Notre Dame Walk
Written by James M'Kenzie-Hall
1.Point of Departure : Metro Pont Neuf We begin the Notre-Dame and the Islands Tour at the Metro stop Pont Neuf situated on metro line number 7. Directions : There are several exits from the Pont Neuf Metro station but once above ground you’ll notice a bridge crossing the river Seine with a statue of a man on a horse in the middle. Cross the bridge and stop by the statue.
2.You have now crossed from the right bank and are standing on the western tip of an island in the middle of the river Seine. This is the Cité island. In fact there are two islands in the middle of the Seine, this one “Cité” and another one behind Notre Dame Cathedral called “Saint Louis”. Paris began on the Cité island over two thousand years ago. It was here that a Celtic tribe of fishermen,hunters and boatmen – the Parisii – came and settled here over two thousand years’ ago. They called their island “Lutetia” – a pre-Celtic word meaning marsh – and lived in mud huts with thatched roofs and made a living by ferrying people across the River Seine in boats as there were no bridges.Protected by the two arms of the river Seine and surrounding marshland this island was easy to defend. The island became an important crossing point for a road coming from southern Gaul, as France as then called, and going north towards Britain. Today the Cité island is at the very heart of modern Paris with the Law Courts and the Police Headquarters on one side of the island and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame on the other. Despite its name which means ‘new bridge’ the Pont Neuf is the oldest of the 37 bridges which cross the Seine in central Paris . The first stone was laid by Henry III on the evening of 31st May 1578 in the presence of two Queens, his mother Catherine de Medecis and his wife, Louise de Vaudémont. It was not a happy event as Henry III had that morning been to the funeral of two of his favourite ‘mignons’ Quélus and Maugiron who’d been killed in a duel. Not only was the King crying but it was raining as well. Work on the bridge progressed slowly and was finally completed in 1606 during the reign of Henry IV of France. The bridge was quite an innovation as it was built out of stone and not wood and it was the first bridge in Paris without houses on top of it. The bridge links the Cité island with both the left and right banks. In the centre is the equestrian statue of Henry IV – it dates from 1818 and replaces an earlier statue destroyed in the French Revolution. There is a tradition that the man who recast the statue in 1818 was an ardent Bonapartist and he profited from the occasion by placing anti-royalist literature and Napoleonic souvenirs inside one of the arms of the statue. Recent renovation found some proof of this. Parts of the original statue were saved and can now be seen in the Carnavalet museum-the museum of the history of Paris in the Marais district. From its inauguration the bridge became a popular rendez-vous point with Parisians. It was the only bridge they could cross and actually see the river Seine and as the bridge had raised pavements there was no danger of being run over or muddied by passing carriages. Tradesmen set up stalls in the half circles along the bridge. As passers-by mixed with the street vendors one would have heard the cries of bootblacks, mountebanks, flower-girls and there was even a dentist who, just before pulling a tooth, would order a drum to be beaten to hide the screams of his victim. In 1650 the diarist John Evelyn recalls visiting a pump-house here which extended on stilts into the river Seine and which until the nineteenth century supplied water to the palaces of the Louvre and Tuileries. They called the pump-house ‘Samaritaine’ after the samaritain woman of the biblical story. People did their washing, took out drinking water, caught fish and threw their sewage into the river Seine . People died like flies because of the unsanitary conditions. The last great cholera epidemic in Paris was in 1832. A recent Hollywood film called ‘The Perfume’ ,after the book of the same name by Patrick Suskind , recreates some of the flavour and smells of the time and shows what the bridges looked like when they were lined with houses . In 1985 the Pont Neuf was the centre of attention when the artist Christo, who specializes in wrapping large objects such as islands , wrapped up the entire bridge .
