Notre Dame de Paris
As the Liturgical Calendar brings us closer to the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I thought that I would introduce you all to one of the most beautiful and visited cathedrals dedicated to Our Lady, the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, literally translated as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris.
I have been blessed to visit Paris twice in my life–once during law school when I lived in London for a year and once on my honeymoon, back in 2003. The photos used in the blog today are from our honeymoon. The cathedral’s website provides many photos, including panoramic images that can help you feel like you’re there!
Going to Paris is one of the most magical travel experiences I’ve ever had. It’s such a storied city, and I’ll admit, I was a bit of a Francophile back in the day. I’ve always loved the French language and much of their food. I’ll admit it: I love most things that come from France. And visiting this cathedral is top on my list of favorite places to visit – and I’m not alone! More than 14 million people visit it every year!
Notre Dame sits on the Eastern half of the ÃŽle de la Cité, a small island in the fourth arrondissement of Paris. (The arrondissements are zones or neighborhoods in Paris.) It is more than 800 years old, and was one of the first Gothic cathedrals ever built. Many consider it to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in the world. It was one of the first buildings ever to use flying buttresses–the best architectural term ever! Those are the arched wings that fly out from the sides of the cathedral–they buttress or support the building and look pretty while they’re doing it!
Some of the historic things that have happened in this cathedral: Henry VI of England and Napoleon were crowned here (Napoleon crowned himself, of course). Joan of Arc was beatified in this cathedral in 1909 by Pope Pius X! And of course we can’t forget Victor Hugo’s famous novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was set in this very cathedral.
Tradition has it that the first stone of Notre Dame Cathedral was laid in 1163 in the presence of Pope Alexander III. The Gothic style was just gaining ground then, and Notre Dame helped define its characteristics: pointed arches, ribbed vaults, gargoyles, and, of course, flying buttresses. The architecture of this period is very emotional–it moves up, raising our hearts and minds toward God. (That’s why I love it so.) It took almost 200 years for the cathedral to be completed, and since then it has undergone many, many changes and refurbishments, although much of the facade and interior still are true to the original designs. The 17th century organ is still functional, and includes all its original parts. Thanks be to God, this magnificent cathedral survived the destructive Huguenots, the French Revolution, and two World Wars. The most recent restoration projects began in 1991. Today, LED lights light up this once very dark space. In 2013, the cathedral’s bells, installed in 1856, were reinstalled in the North and South towers.
It is said that in 1239, St Louis, then King of France, brought Jesus’ Crown of Thorns to the cathedral while he had Sainte Chapelle built specifically to house this wonderful relic. Even today, Notre Dame boasts of its relics of Christ’s Passion–including a piece of the True Cross, a nail, and the Crown of Thorns. The public is allowed to venerate them on the first Friday of every month and on every Friday during Lent.
I could go on an on about this beautiful cathedral, but if you’d like to learn more about it, I encourage you to visit their website or check out some books about it. Visit it if you ever get the chance. There are some lovely photos here, too.
My fondest memories of this wonderful space were celebrating Christmas by attending Midnight Mass there on our honeymoon. David was sick and not feeling well, so I left him in our hotel room as I walked a few arrondissements to the cathedral for Midnight Mass. The city was buzzing, so I wasn’t afraid to be out so late. I remember sitting next to a little old woman who was grumpy because everyone was being so loud. She was grumbling about the youth, and it made me laugh. The celebrant of the Mass was Archbishop Jean-Marie Lustiger, and while it was in French, it was Christmas Mass! I knew what was going on. Walking home was a mess. I couldn’t find a taxi anywhere, and ended up getting back pretty late. But I will never forget that beautiful Mass. They call Paris the City of Lights, and it truly is. But on Christmas, well… it’s just magic.
Art: Notre-Dame de Paris (Gothic cathedral), south facade, view from the Seine, Zuffe, own work, 28 April 2009, CC-SA; Drawing of a buttress at Reims, Villard de Honnecourt, in his album of drawings, ca 1230-35, PD-US copyright expired; The Coronation of Napoleon, Jacques-Louis David, 1805-1808, PD-US; Couronne depignes Crown of Thorns Notre Dame Paris, Gavigan, 16 February 2007, CC-SA; all Wikimedia Commons. Other pictures: copyright Diana von Glahn and “The Faithful Traveler”, all rights reserved, used with permission.