Notre Dame

IN very early times, under the Frankish monarchs, the principal church of Paris was dedicated to St. Stephen, the Protomartyr. It stood on part of the site now covered by Notre-Dame, and was always enumerated first among the churches of the city. A smaller edifice, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, also occupied a part of the site of the existing cathedral. About the middle of the twelfth century, however, it was resolved to erect a much larger cathedral on the Ile de la Cité, suitable for the capital of so important a country as France had become under Louis VI. and Louis VII. ; and since the cult of the Blessed Virgin had then long been increasing, it was also decided to dedicate the new building to Our Lady alone, to the exclusion of St. Stephen. The two early churches were therefore cleared away by degrees, and in 1163 the work of erecting the present church was begun under Bishop Mau-rice de Sully, the first stone being laid by. Pope Alexander III., in person. The relics of St. Stephen were reverently conveyed to a new church erected in his honour on the hill of Ste. Geneviève, south of the river (now represented by St. Etienne-du-Mont, to be described here-after), and Our Lady was left in sole possession of the episcopal edifice. Nevertheless, it would seem that the builders feared to excite the enmity of so powerful a saint as the Protomartyr ; for many memorials of St. Stephen remain to this day in the existing cathedral, and will be pointed out during the course of our separate survey.

Notre-Dame de Paris is an edifice in the early French Gothic style, the first great church in that style to be erected in France, and the model on which many others were after-ward based. Begun in 1163, it was consecrated in 1182, but the western front was not commenced till 1218, and the nave was only finished toward the middle of the thirteenth century. Much desecrated in the Revolution, the cathedral has been on the whole admirably restored. It stands at present lower than it once did, owing to the gradual rise of the surrounding ground ; formerly, it was approached by thirteen steps (the regulation number imitated from the Temple at Jerusalem). It has two western towers, instead of one in the centre where nave and transepts intersect, as is usual in England ; so have all the cathedrals in France which imitate it. This peculiarity is due to the fact that French Gothic aims especially at height, and, the nave being raised so very high, a tower could not safely be added above it. Other differences between English and French Gothic will be pointed out in detail in the course of our survey.

Though Notre-Dame was the first great building in Paris proper, it must be borne in mind that the magnificent Basilica of St. Denis, four miles to the north, and also the Abbey Church of St. Germain-des-Prés, in the southern suburb, antedated it by several years.

Recollect three things about Notre-Dame. (I) It is a church of Our Lady : therefore, most of it bears reference to her cult and legends. (2) It is the cathedral church of Paris : therefore, it is full of memorials of local saints — St. Denis, Ste. Geneviève, St. Marcel, Bishop of Paris, etc., amongst whom must also be classed St. Stephen. (3) It is a royal church : therefore, it contains many reminders of the close alliance of Church and State. Thus understood, Notre-Dame becomes an epic in stone.

In visiting Notre-Dame, go along the Rue de Rivoli as far as the Square of the Tour St. Jacques. Walk through the little garden. Notice, in passing, the tower — all that now re-mains of the Church of St. Jacques-de-la-Boucherie — used at present as a meteorological observatory. Turn down the Rue St. Martin to the Pont Notre-Dame. In front, to the left, stands the Hôtel-Dieu ; to the right, the Tribunal de Commerce ; in the centre, the Marché-aux-Fleurs; at its back, the Préfecture de Police. Continue straight along the Rue de la Cité, passing, on the right, the main façade of the modern Palais de Justice (with a glimpse of the Sainte Chapelle) till you come to the broad and open Place Notre-Dame (generally known by its mediaeval name of the Parvis). Take a seat under the horse-chestnuts on the north side of the Place, opposite the equestrian statue of Charlemagne, in order to examine the façade of the cathedral.