3.Walk down the steps behind the statue of Henry IV. These steps also lead to the departure point for the Vedette boats of the Pont Neuf. Facing you there is a charming small garden at the western tip of the island called ‘Vert-Galant’ in allusion to the amorous adventures of King Henry IV of France. ‘Galant’ in French means being elegant and attentive to women, really a ladies’ man or lover, a ‘galanterie’ was a love affair or a pretty speech. But a ‘femme galante’ was a loose woman. On your left as you look at the garden is the the left bank and one of the largest structures is a fine eighteenth century building surmounted by six statues resting on its attic storey, this is the Hotel des Monnaies or Mint. Today the minting of coins takes place near Bordeaux and the Hotel des Monnaies is now a museum of medals and coins. From the western tip of the island there is a good view of the Pont des Arts footbridge directly ahead of you leading from the Louvre on the right to the dome of the Institute with its elegant weather vane which you can see on your left. The Institute of France , designed by the architect Le Vau to complement the Louvre, houses five academies – the most famous being the Academie Francaise founded by Cardinal Richelieu in the seventeenth century and restricted to 40 members known as the Immortals. They are responsible for editing the Dictionary of the French Language – only in its ninth edition since 1694 . In 1980 the first ever woman, Marguerite de Yourcenar, was elected to the Academy. Originally the Institute was known as the College of 4 Nations and was founded from money left by Cardinal Mazarin, the chief minister of Louis XIV, on his death in 1661. Curiously the Italian-born Cardinal Mazarin , who thought his position merited him being head of the academy like Richelieu, was never elected because his French was not considered good enough . Its purpose was to educate 60 gentlemen from 4 provinces that had recently been annexed to France. At the foot of the steps leading back to the statue of Henry IV there is a small plaque indicating the spot where in 1314 the Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, was burnt during the reign of Philip the Fair. The Templars had become too powerful for the liking of the King. They had an independent banking system, were the principal creditors of the King and owned nearly a quarter of the land in Paris so the order was brutally suppressed and its property confiscated. As Molay died he cursed the King and he cursed the Pope – curiously both died within the year. The King’s three sons also died in quick succession and in 1328 the last son of Philip the Fair ,Charles IV, died and brought an end to the direct line of Capetian Kings that had ruled France since Hugh Capet had replaced the Carolingian dynasty in 987 . The new line of Kings was called Valois, the last Valois King was Henri III who had laid the foundation stone of the Pont Neuf. Henri III’s assassination in 1589 ended the Valois dynasty and his successor, Henri IV, was the first of the Bourbon Kings of France . The last major King of the Bourbon dynasty was Louis XVI whose reign ended in the French Revolution. In Europe there is still a Bourbon King, as King Juan Carlos of Spain can trace his ancestry back to the grandson of Louis XIV.
4. We now return up the stairs and back to the front of the statue of Henry IV facing the Place Dauphine. Leaving the statue behind you cross the road using the crossing provided to your left and enter the narrow rue Henri-Robert between the two buildings which leads you into the Place Dauphine. This quiet square has been neglected in recent years and become a favourite stopping and dropping place for dog owners. A large sign in amongst the trees warns them of the fine for not picking up their dog’s mess but is largely ignored. The Place Dauphine was built in 1607 by the President of the Parliament, Harlay for Henry IV. It was called Dauphine in honour of the Dauphin, the future Louis XIII. The title ‘Dauphin’ refers to the eldest son of a King just like in Great Britain where the eldest son is called the ‘Prince of Wales’. Originally it was triangular with at its apex a narrow gully revealing the statue of Henry IV . All of the buildings were built out of stone, brick and slate with an open arcade on the ground floor and two storeys above. Unfortunately in the nineteenth century the base line of the triangle was destroyed to show off the fine view of the recently completed west façade of the Palais de Justice or Law courts.
5.As you face the Law Courts with its white staircase flanked by friendly looking lions turn left into the rue de Harlay and then first right into the Quai de l’Horloge.Look up at the top left hand corner of the building and you will spot a stone medallion with a reference to Napoleon surmounted by a Napoleonic Eagle. This refers to the Code Napoleon, a series of laws put in place during Napoleon’s reign which provided the basis of a revised legal code some of which is still French Law. Curiously, although Napoleon is such an important historical figure there is little direct mention of him in the streets of Paris. Only one street is named after him , the rue Bonaparte on the left bank.Follow the river leaving the building on your right and walk towards the three large medieval round towers. It is probable that for more than 2000 years Justice has been dispensed on the present day site of the Palais de Justice. Before the Louvre was built this was the residence of the Kings of France and before that it may well have been the palace of the Roman governor of Paris. In 360 AD the Roman Prefect of Gaul, Julian, was proclaimed Emperor by his troops whilst wintering on the island. He had been fighting further north to protect the borders of the Roman Empire in what today is Germany. In the fourteenth century the monarchy abandoned their palace on the Ile de la Cité and left it to the Parliament and the Palace Concierge or Caretaker. The name “Conciergerie” eventually came to mean all the buildings guarded by the concierge on behalf of the Kings of France. The façade of the Conciergerie facing the river Seine underwent radical transformations in the nineteenth century but has kept the outlines of its medieval origins. The first tower is called Bonbec and is the oldest of the existing towers dating from the thirteenth century. Bonbec is slang for babbler and was where prisoners were tortured. Apparently their screams could be heard on the other side of the river.The next two towers close together are called the Silver Tower and Caesar’s Tower – they date from about 1300 and between them was the old magistrates entrance to the Conciergerie. No doubt it was called Silver tower because the King’s money was kept here and Caesar because they believed the Roman’s had lived here before them. During the Revolution it was on the first floor, between the two towers , that the public prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville had his offices. During the reign of Terror between 1793 and 1794 90% of people who came before the revolutionary tribunal were guillotined.In the eighteen months of the Terror over two and a half thousand prisoners were kept at the Conciergerie before being guillotined.The judgements of the revolutionary tribunal were without appeal, witnesses and lawyers were not required.Judgement in other words was a mere formality and sentences were often given out in batches. Prisoners were usually executed the same day. Prisoners kept here included Queen Marie-Antoinette for just over a month before she was guillotined in the Place de la Concorde on October 16 1793. Among other prisoners held at the Conciergerie during the Revolution were 24 year old Charlotte Corday who murdered Marat in his bath, Madame Elisabeth –the sister of Louis XVI, Madame Roland – who on seeing the Statue of Liberty next to the Guillotine cried out ‘Liberty –What Crimes are committed in your name !’. Also Madame du Barry the former mistress of Louis XV who foolishy came back to France to collect her jewelry and finally Robespierre himself who was kept here the night before his execution.
