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Notre-Dame - Art

Notre-Dame - Art (4B)

You are standing before a marvel of French Gothic architecture.

The cathedral is enormous, since its interior measures 128 metres in length, 48 metres width and is 69 metres high with two towers. In total is occupies some 4,800 square metres surface area. It has room for more than 6,000 worshipers.

It is famous for its sublime balance, but if you look carefully you will notice some small asymmetrical elements created to break the monotony.

You have an example in the three main porticoes. You will see that they have slightly different shapes. Their small sculptures, previously painted in bright colours, were the way in which the illiterate were able to understand the stories from the Old Testament, the Passion of Christ and the lives of the saints.

The Doorway of the Final Judgement, from the early 13th century, is clearly the most important and this is why it is in the centre. Inspired by the book of the Apocalypse and by the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, you can see sculptures representing the resurrection of the dead, an angel with scales weighing virtues and sins, and demons carrying off sinful souls. Saint Michael oversees the journey of the souls, the virtuous to the left and the perverse to the right to fall into hell. It is all very instructive and above all, very calming. 

The two side doorways are not as spectacular and are dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Saint Anne. 

Some 20 metres from the ground you will see a gallery with 28 statues standing over the doorways. Each statue, over 3 metres in height, represents every one of the Kings of Judea that preceded the arrival of Jesus. However, only fragments of the original medieval statues remain, since during the Revolution they were destroyed in the belief that they represented French kings. The revolutionaries did not have time then to distinguish kings of one place from another. If it was wearing a crown, off with its head! They were restored later. Curiously, in 1977, in the basement of a Paris bank, 21 of the heads that had been torn off and mutilated were found.

Sculptures, reliquaries and stained-glass windows were destroyed... even the bronze bells were smelted down to make cannons. In the south tower Emmanuelle, an enormous bell weight 13 tons, announced to all Paris regarding festivals, funerals and wars...

Viollet-le-Duc not only undertook the grand reconstruction, but also incorporated new elements such as the 90-metre spire that crowns the cathedral, and as a curiosity the cock at the very top contains 3 relics, one of Saint Denis, another of Saint Genevieve and part of Christ’s crown of thorns. 

Also at the base of the spire Viollet-le-Duc placed statues of the apostles, and among them one that represents himself contemplating his own work. And in the gallery that joins the two towers he had many gargoyles, chimeras and monsters carved, such as the “Stryge”, a fabulous vampire, which you must have seen in many photos and films. In this gallery you can see these curious creatures as well as some lovely views of Paris, that is of course after climbing the 387 steps of the north tower.

Over the central doorway the rose window stands out, the large circular stained-glass window almost 10 metres in diameter. However, this rose window is not the largest in the cathedral, since the north and south façades have larger stained-glass windows.

In the north window, measuring 21 metres, the Virgin appears in the centre surrounded by 80 characters from the Old Testament. And in the south rose window, 13 metres in diameter, you can see the figure of Christ surrounded by the Virgin, saints and the 12 apostles.

The large organ is quite impressive, with its 8,000 pipes, some of them conserved since medieval times.

The cathedral comprises a central nave divided into five cupolas, four side aisles, a cross-aisle, a choir divided into two cupolas and a semicircular apse.

Among the many works of art inside, you must not miss the Pietà you will see at the main altar, a beautiful sculpture by Nicolas Coustou.

Many visitors and worshipers come to see the trésor; the treasure is a collection of liturgical objects and important relics among which feature the SanteCouronne, the Holy Crown, the crown of thorns that Christ supposedly wore before being crucified. Conserved in Rome by Saint Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, it was brought here in the 13th century by the King of France Louis IX. The chances to see it, however, are rare: the first Friday of the month at 3 p.m., every Friday during Lent at 3 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Good Friday.

The outside is impressive due to the 15-metre-high flying buttresses on the east façade of Notre Dame. And of course, the two bell towers of the main façade that make Notre Dame unmistakable, with the symbolic Emmanuelle bell in the south tower.

I am sure you are now imagining the hunchback Quasimodo falling in love with the beautiful gipsy girl Esmeralda.

Notre Dame is not the largest of the Gothic cathedrals, but it is one of the most emblematic and, above all, the richest in codes and symbols. It is said that the hidden alchemical meaning of the building was supposedly erased by the intervention of Viollet-le-Duc. 

Who knows? Perhaps on your visit you will find some hidden symbol.

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