Photo Essay: Paris, Part V: Notre Dame

First posted in February, 2005

[ Click here to view the previous Paris photography essay. ]

February 9, 2005, 09.15 AM
Aux Tours de Notre Dame

I am eating next to Notre Dame in a restaurant called, conveniently enough, 'Aux Tours de Notre Dame,' because I couldn't bring myself to eat at the first café I saw (Le Quasimodo), just on principle.

I've checked out of the hotel and purchased new batteries for today's explorations (I took 238 photographs yesterday, not including those I deleted, and ran out of rechargeable batteries yesterday evening; I will be unable to recharge them before returning to England for lack of an adapter). I have until about seven or so this evening, so I'm going to hit Notre Dame and an old medieval castle nearby. I can probably do these before lunch, I think. Not sure what I'll do the remainder of the afternoon.

February 9, 2005, 12.50 PM
Quelques restaurant près du Palais de
Justice qui a la pizza (Pescatore!)

As predicted, I've seen Notre Dame inside and (mostly) out. I saw it in that order, and shall speak of it in that order.

Okay, well, technically I guess I saw the outside first. One pretty much must see the building from the outside before one enters it...

As you can see, there is scaffolding all along one side of the building. I am not entirely sure what they're doing, but Paris has a regulation whereby every building must clean its façade once every ten years. Not being a business, I'm unsure if the Notre Dame Cathedral is held to that standard, so it might be renovation or other maintenance. But what it means for me is that I don't get a great photo of the front of the cathedral. You may have also noticed in a previous entry that there was scaffolding on l'Arc de Triomphe. And the Louvre is closed today. My luck runs thin.

At any rate, inside and out. The inside of the cathedral is immense and dark, lit primarily by chandeliers far overhead and sunlight streaming in through stained glass. The hundreds of tiny votive candles probably contribute a few candelas as well.

Chandeliers far overhead...

Sunlight streaming in through stained glass...

And many tiny votive candles.

I gave them a couple of euros so that I could peruse the treasury. This is a tiny museum of sorts inside the cathedral which contains religious relics. For instance, had I been lucky enough to have been here on a Friday, I could perhaps have seen a crown of thorns purported to have been the crown of thorns that was worn by Jesus Christ during the crucifiction (but it's only shown one Friday a month and every Friday during Lent, so I missed out on this). I did see lots of robes worn by saints and popes and bishops, and busts of saints and popes and bishops, and chalices used by saints and popes and bishops, etc.

Not being Catholic, very little of this had much appeal to me. I don't really buy into the need for religious tangible objects, especially not those made of gold; higher powers, in my opinion, whatever your faith, can be worshipped and appreciated for free, with money being spent not on gold relics but instead on the poor who are in need of food, clothing, medicine, and the like. Just in front of the cathedral I gave money to a woman claiming to be a Bosnian refugee, and it really turned my stomach that they're accepting donations inside the cathedral when there are people begging mere feet from the front door. Not that I don't feel historic structures, glorious historic structures such as this cathedral, should be renovated, cleaned, maintained, etc, but I think the Catholic church probably has enough funds to do that sort of thing on their own without turning the inside of Notre Dame into a commercial venture. I know the Catholic Church does many good works with the poor, but, well, I just have a bit of trouble with all the vast wealth on display.

Hm, I digressed yet again. Sorry about that.

Now that I've probably upset every single Catholic reading this, I remember that what I meant to talk about was the, well, for lack of a better word, freakiest relic I saw in the treasury. Somebody's leg. In a big gold box. The femur inside the box has been carved to a flat surface and the name 'Vincent Martyr' painted on it, but the lack of signs in the treasury left me clueless as the story behind this bone (and Googling over the past few days has been similarly fruitless, so if anyone knows the story behind Vincent, please e-mail me... there was Vincent, patron saint of wine makers, and there was also a guy named Vincent who prayed when the Pope was ill that God would take him instead (and he died! and the Pope lived!), but none of those seem to be right).

At any rate, the femur:

Vincent's femur

Just a few of those gold chalices

I was very much taken by the intricate iron work on some of the doors.

A photograph of a statue of Joan of Arc, who of course was burned at the stake in Rouen as a heretic and a witch in 1431.

After being convicted and sentenced to death through a trial full of corruption, fraud, and intimidation on the part of clurgy (and others, of course), it was here, in Notre Dame, that the decision to rehabilitate her reputation was made.

And a final photograph of the interior, of a figure
in prayer in front of a stained glass window.
(Chapelle de Saint-Madeleine)

And then I took the ancient stairs to the top (well, near the top... the very top was closed today) of the cathedral to see the famous chimerae, gargoyles, and bells. I had, as you can see, a difficult time with the contrast between distant bright sunlight and dark, shadowy sculptures in the foreground.

Spiral stairs, worn with age

A chimera overlooking the Seine

A chimera overlooking L'Hôtel Dieu

A chimera, Montmartre in the hazy distance

A chimera with a very hazy Eiffel Tower in the distance

A more detailed shot of said haze

The most famous of the chimera, perhaps pondering
Paris' change through the centuries.

Many call the chimeras gargoyles, and it's easy to do.
But the gargoyles are technically these smaller sculptures.
They're actually part of an elaborate guttering system.
I almost wish it had been a rainy day so that I could
have seen them in action, water pouring from their mouths.

Then I went inside the bell tower to see the famous
bells from Victor Hugo's Le Bossu de Notre Dame.
I should read that, now that I've seen this place.
(Photo of an interpretive display near the bell.)

The largest bell in the towers was once named Jacqueline!
Why anyone would change its name to Emmanuel is beyond me.
Jacqueline is a fine, wonderful, glorious name!

A bell that should be named Jacqueline

The intricate detail of the cathedral really can't be
captured on film to be appreciated full scale.

A final shot of a portion of the exterior.

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