6.Continue to the end of the building where there is a square tower built in the mid fourteenth century but much restored with the addition of a nineteenth century crenellated upper storey. It is called the Clock Tower and the clock can be seen round the corner on the exterior of the Boulevard du Palais side. It is claimed to be the oldest public clock in Paris. The decoration dates from the end of the sixteenth century by Germain Pilon but has been much restored in the last two centuries. The allegorical figure on the left represents Strength , with Justice on the right of the clockface. Through the windows at street level to the left of the Tower are the so-called St Louis kitchens named after Louis IX. The kitchens are vaulted and contain four huge fireplaces which were used by servants of the King’s household.
7.Turn the corner next to the clock tower and continue along the Boulevard du Palais and you will come to the principal entrance of the Law Courts. The courtyard is separated from the road by imposing eighteenth century railings. The façade of the Law Courts is in the Louis XVI style- on the right of the steps is a small open area where the cart or tumbril waited to take its victims to the guillotine. Beyond the archway is the Lawyer’s canteen once the place where the condemned men and women had their fine clothing removed and their hair cut short in readiness for their final journey to the guillotine.On the other side of the courtyard is a very fine 13th century Chapel with a spire called the “Sainte Chapelle ” or Holy Chapel.It was once attached to the medieval Palace of the Kings of France now it abuts the Law Courts.
8.If you decide to go and visit the Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie please bear in mind that as these are the Paris Law Courts there is quite a lot of security and often queues to get through the metal detector both for the Law Courts and to visit the Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie within the Palace courtyard. Follow signs for the Sainte Chapelle if you wish to go in but it does take time. Once past security there is a further line to get entrance tickets for the Sainte Chapelle . A Museum Pass is recommended to avoid this second queue. Otherwise entrance for both costs a fee, open everyday except 1 January, 1 May and 25 December from 09H30 to 18H00. Last tickets sold at 17H30.
9.The Sainte Chapelle is the most important medieval monument in Paris after Notre-Dame Cathedral. It was built in the thirteenth century to house the Crown of Thorns which Saint Louis (Louis IX) had bought from Baudoin II, Emperor of Constantinople. Among other relics he purchased were fragments of the True Cross, nails from the Crucifixion, the spear that had pierced Christ and drops of Christ’s blood. To house these most precious objects St Louis ordered a chapel to be built in the Palace courtyard. The chapel was consecrated in 1248. The exterior gives an overall impression of lightness with its 50 foot high windows and the absence of any flying buttresses. It seems almost impossible that the building can rise so high without any visible means of support – in fact the whole structure is cleverly supported by internal buttressing. Today there are no relics inside ,they were destroyed during the Revolution only a fragment survives of the Crown of Thorns and that is kept in the Treasury of Notre-Dame Cathedral and brought out for public display at Easter. But the glory of the Sainte Chapelle are its ensemble of thirteenth century stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Out of 1134 scenes 720 are from the thirteenth century. During the Revolution the Sainte Chapelle was used successively as a flour warehouse, a revolutionary club and as an archive for the Law Courts. It even had a ‘For Sale’ sign until 1837 when it was decided to restore it.
10.With your back to the Law Courts cross over the road at the pedestrian crossing next to the Café Les Deux Palais and take the road opposite called the rue Lutece.After the ramp for the underground car park in the middle this street is now pedestrianised and opens up into a pleasant square. On your left is the Tribunal de Commerce - dealing with commercial law- and on your right the Prefecture de Police , the main Police Headquarters in Paris.Both official buildings typical of the nineteenth century. The rue de Lutece leads you to Place Louis Lépine and the Metro station Cité. Note the attractive metro entrance in the Art Nouveau style of Paris 1900. The plant like forms of the metal structure and the lettering were the design of the architect Hector Guimard. In this square you’ll find the colourful Cité Flower market. Opposite the Flower market is the Hotel Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris originally founded as a hospice in the seventh century by St Landry ,bishop of Paris. In the middle ages it was said that the Hotel Dieu , literally ‘God’s House’, was so overcrowded that each bed contained a sick person ,a dying person and a dead person . ‘Hotel ‘ in the French language can be rather confusing as it can mean a Hotel , an aristocratic townhouse, a town hall like Hotel de Ville or a hospital or institution. The ‘O’ in Hotel has a circumflex above it which replaces an ‘S’ in french ,so Hotel was originally hostel .The same is true of the french word for window, fenetre, with the circumflex above the second ‘E’, fenestre is where we get the word ‘defenestration’ for throwing people out of the window .