The west front, dating from the beginning of the thirteenth century (later than the rest), consists of two stories, flanked by towers of four stories. The first story contains the three main portals : on the left, the door of Our Lady, in the centre, that of her Son, and on the right that of her Mother. On the buttresses between them stand four statues : extreme left, St. Stephen ; extreme right, St. Marcel, Bishop of Paris (a canonised holder of this very see) ; centre left, the Church, triumphant ; centre right, the Synagogue, dejected (representing between them the Law and the Gospel). This first story is crowned and terminated by the Galerie des Rois, containing figures of the kings of Israel and Judah, ancestors of the Blessed Virgin (others say, kings of France to the date of the building), destroyed in the great Revolution, but since restored. On the parapet above it stand, on the right and left, Adam and Eve ; in the centre, Our Lady and Child with two adoring angels—the Fall and the Redemption. The second story contains the great rose window and two side-arches with double windows. The third story of the towers consists of a graceful open-work screen, continued in front of the nave, so as to hide its ugly gable (which is visible from farther back in the Place), thus giving the main front a fallacious appearance of having three stories. The final or fourth story of the towers is pierced on each side by two gigantic windows, adding lightness to their otherwise massive block. The contemplated spires have never been added. This façade has been copied with modifications in many other French cathedrals.

Now approach the front, to examine in detail the E* great portals, deeply recessed, as is usual in French cathedrals, owing to the massive masonry of the towers. “he left or northern doorway — that of Our Lady (by which her church is usually entered) – bears on its central pier a statue of the Virgin and Child ; beneath her feet are scenes from the temptation of Eve, who brought into the world sin, and the first murderer Cain, as contrasted with her descend-ant, the Blessed Virgin, who brought into the world the Redeemer of mankind. Over Our Lady’s head a tabernacle, representing the relics preserved within. In the tympanum, first tier, are, at the left, three patriarchs, at the right, three kings, typifying the ancestors of the Blessed Virgin. Above, second tier, the Entombment of the Virgin, placed in her sarcophagus by angels, and attended by the apostles with their familiar symbols. Higher still, third tier, the Coronation of the Virgin, in the presence of her Son, with adoring angels. The whole thus represents the Glory of Our Lady. At the sides below, life-size figures : extreme left, Constantine, first Christian Emperor ; extreme right, Pope Silvester, to whom he is supposed to have given the patrimony of St. Peter—the two representing the union of Church and State. Next to these the great local saints : on the left, St. Denis, bearing his head, and guided by two angels ; on the right, St. John Baptist, St. Stephen, and Ste. Geneviève, with the devil endeavouring to extinguish her taper, and a sympathising angel. The figures on the arch represent spectators of the Coronation of the Virgin. Minor subjects — signs of the Zodiac, Months, etc. —I leave to the ingenuity and skill of the reader. The *3 centre doorway (commonly called the Porte du Jugement) is that of the Redeemer, Our Lady’s Son ; on its central pier, fine modern figure of Christ blessing ; above, in the tympanum, the usual Last Judgement. First tier (modern), the General Resurrection, with angels of the last trump, and kings, queens, bishops, knights, etc., rising from their tombs ; conspicuous among them is naturally St. Stephen. Second tier, St. Michael the Archangel weighing souls, with devils and angels in waiting, the devils cheating ; on the right, the wicked (on Christ’s left) hauled in chains to hell ; on the left, the saints (on His right) ascending to glory. On the summit, third tier, the New Jerusalem, with Christ enthroned, showing His wounds in mercy, flanked by adoring angels holding the cross, spear, and nails ; on the left, the Blessed Virgin, patroness of this church ; and on the right, Ste. Geneviève, patroness of Paris, interceding for their votaries. (Last figure is usually, but I think incorrectly, identified as St. John the Evangelist, who has no function on a Parisian cathedral.) This relief, closely copied at the Sainte Chapelle, is itself imitated from one at St. Denis. On the lintels the Wise (left) and Foolish (right) Virgins ; on the left and right on jambs, life-size figures of the twelve apostles, with their usual symbols. Observe the beautiful ironwork of the hinges. The third or southern portal, that of St. Anne—the Mother of the Virgin —contains older work than the other two, replaced from the earlier church on the same site. The style of the figures is therefore Romanesque, not Gothic ; so is the architecture represented in them. On the centre pier, St. Marcel, Bishop of Paris. Above, tympanum, history of St. Anne ; first tier, centre, the meeting of Joachim and Anna at the Golden Gate ; on the left, Marriage of the Virgin ; on the right, her Presentation by St. Anne in the Temple, etc. Second tier, the Nativity, and the visit of the Magi to Herod ; at the summit, third tier, Madonna enthroned, with adoring angels, a king, and a bishop — Church and State once more identified. The work on this doorway much resembles that at St. Denis. Magnificent iron hinges, brought from old St. Stephen’s.

