Renowned writer Robert Louis Stevenson had fittingly said “I never weary churches. It is my favourite kind of mountain scenery. Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a cathedral.” Even when you look up at the structure called Notre Dame Cathedral you cannot imagine how a mere mortal could built something so grand and beautiful. It’s as if God Himself had an exalting influence on man to design it according to his wishes. So when you come to the capital of France, Paris don’t forget to visit The Notre Dame Cathedral to breath in its tranquil, spiritual and solemn atmosphere.
Notre Dame Cathedral is also known as Notre Dame de Paris which stands for “Our Lady of Paris” in French. It is situated on a small island called Ile de la Cite in the middle of the river Seine. This magnificent Roman Catholic Church is known for its French Gothic architecture, enigmatic history, sculptures made to perfection and stained glass windows. The Cathedral is also the seat of the Archbishop of Paris. The construction of the cathedral started all the way back in 1163 on the orders of Bishop Maurice de Sully and was finally finished around 1345 taking about 200 hundred years to complete all its elements. Notre Dame has seen Paris blossom over the past 800 hundred years and also had few of history’s most catastrophic as well as celebrated events take place in the cathedral itself: Crowning of Henry VI of England, coronation of Napoleon, beatification of Joan of Ark by The Pope as well as when the cathedral was in jeopardy of attacks by German soldiers in World War II. The cathedral had reached a point when it was going to be demolished due to sacrilege and irreverence towards it. But after it was popularised by events such as publication of the famous novel ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ by Victor Hugo in which the cathedral plays an integral part the Parisian’s decided to restore the monument back to its former glory in 1845.
Individuals from all over the world are invited to come and pray to the Almighty and pay their respects whether they are believers or non-believers from any religion, in a reverential manner both through their behaviour and attire. The Cathedrals is open throughout the year from 8 am to 6:45 pm on weekdays and till 7:15 on weekends. Regular masses and services where you can hear the choir singing, all of this free of charge. You could also light a candle in honour of the Lord and talk to a priest present there. Join a tour guide on the assigned hour from the cathedral who will show you around the beautiful structure and enlighten you about the intricacies of its architecture.
Notre Dame de Paris is all about its eye catching minutia which you may sometimes even miss even after careful scrutiny. With its famous flying buttress and an archaeological crypt open to visitors this church based on French Gothic architecture will leave you contemplating and will take you to another era altogether where the 21st century’s hubbub did not exist.
The west façade consists of the most noteworthy features of the cathedral, the two tall towers. The south tower of the cathedral houses the famous bells of Notre Dame. There are 10 bells in all and the largest of them, Emmanuel weighs an astounding 13 tons. Each uniquely named bell rings on a different note and is tolled on various occasions and also to mark the hours of the day. A flight of stairs will lead you to the top of the tower where you can see the bells that were earlier tolled manually with ropes but in the present day electric motors do the job. A beautiful sight of the city of Paris will greet you at the Grand Gallery that connects the two towers. This is where the cathedral’s well-known Gothic gargoyles can be found looking down upon visitors that arrive at the church. A line of statues of the 28 Kings of Judah and Israeli can be seen between the two towers that represent the King’s Gallery.
The west façade has the three main portals of the cathedral at the base of the towers. The first portal from the right is the Portal of St Anne which depicts The Virgin and Child on a throne along with two angels, a bishop and his assistant and a king. It also illustrates scenes of the advent of Christ and the life’s of Anne and Joachim as well as Mary and Joseph. The portal at the centre is the Portal of the Last Judgement which represents the scene of the Last Judgement as described in the Gospel of Saint Matthew. The last portal on the left end is the Portal of the Virgin which shows the Coronation of the Virgin and on top the death of Mary with Jesus and the Twelve Apostles around her bed. There are two more portals, the south and north transept portals each describing life’s of St Stephens and St Theophilus respectively.
The Glass Stained Windows
The highlight of the cathedral is the three glass stained arcane windows through which the sunrays dimly light the insides of the cathedral. The West Rose window at the west façade still retains the original glass used during construction and is mesmerising with the detailed designs depicting human life cycle. On the outside of the window is the statue of the Virgin and the Child aligned in such a manner that the heads come in the centre of the circular glass window. The South Rose window shows a number of scenes from the New Testament and the Triumph of Christ. And lastly the North Rose window depicts scenes from the Old Testament.
There are three organs in the cathedral that add to the acoustics and design of Notre Dame. The organs play a crucial role in the day to day services of the cathedral by making it spellbinding with its music. The first is the Great Organ that slightly covers the West Rose window, which is without doubt the largest organ in all of France and one of the most famous organs in the world. This organ has a mind boggling five keyboards, 190 ties and 80000 pipes. The other two organs known as the choir organ and positive organ are relatively smaller and are used for the day to day masses.
The Notre Dame Cathedral will leave you amazed when you put your eyes upon every single piece of the structure and realise that each of it has been hand carved to perfection. This flawless monument has been made in the age when man’s most coveted machines did not exist and leaves you wondering how this miracle was erected.