11.With the Hotel Dieu in front of you turn right into the rue de la Cité. On your right is the main Police Headquarters. This building saw a lot of action in August 1944 when after 4 years of collaboration the police rallied to the resistance and openly defied the German occupying forces between 19 and 26 August leading to the Liberation of Paris. The book and film ‘Is Paris Burning ?’ gives a good idea of the fighting round this building. As you pass the main entrance you can see on the right side of the arch a plaque and bullet holes and shrapnel pockmarking the façade.
12.Cross over the rue de la Cité at the traffic lights next to the Police Headquarters . As you cross look right and you will see just ahead of you the Petit Pont leading to the left bank. There has been some form of bridge here for two thousand years. The early bridges were probably made of wood. The road on the far side of the River, the rue Saint Jacques, is exceedingly straight and follows the course of the original Roman road or Cardo which came from the south, crossed the island and headed north towards Montmartre. Some way up the rue Saint Jacques you may notice , on the right, a building with a green dome – it is part of the University of Paris, the Sorbonne. It is named Sorbonne after Robert of Sorbon who founded a hostel for poor scholars in the thirteenth century. The name now applies to the thirteen Universities which comprise the Sorbonne in Paris.Today there are 330,000 students. Sometimes this part of of the left bank is called the Latin Quarter – not only because the Romans settled here but because later in the middle ages the students coming from all over Europe and listened to the teaching in Latin. Now on your left is the Square or Parvis in front of the west façade of Notre-Dame Cathedral. Up until the seventeenth century the Parvis was a small narrow medieval square surrounded by three churches, a hospital, alleyways and numerous houses crowding right up to the very doors of the cathedral. In the eighteenth century the Square was enlarged and in the nineteenth century Haussmann, the Prefect of Paris , virtually demolished all the buildings surrounding Notre-Dame. As you stand in the Square facing Notre-Dame you are literally standing on 2000 years of archaeology . It was here the Parisii tribe lived in mud huts with thatched roofs. In 52 BC Julius Caesar invaded Gaul and defeated the gallic chieftain Vercingetorix at the Battle of Alésia. The Parisii had supported Vercingetorix so Caesar sent his general Labienus to quash any further resistance. Lutetia was captured and the Parisii defeated. The Romans established themselves on the island and also on the left bank of the Seine where they built a small roman town on the hill overlooking the island. The town included a Forum, Baths, a Circus and an Amphitheatre. A Temple dedicated to Jupiter was built on the island on what later became the site for the Cathedral. To the west of the Temple the Romans established their administrative headquarters which later became the site of the Palace of the Kings of France and the present day Law Courts. Towards the end of the third century AD under the threat of Barbarian invasions the unprotected left bank was abandoned and the Gallo-Romans took refuge on the island. They hastily built a defensive wall round the island using stone taken from their own buildings on the left bank. Evidence of these successive events are to be found in the Archaeological Crypt Museum underneath the Square where you are now standing. The entrance is next to the underground car park on the west side of the Square. Entrance Fees apply, open from 10H00 to 18H00 ,closed on Mondays and public holidays.
13.Stand or find one of the stone benches to sit on in front of the Cathedral to listen to the description of Notre-Dame. The Cathedral was begun in 1163 by the Bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, and was completed 170 years later in 1330. The name ‘Notre Dame ‘ means ‘Our Lady’ in other words the Cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.The previous cathedral was dedicated to Saint Stephen. The change in dedication is indicative of the changing theological message in the 12th century and what has been termed the age of scholasticism. Now Mary was seen as an intercessor , making up for the original sin of Adam and Eve by giving birth to Christ. This represented a more human face to Christianity after the year 1000 when the world had been expected to end in cataclysm.The West front of the Cathedral can quite easily be divided into three horizontal sections : the Towers, the Rose and the Doors. The North Tower is on the left and the South Tower is on the right. They were completed in 1250. It was from the slightly smaller South Tower that Quasimodo, Victor Hugo’s fictional character in ‘Notre-Dame de Paris’ aka the Hunchback of Notre-Dame was supposed to have rung the bell. Certainly Victor Hugo knew all about the real bell , originally called Jacqueline the bell was recast in the seventeenth century and baptized Emmanuel in the presence of Louis XIV and Queen Marie-Therese who acted as godparents. It weighs 13 tons and is only rung on special occasions. Entrance to the Towers is at the foot of the north tower at the corner of the rue du Cloitre Notre-Dame. Open from 09H30-17H30 in the Summer and 10H30-16H15 in the Winter. Cost of going up Towers of Notre Dame is 10€. There are 402 steps in total, 255 in the north tower,22 more to reach the bell and another 125 to the top of the south tower.
