathing!
Notre-Dame is counted amongst the largest & most renown of church buildings from around the world. The naturalism of its sculptures & the magnificent stained glass within the cathedral contrasts with the earlier Romanesque architecture. Ground breaking began in 1163 & construction was completed only in 1345.
The nave is the largest area of a Gothic cathedral & this is the main area where the congregation gathers & also where processions would be centred. A good view of the stone ribbed vaulting can be seen here – its purpose is to support the weight of the wooden ceiling.
In 1991, a major program of maintenance & restoration was initiated to clean & restore old sculptures & also to remove carbon deposits that has covered the cathedrals walls within & without. Most of the lights within Notre-Dame have also been changed to LED energy-saving warm lights.
There are altogether 84 panes divided into 4 circles. The 1st circle has 12 medallions; the 2nd 24 medallions; the 3rd is made up of quadrilobes & the 4th has 24 trilobe medallions. The Rosette window features the symbolic No. 4 along with its multiples, 12 & 24 which in the Bible speaks of the creation week.
Plain, massive cylindrical columns with ornate capitals are typically found in the nave arcades in Gothic cathedrals. The symmetry in the columns, bays & chandeliers lend a majestic air to this iconic landmark.
We should perhaps thank Maurice de Sully the then newly appointed Bishop of Paris in 1160, who ordered the demolition of the old cathedral to make way for a new & better one. Construction thus began in 1163 with a ceremony that was attended by Pope Alexander III.
The Notre-Dame is such a complex architecture that it took about 2 centuries & many experts to build & put the ‘Lego’ pieces together. This exquisite structure is also adorned with numerous sculptures of which some are the best in medieval Europe.
This cathedral is not only one of the most famous man-made landmarks in the world but represents French Gothic architecture & the essence of Paris, the most romantic & most visited city. As many as 30,000 people daily & 13 million visitors annually, would walk through the doors of the Notre-Dame.
The South Rose Window was built in 1260 as a counterpoint to the North Rose Window which was built in 1250. It was a gift from King Saint Louis who commissioned the design & construction to Jean de Chelles & Pierre de Montreuil. The diameter of the Rose window is about 12.9m & it is a central element over the transept façade. The beautiful, colourful rosette is dedicated to the New Testament & symbolises Christ final triumph, reigning over Heaven & surrounded by all his witnesses on earth.
A kaleidoscope of rainbow colours shining through the stain glass windows, casting a soft light & giving the cathedral a gentle glow. There is no single reason as to why the Notre-Dame is so popular but a certain beauty & special charm seems to possess this place.
Impressive stain glass windows that not only let in light but are lauded for their aesthetics & scene depicting art form. During the reigns of Louis XIV & Louis XV many of the windows were considered too dark by the priests & were replaced by clear glass in 1786 but thankfully through the centuries the windows have been restored or replaced including those damaged by stray bullets during WWII.
On the ground level of the western facade are 3 large portals which are decorated with a multitude of characters & sculptures which were restored in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc. The Central Portal is larger, taller & wider than the others.
The martyred St. Denis was sent from Lyon to Paris to become the 1st bishop but he was decapitated together with his companions at Montmartre in year 257, when they were discovered by the Roman governor. Legend has it that he walked 6km with his head in his hands; gave his head to a Christian woman before collapsing to the ground on site of the Basilique de St. Denis which was later built in his honour.
The height inclusive of the North & South towers looms at 63m. This imposing façade is simple & symmetrical & its grandeur accentuated by the interplay of vertical & horizontal lines. 4 powerful buttresses spring up to the top of the towers as if reaching heavenwards.
Chimeras in Greek mythology are monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creatures of Lycia & Asia Minor. They are composed of parts from more than one animal. The Cathedral has 5 five bells. 4 of them are housed in the North Tower & the beautiful sounding, great bourdon 13 tons bell Emmanuel is located in the South Tower.
The first spire was originally a bell tower but it was taken down from 1786-1792 & during Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration of the cathedral, this independent spire was built in 1860 on an octagonal base supported by 4 transept pillars. On the spire are copper statues of the 12 apostles with symbols of the 4 evangelists. Finally at the top is a rooster seated atop a cross & 3 relics from St. Denis, St. Genevieve & part of the Crown of Thorns.
The 1.2km long Ile de la Cite is considered in popular literature to be the cradle & religious centre of Paris. This island on the River Seine was thought to be inhabited circa 50B.C.
Notre-Dame was amongst the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress or arched exterior supports at the apse. There are 14 buttresses built by Jean Ravy between 1318-1344 to prevent the light walls from collapsing. The walls were constructed higher & higher & cracks caused them to slant outwards but the buttresses are now relegated as rainwater run-offs.
Through the centuries, the Notre-Dame Cathedral has remained relevant & significant in history & is still a place of worship, opened free to the public. It surpasses even the Effiel Tower in popularity & probably rightly deserves the cult status of a living museum.