If you do not believe in an almighty creator, visiting Notre-Dame may change your mind. Begun nearly 900 years ago, back when the world was flat, and on the site of a previous Christian temple, the famed Notre-Dame rises to soaring heights on the Île de la Cité.
Wonder of the World?
Marvel at the ingenuity and skill it took to create this temple – at anytime – even today. Outside, the flying buttresses support the massive walls. Inside, the vaulted arches soar overhead. The organ fills an entire end of the nave with its pipes. Take a look at the stained glass and stand in awe of the ones who imagined, and created, those tremendous windows. No computers involved.
Check out the hardware. Even the hinges on the magnificent exterior doors are a mystery. How did anyone fabricate those? Or, how did anyone dream up the design for those massive doors in the 1100s? And, at Easter, the doors open, light floods into the cathedral, incense wafts through the air inside and out, and throngs of faithful (and plain visitors) experience a rare event at Notre-Dame. It is breathtaking and soul-stirring.
There are no tickets to buy to visit the cathedral interior. The line snakes around and around on the plaza in front of Notre-Dame. Jump in and patiently wait to enter. Or, go early or late and avoid the line altogether.
While milling about in front of Notre-Dame on the plaza, you may find a brass marker of Point Zero – the center of Paris. It hasn’t been a grand plaza for very long. Until the houses around it were razed in the 1860s, the cathedral was surrounded by 2-3 story houses across the street from it. Making for a surprise discovery up close, but not a very grand appearance from out front.
Also on the plaza, on the side closest to the Seine, Charlemagne stands guard on his horse. The Frankish king is resplendent in bronze with a beard and helmet worthy of cinema. A great photo op.
Once inside, allow a moment for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Then, walk the perimeter of the nave and visit the side alters or chapels. Look toward the rows of seats and the choir and alter. That is where Napoleon crowned himself emperor right there in the big middle of it all.
Church and Organ
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is not there to ring the bells. But, the bells do ring. This means that it is a working cathedral and deserves the respect of all who enter. Near silence is expected and only use whispering voices. When visiting, wear long pants and women cover your shoulders.
Masses are held regularly and are wonderful to attend. Even though it is in a foreign language, observe the quietness and the choir singing and enjoy a few moments of reflection. Religious or not, it can be a welcome calm hour or so in a magnificent man-made creation.
Organ concerts in Notre-Dame are eery and beautiful. Strangely, the light is directed on the audience rather than toward the organ. One has to turn around in the seats and glare into the light to see the organ master and pipes. Maybe this encourages focus on the ears, rather than the eyes.
Back outside, on the Seine side and in the back, Notre-Dame has an inviting and quiet garden. Yes, even though in the front and the other side is crazy with tourists, the garden is generally a quiet retreat for a rest on a bench. Soak up the beauty of the trees, critically eye the flying buttresses and also choose your favorite gargoyle downspout.
Want to have a close look from on high? Climb the towers of Notre-Dame de Paris. The stairs are crazy narrow and barely large enough for one person. It is a little dizzying looking at your feet and spiraling around and around.
Even off the stairs, the passageways are very narrow. Outside on the towers, a cage surrounds visitors, but the famous gargoyles are only inches away. Walk through the belfry while the guards are telling you to keep moving. The views are spectacular from even the mid level of the towers, but just wait until the top. A feat of engineering up close and very personal.
There is so much history who knows if it can all be written. But, here are a couple of interesting tidbits.
The cathedral is a French National Monument. While the building is owned by the French State, the Roman Catholic Church has the perpetual right to use it for religious purposes.
Begun in 1163, construction lasted 200 years. In 2012, it celebrated its 850th anniversary.
The cathedral has 10 bells. Emmanuel is the largest and it is from 1681.
The holy relics now housed in the treasury of Notre-Dame include the Holy Crown of thorns, a piece of the cross, and a nail of the Passion.
A Little More
Notre Dame is inspiring from every angle – believer or not. The sheer design of the builders is inspiring. How could they envision such an awe-inspiring and ambitious church??? Astonishing in all respects.
Can you imagine being a peasant from the countryside, rowing your boat up the Seine in the year 1300, rounding the bend and seeing Notre-Dame? They probably wanted to know what god was responsible for such a structure and immediately converted!
Notre-Dame (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris)
Nearest Metro: Cité or Saint Michel
Admission: It is free to visit the cathedral. Admission is charged to enter the Treasury. No bags are allowed.
Official website: http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/en/