Below the level of the towers is an open colonnade and under the colonnade is the 700 year old Rose window measuring 9 metres 60 in diameter –one of the the largest Rose windows constructed in the thirteenth century. In front of the Rose is a statue of the Virgin Mary flanked by two angels. She is at the centre of the west façade, at the centre of the Cathedral dedicated to her. On either side of the Rose Window, underneath the Towers but at the same level as the Rose are two windows and if you look carefully there are two rather forlorn figures standing in front of these windows. They are naked , one is female and one male. They represent Adam and Eve. The message is clear, Mary makes up for the original sin of Adam and Eve.Underneath the Rose is the gallery of Kings. The Revolutionaries tied ropes around the necks of the Kings and pulled the statues to the ground believing they were the Kings of France – in fact they are the 28 Kings of Judaea. They were replaced in the nineteenth century. In 1977 workmen discovered 21 of the original 28 heads on a building site near the present day Opéra and these heads are now on display at the Museum of Cluny –the Museum of the Middle Ages attached to the Roman Baths on the left bank.
Finally we come to the three main doors of the west façade. The door on the right is the door of St Anne and is the earliest of the three doors ,it is also the entrance to the Cathedral. The sculpture on the Tympanum shows the Virgin seated on a Throne holding the infant Jesus and flanked by two angels with thuribles or incense burners. Further to the left is Maurice de Sully, Bishop of Paris and on the right is the kneeling figure of the King of France, Louis VII bearing a phylactery or religious text – a reference to the Cathedral’s consecration in 1163. Some art historians disagree and see the statues as being Childebert as the King and St Germain as the Bishop. Yet given the rivalry between Notre-Dame and the Abbey of St Germain-des-Prés it seems unlikely that the canons of Notre-Dame would favour these figures on the west façade.
Due to the disastrous fire on 15 April 2019 which destroyed the spire and roof of Notre Dame Cathedral, the on-going repair work means that access to the Towers and Interior of the Cathedral is not possible at the moment’. Notre Dame is closed until further notice.
14. The rivalry between the French and English Kings : Louis VII has an interesting history and puts the building of Notre-Dame in context with the events going on at that time. Louis VII had married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1137, he was 16 she was 15 years old.Her dowry consisted of large parts of south western France, they divorced in 1152 and the same year Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet , who ruled over Maine, Anjou, Touraine and Normandy, Henry became King of England in 1154. As Henry II of England he ruled from Scotland to the Pyrenees and possessed the equivalent of 22 French departments, more territory than the King of France, including Eleanor’s dowry of Aquitaine in south west France.. Now began a war between England and France. Two hundred years later in 1337 Edward III of England would claim the throne of France and began what was known as the Hundred Years War. At the same time as the building of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Henry II of England was having a quarrel with his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas à Becket, that was to lead to Becket’s murder in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.
15.On the extreme left of the Tympanum is a small seated figure , he looks like he is number crunching a pocket calculator. This is not so far from the truth as traditionally he is seen as the Dean of the Chapter ,Barbedor ,who was also secretary to Louis VII and is no doubt calculating how much the building work is going to cost . Below the Tympanum are two lintels. The upper lintel depicts scenes from the New Testament beginning on the left with the Annunciation, then the Visitation followed by the Nativity, the Shepherds and the Three Wise Men. The horse not camel belonging to the group of Magi dates from two distinct periods . The front half from 1180 and the back half from around 1220 when the lower lintel was sculpted. In the middle of the lower lintel is St Anne the mother of the Virgin Mary flanked by scenes from the life of the Virgin on the left and by four scenes from the life of Joachim, her father on the right. The statues underneath the lintel are all nineteenth century. The statue on the central pillar represents St Marcel, a bishop of Paris during the fifth century. On the left embrasure is St Peter, King David , a Queen and an unknown King. On the right embrasure St Paul, Solomon, a Queen and an unknown King.
16.The heavily restored middle door represents the Last Judgement.As you approach this central door be sure to look for a bronze plaque marking Kilometre Zero where all road distances in France are measured from. So if a sign says Paris 200 kilometres it means from in front of Notre Dame. You can’t miss it as it is usually crowded with tourists having their pictures taken.It was put here in 1924. You may have noticed how centralized the road system in France is. The Autoroutes and Route Nationales all have numbers so that A1 goes to the north of Paris,A4 to the East and A6 to the South. In the centre of the tympanum of the middle door Christ is flanked by two angels holding the instruments of the Passion. Kneeling on the left is the Virgin and on the right, St John. Underneath Christ’s feet in the centre of the upper lintel is St Michael weighing the Souls with the elected looking up to Heaven and the Damned being led away to Hell by devils.The lower lintel shows the Resurrection of the Dead. In 1771 the architect Soufflot destroyed the central pillar of this door to allow processions to pass through the door with banners and flags. Both the lintel and the figure of Christ on the central pier are nineteenth century restorations. So too are the Wise and Foolish Virgins running down both sides of the door jambs. The embrasures contain the 12 Apostles with small cameos of the Vices and the Virtues underneath.