Walk around the quay on the South Side to examine the body of the church, Notice the lofty nave, and almost equally lofty aisles, with (later) side-chapels built out as far as the level of the transept ; also, the flying buttresses. As in most French churches, the transepts are short, and project but little from the aisles. The south transept has a good late façade with two rose windows. Its portal — ill visible — is dedicated (in compensation) to the displaced St. Stephen, and contains on the pier a figure of the saint, robed, as usual, as a deacon ; in the tympanum are reliefs of his preaching, martyrdom, death, and glorification. Note, to the right, a small relief of St. Martin of Tours dividing his cloak with the beggar.

Enter the little garden further east, which occupies the site of the former archevêché, in order to observe the characteristic French form of the choir —a lofty and narrow apse, with apsidal aisles and circular chapels added below, the whole forming what is called a chevet. The light-flying buttresses which support the soaring and slender choir add greatly to the beauty and picturesqueness of the building. Pretty modern Gothic fountain. Quit the garden and continue round the northern side of the cathedral. The first (small) door at which we arrive — the Port Rouge —admits the canons. It is a late addition, built in 1407 by Jean sans Peur, Duke of Burgundy, in expiation of his murder of the Duke of Orleans ; the donor and his wife kneel on each side of the Coronation of the Virgin in the tympanum. Notice here the gargoyles and the graceful architecture of the supports to the buttresses. The second (larger) door — the Portail du Cloître, so called from the cloisters long demolished — in the north transept contains a good statue of the Madonna on the pier ; above, in the tympanum, confused figures tell obscurely the legend of the monk Theophilus, who sold his soul to the devil. Stand opposite this door, on the far pavement, to observe the architecture of the north transept. The best point of view for the whole body of the cathedral, as distinct from the façade, can be obtained from the Quai de Montebello on the south side of the river.

To visit the interior, enter by the left or northern door of the façade — that of Our Lady. The lofty nave is flanked by double aisles, all supported by powerful piers. Walk across the church and notice all five vistas. Observe the height and the delicate arches of the triforium, or pierced gallery of the second story, as well as the windows of the clerestory above it — the part of the nave which rises higher than the aisles, and opens freely to the exterior. Walk down the outer right-hand aisle. The side-chapels, each dedicated to a separate saint, contain the altars and statues of their patrons. Notice the shortness of the transepts, with their great rose windows ; observe also the vaulting of the roof, especially at the intersection of the four main arms of the building. The entrance to the choir and ambulatory is in the right hand or southern transept. Close by, near the pillar, Notre-Dame de Paris, the wonder-working mediaeval statue of Our Lady. The double aisles are continued around the choir, which is separated from them by a wall and gateways. Approach the brass grills, in order to inspect the interior of the choir, whose furniture was largely modernised and ruined by Louis XIV., in accordance with a misguided vow of his father. Chapels surround the ambulatory, many of them with good glass windows and tolerable frescoes. The chapel at the end is that of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows.