17.The door on the left with the gable above it is the smallest of the three doors and is the door of Mary the Virgin. It is interesting to note that although the façade of Notre Dame is harmonious, in its proportions it is not symmetrical. The middle ages did not worry about exact proportionality. In the middle ages all the statutary would have been painted and this door would have been decorated in blue and gold. It is dominated by the Coronation of the Virgin filling the Tympanum. On the upper lintel is the Dormition of the Virgin, the Virgin is not dead but merely sleeping, hence the rather meditative expressions on the faces of the Apostles. Both the Coronation and the Dormition scenes are not episodes in the authorized version of the Bible but are taken from Apocrypha. However they are widespread throughout the middle ages and the renaissance periods in both sculpture and paintings. In the Louvre you can compare the sculptures of Notre Dame Cathedral to the painting of the Coronation of the Virgin by Fra Angelico. Also to Caravaggio’s magnificent Death of the Virgin in the grand gallery of the Louvre which caused a great deal of controversy owing to his depiction of Mary as a lifeless corpse .The lower lintel shows the fulfillment of the Scriptures held by three Prophets on the left and three Kings on the right. The statue of the Virgin on the pier is nineteenth century. The door jambs contain representations of the signs of the Zodiac and the Labours of the Months. The embrasure on the left has 4 statues : St Denis, the first Christian martyr of Paris is shown holding his head in his hands, and is flanked by angels. The fourth statue is of the Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. The right hand embrasure contains St John the Baptist, St Stephen, St Genevieve –the patron saint of Paris who twice saved the city from the barbarians and on the end St Sylvestre-whose feast day is December 31st . In France New Year’s Eve is called St Sylvestre. Finally there are 4 statues placed on the buttresses of the façade between the doors – they represent from left to right : St Denis, the Catholic Church, the Synagogue and St Stephen. The Church and Synagogue are worth a closer look. The Church is represented by a Lady with a crown on her head, a chalice in one hand and a cross in the other. Compare this to the Synagogue, her crown has fallen at her feet , her lance is broken, she cannot see, it is not a blindfold but the tail of a snake and in her other hand she is holding the tablets of the law upside down. In other words the Synagogue represents the old way which the triumph of Christianity has now replaced. It is a theological message. The theological school attached to Notre-Dame in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was trying to make sense of the Bible – the Old Testament was interpreted as prophesying and foretelling what was to come in the New Testament. The entrance to the Cathedral is through the St Anne door on the right side of the main west façade. The Cathedral is open from 07H45 to 18H45.
18. The interior of the Cathedral : The best impression of the interior of Notre-Dame is gained by standing in the central aisle of the Nave with the organ behind you and looking down the entire length of the Nave towards the Altar. Notre-Dame’s dimensions are impressive. It’s 427 feet long , 158 feet wide and 115 feet high. A few key dates. The precise building programme of Notre-Dame is as follows: the first part of the Cathedral to be finished was the Choir in 1182. Between 1180 and 1200 the Transept was constructed. The Nave and the West Façade up to the level of the Rose was built between 1190 and 1220. The South Tower between 1225 and 1240 and the North Tower and Gallery between 1235 and 1250. In the thirteenth century modifications were made to the plan of the Cathedral. Originally , like many early Gothic cathedrals the elevation of Notre-Dame was on four levels – arcades, tribune gallery, small rose windows and small high windows. In the thirteenth century to allow more light into the interior the small rose windows were removed and the high windows enlarged, giving the interior of the Cathedral three levels. At the same time a series of lateral chapels were added to the Nave between the buttressing to cope with the enormous number of pilgrims. In the mid thirteenth century the North and South Transepts were enlarged by Jean de Chelles and Pierre de Montreuil . At the very end of the thirteenth century the Apse was enlarged by the addition of a series of radiating chapels. At the beginning of the fourteenth century magnificent flying buttresses were added by Jean Ravy to support the Apse. Altogether the Cathedral can hold 9,000 people. The Nave comprises of five double bays with sexpartite vaulting flanked by double aisles with seven chapels on each side. The chapels contain paintings from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries offered by the Goldsmith’s guild called Mays as they were offered on Mayday each year. Walk up the Nave as far as the Transept Crossing. You should be able to see all three Rose Windows. If you look back down the Nave in the direction you have just come you can see the Organ Case which dates from the eighteenth century and above it and half hidden by it, is the Rose dominating the West Façade and which dates from about 1220. Although very difficult to see the main theme is : in the centre the Virgin and Child surrounded by three circles of 12 Prophets, ringed by 12 Vices and 12 Virtues, the 12 signs of the Zodiac and the 12 months of the year. The Rose was entirely reworked in the nineteenth century.There is a symbolical value in the number 12. The 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 Apostles, and 12 is the product of 3 times 4. 