By far the most interesting object in the interior, however, is the series of high reliefs in stone, gilt and painted (on the wall between choir and ambulatory), executed early in the fourteenth century by Jehan Ravy and his nephew, Jehan de Bouteillier, which, though inferior in merit to those in the same position in Amiens cathedral, are admirable examples of animated and vigorous French sculpture of their period. The series begins on the northern side of the choir, at the point most remote from the grill which leads to the transept. The remaining subjects (for some, like the Annunciation, are destroyed) comprise the Visitation ; Adoration of the Shepherds Nativity ; Adoration of the Magi (note the three kings, representing the three ages of man ; the oldest, as usual, has removed his crown, and is offering his gift) ; the Massacre of the Innocents ; the Flight into Egypt (where a grotesque little temple, containing two odd small gods, quaintly represents the prevalence of idolatry) ; the Presentation in the Temple ; Christ among the Doctors ; the Baptism in the Jordan (with attendant angel holding a towel) ; the Miracle at Cana ; the Entry into Jerusalem (with chaeus in the tree, and the gate of the city) ; the Last Supper ; the Washing of the Apostles’ feet ; and the Agony in the Garden. The tourist should carefully examine all these subjects, the treatment of which strikes a keynote. Similar scenes, almost identical in their figures, will be found in abundance at Cluny and elsewhere. Note, for example, the symbolical Jordan in the Baptism, with St. John pouring water from a cup, and the attendant angel, all of which we shall often recognise hereafter.

The series is continued on the other (southern) side of the choir (a little later in date, with names in Latin underneath ; better modelled, but neither so quaint nor so vigorous). The subjects begin by the grill of the south transept, with the “Noli me tangere,” or Apparition to Mary Magdalen (Christ as a gardener) ; the Apparition to the Marys ; to Simon Peter ; to the Disciples at Emmaus (dressed as mediaeval pilgrims) ; to the Eleven Apostles ; to the Ten and Thomas; to the Eleven by the sea of Tiberius ; to the Disciples in Galilee ; and on the Mount of Olives. The intervening and remaining subjects — Scourging, Crucifixion, Ascension, etc. — were ruthlessly destroyed by Louis XIV., in order to carry out his supposed improvements in accordance with the vow of his father, Louis XIII. The woodwork of the choir-stalls, executed by his order, is celebrated, and uninteresting. You may omit it. The treasury contains little of artistic value. The crown of thorns still figures in its inventory.

Leave the choir by the door by which you entered it, and seat yourself for awhile at the intersection of the nave and transepts, in order to gain a good idea of the apse, the choir, and the general arrangement of the shortly cruciform building. Observe the beautiful vaulting of the roof, and the extent to which the church is borne on its piers alone, the intervening walls (pierced by windows and triforium-arches) being intended merely for purposes of enclosure. Note also the fine ancient glass of the rose windows. Quit the church by the north or left aisle, and come back to it often.

Those who are not afraid of a spiral staircase, mostly well lighted, should ascend the left or north tower. Stop near the top to inspect the gallery, with the famous birds and demons. The view hence embraces from the front the Tower of St. Jacques ; behind it, the hill of Montmartre, with the white turrets and cupolas of the church of the Sacré Coeur ; a little to the left, St. Eustache ; then the Tribunal de Commerce ; St. Augustin ; the. Louvre ; the roof of the Sainte Chapelle ; the Arc de Triomphe ; the twin towers of the Trocadéro ; the Eiffel Tower ; the gilded dome of the Invalides ; St. Sulpice, etc. The Ile de la Cité is well seen hence as an island. Note also the gigantic size of the open screen, which looked so small from below. Ascend to the top. Good general panorama of the town and valley. This is the best total view of Paris, far superior to that from the Eiffel Tower, being so much more central.

Return by the Pont d’Arcole (whence you get a capital notion of the bifurcation of the Seine around the Ile St. Louis), and then pass the modern Hotel-de-Ville, with St. Gervais behind it, on your way home to the Rue de Rivoli.