3 represents the circles surrounding the central medallion and also the Trinity and 4 is the sum of the Vices, Virtues, Zodiac and months of the year. The Vices and Virtues make up the moral mirror and the Zodiac and Months of the year make up the mirror of nature. 4 also symbolizes the Cardinal points, the elements and the Seasons. Now look at the North and South Rose Windows – they are later and larger than the West Rose of the façade and more developed. They are like walls of Glass and represent the peak of achievement in the thirteenth century and are contemporary with Louis IX of France and can be compared to the thirteenth century Rose windows at Chartres Cathedral. The North Rose dates from the mid thirteenth century. It has the same iconographic theme as the North Rose at the Cathedral of Chartres and shows the Virgin surrounded by figures from the Old Testament. The predominant colour is Blue. The lancet windows under the Rose show Old Testament Kings.These lower windows are 19th century and you can see the difference in the colours. The South Rose was heavily restored in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and shows the risen Christ surrounded by the 4 evangelists, the 12 Apostles and various Saints and Martyrs.Notice that in the lancet windows underneath , the 4 central persons are carrying 4 smaller figures on their shoulders. The smaller figures represent the 4 Evangelists being carried by figures from the Old Testament. The message is the one that the Bishop of Chartres gave in the twelfth century when he said ‘we are mere dwarves sitting on the shoulders of giants’ – in other words all the historical figures before us were obviously very learned but thanks to the New Testament teaching we can see further . From the Transept crossing go past the altar towards the south rose window and turn left up some steps leading you towards the Treasury and around the Choir Screen.At the top of the steps is a small plaque on the right telling you who was present in 1163 when the Cathedral was consecrated. We are now on the south side of the Ambulatory and the entrance to the Treasury is on the right.The Treasury is open Monday to Friday from 9H30 to 18H00, on Saturdays 9H30-19H00, Sundays 13H30-17H30 but closed during services. Entrance fees apply. It contains a piece of the True Cross and other relics. The fragment of the Crown of Thorns is displayed on Good Friday and each Sunday in Lent. Opposite the entrance to the Treasury is the fourteenth century stone chancel screen depicting New Testament scenes from the life, death and resurrection of Christ. All the bas reliefs were painted in the nineteenth century in rather lurid colours. After the screen you might get a glimpse of the High altar behind ornate wrought iron railings and the eighteenth century choir stalls. Behind the altar is a Pieta by Nicholas Coustou flanked by a statue of Louis XIII on the right by Guillaume Coustou and Louis XIV on the left by Coysevox. Louis XIII vowed that if, after years of childless marriage, he produced an heir he would build a new Altar. It was completed by his son Louis XIV .The whole decorative ensemble is Baroque which is in sharp contrast to the much more sober gothic style of the rest of the Cathedral. There are not many tombs in Notre-Dame. In fact, unlike Westminster Abbey in London, where the Kings and Queens of England were crowned and buried , the Kings of France were neither Crowned nor Buried in Notre-Dame. The French Kings were crowned at Rheims and buried to the north of Paris in the Abbey of St Denis. Yet there are some tombs to various Bishops and if you follow the ambulatory behind the High Altar there is the tomb of Mattifas de Bucy who died at the beginning of the fourteenth century at the time when the construction of Notre-Dame was nearing completion. He is shown recumbent with a Bishop’s Mitre and Crozier and a Lion at his feet. Among the great historic events associated with Notre-Dame was the Crowning of Henry VI of England as King of France at the age of 9 in 1430, however a year earlier Joan of Arc had fought her way to Rheims so that Charles VII could be crowned King of France. Subsequently the English were thrown out of France and by 1450 their only possession in France was the town of Calais. Notre-Dame also saw the marriage of Francis II at the age of 14 to the future Mary Queen of Scots in 1558 ; the marriage of Henry of Navarre to Marguerite de Valois in 1572; in 1625 Henrietta Maria ,the daughter of Henry IV and Marie de Medecis, was married by proxy to Charles I of England. During the French Revolution Notre-Dame was ransacked , her statues smashed and turned into a Temple to the Goddess Reason with a singer from the Opera representing her. After the Revolution , on 2 December 1804 Napoleon crowned himself Emperor and Josephine Empress. Looking at the picture by David in the Louvre of the Coronation one would be hard put to recognize Notre-Dame except for the Baroque High Altar. Napoleon was so appalled at the old fashioned gothic architecture that he ordered huge canvas screens to hide it. In 1853 his nephew, Napoleon III married the Empress Eugenie. Among the many funerals held at Notre-Dame was that of Marshal Foch in 1929, General Leclerc in 1947 and a Memorial Service for Charles de Gaulle was held here in 1970. We leave the Cathedral by the door of Mary the Virgin, which is on the right as you look down the Nave towards the Organ.
19.From the front of the Cathedral go past the left door and turn right into the rue du Cloitre Notre-Dame. There is often a queue of young people on the corner lining up to climb the Towers. The towers have limited access. In the middle ages this road was where the Cloister stood leading to the Cathedral School and to the houses of the Canons of Notre-Dame. In the twelfth century the School of Notre-Dame together with the monastic schools of St Victor, St Genevieve and St Germain des Prés comprised one of the leading intellectual centres in Christendom which later became the University of Paris.It was here near this street that in the twelfth century Peter Abelard first met Heloise who was the niece of a canon of Notre-Dame called Fulbert. Fulbert had asked Abelard to educate his niece but Abelard went a little too far and she became pregnant. It was the beginning of a tragic love affair. Abelard,who is regarded as one of the founders of scholastic theology, secretly married Heloise after she gave birth to a son, Astrolabe. But Canon Fulbert exacted a cruel revenge by kidnapping Abelard and having him castrated. Abelard fled Paris and wandered from monastery to monastery before he died in 1142. Heloise was put into a convent. The fame of Heloise and Abelard rests in a series of love letters they exchanged during their long separation. In 1817 their remains were finally re-united in the cemetery of Père Lachaise in the east of Paris. .
20.To gain a good view of the north side of the Cathedral cross over to the left hand pavement opposite the North Tower. In order to support the Nave the walls of the Cathedral are supported by heavy buttresses but because of the height of the vaulting the buttressing on its own was insufficient so at the end of the twelfth century flying buttresses were introduced on top of the buttressing to support the higher parts of the Cathedral. On the north side these are largely hidden from view except around the apse of the Cathedral where the flying buttresses form a single span of over 50 feet to support the apse. They are like arms holding up the building. Note also the Gargoyles sculpted in the shape of grotesque animals, some half human half beast . They derive from the medieval bestiaries showing fantastic animals such as griffins- half lion half eagle. Perhaps they were intended to frighten off the demons but they also served the more practical purpose of draining the rainwater from the gutters of the roof. Gargoyle is close to the French word ‘gargouiller’ which means to gurgle . Usually Gargoyles are horizontal with lead pipes spouting from their mouths, the other stone Beasts which are vertical are called chimeras . We now come to the façade of the north Transept and the the Cloister door which dates from the mid thirteenth century at about the same time as the Sainte Chapelle was being built. The lower lintel depicts scenes from Christ’s childhood including from left to right the Nativity, the Presentation, Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents and finally the Flight into Egypt. These four scenes are generally considered as among the best sculpture of the entire Gothic period. Above them and separated by a thick border of foliage is the Legend of Theophilus. Out of humility Theophilus had refused to become a Bishop but when a new bishop was elected he changed his mind. The legend begins on the left showing Theophilus entering a pact with the devil to replace the new Bishop. He is then shown in the act of removing the new bishop with a little help from the devil shown at his side. He repents and prays to the Virgin who drives the devil away.The last scene on the Tympanum shows people listening as a Bishop relates the story of Theophilus. The statue of the Virgin on the pier of the door is the only surviving thirteenth century statue on any of the doors of the Cathedral. The infant Jesus which she should be holding was broken off after the French Revolution. To the left of the Cloister door is the Porte Rouge or Red Door reserved for the use of the Canons of Notre-Dame . On the Tympanum is the coronation of the Virgin treated in a different style from that on the west façade. Kneeling on either side of Christ and the Virgin are on the left St Louis and on the right his wife Marguerite of Provence.
21.Behind the apse of Notre-Dame on the right is a garden called John XXIInd Square. Go through the garden and cross over the rue de l’Archeveché into what is called Square de l’Ile de France, where at the most eastern tip of the island is a memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation. During the Second World War over 200,000 French were killed in Nazi extermination camps. Among those deported were more than 75000 Jews with the complicity of the Vichy government.At the beginning of the Nazi occupation of France Resistance members were systematically shot but from 1941 under a new policy of ‘Nacht und Nebel ‘ many resistance workers were deported literally disappearing into the night and fog. Entry to the monument is by a narrow flight of steps giving the impression of entering a place of confinement. Inside the monument are 200,000 glass beads representing the 200,000 dead and in triangular niches ,like the badges worn in the concentration camps ,the names of the Concentration Camps including one, Aurigny or Alderney – the only slave labour camp on English soil – Alderney being one of the Channel Islands occupied by the Germans throughout the war. The monument is by the architect Georges- Henri Pingusson and was opened by General de Gaulle in 1962.The Memorial is open from 10H-12H00 and 14H-17H00 and until 19H00 in the Summer.
22.Return through John XXIInd Square past the nineteenth century Sacristy and the thirteenth century South Transept with a door dedicated to St Stephen. The river Seine is just to your left. This will bring you back to the front of Notre-Dame next to the St Anne door and opposite a statue of Charlemagne. The nearest Metro is either Cité by the flower market or St Michel on the left bank about 5 minutes walk from here. They are both on line number 4. To get to St Michel cross over the Pont au Double bridge on your left, turn right and follow the quayside of the river Seine until you come to the second bridge called Pont St Michel. As you stroll along you may notice a series of green coloured kiosks resting on the parapets of the embankment –these are the famous ‘Bouquinistes’ selling second books, engravings and postcards. ‘Bouquin’ is the slang word for book. When you reach the Place St Michel you are in the heart of the Latin Quarter but that’s another story . Buses 21,24,27,38,85 and 96 stop at the Place St Michel. There is also a connection to the RER Lines B and C.