Paris, Third Day: Notre Dame

It’s time to see Notre Dame with us. The Île de la Cité is the name of the island on which Notre Dame resides. First occupied by the Gauls, then the Romans, this is the birthplace of what would become Paris.

So there are two ways to see this magnificent church: you can pay to go in (on the left side of the church) and get a tour which includes going up to the top and seeing the gargoyles. Or you can enter through the front for free and see the first floor. The line was long for the tour, so Curtis and I opted for the free peek. Let me preface this post by saying that I am not a religious person, I don’t go to church and I don’t declare an affiliation with one particular denomination. However, I do consider myself Christian, I believe in a higher power, and I pray. I live my life practicing love and forgiveness and try to always put myself in others’ shoes. This was by far the most spiritual experience I’ve ever had in my life. My soul was moved… it was profound.

Notre Dame, Left Side

We started on the outside left of Notre Dame and made our way around the exterior perimeter before heading inside. The details of this cathedral are exquisite, imposing, and medieval. I wish I had a wider angle lens with me so that I could get more of the church in each shot, but I like this perspective (and see the bird flying on the left? cool).

The Cathedral of Notre Dame is a medieval Catholic church and was built in its current gothic style in the 12th century. Before Notre Dame existed, there was a church here that dated back to the 3rd century, and even before that there was a Pagan temple on these grounds. The first bishop, Dyonisius, was sent to Paris in the year 250. He became Saint Denis, the patron saint of the city. (More about him in the last photo.)

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Notre Dame, Red Doors

These red doors were HUGE and I wanted to convey the scale of these doors, so I left the people at the bottom of the frame to show the enormity of them. It cracks me up that the website says “little red door.”

From Notre Dame’s website about the red doors:

“Not far from the Cloister Portal is the little red door which takes its name from the color of its leaves. Opening under the window of the third bay on the north side of the choir, it was erected under the direction of architect Pierre de Montreuil in the second half of the thirteenth century. It connected the cloister, where lived the canons, and the choir of the cathedral to facilitate their access.

This gate was restored in 2012 by the Historical Monuments services DRAC Ile-de-France.”

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Back of Notre Dame

Here on the back side, you can see the flying buttresses. They were added in the 13th century to provide support to the walls and was one of the first structures to do so. You can see it wasn’t very busy yet and spring was just starting to take root with just a few flowers blooming.

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 The Gargoyles of Notre Dame

Along the right side of the cathedral runs the River Seine. Looking up, you can see some of the gargoyles. These particular gargoyles serve as rain water spouts. The other decorative gargoyles are thought to ward off evil spirits.

It was on this side of the church that we were approached by a very earnest and aggressive young woman with a heavy accent. She wanted us to sign a petition to help deaf/mute children get an education, which not knowing any better, we said sure, we would sign. Then she wanted money. Nope, not happening. We didn’t know it was a scam at the time but upon coming home and researching, we found out that it’s a common Romany Gypsy scam. When we refused to give her any euros, she was very angry.

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Notre Dame, Front

Standing in front of the cathedral, the west facade, I was first overcome with the enormity of this church, then the crowds. Our Eiffel Tower tour guide, Adam, said the Notre Dame is estimated to have the most visitors of any monument/attraction in the world. First I noticed the Twin Towers, then looking down, the Rose Window, then below that the Gallery of Kings, and finally, three large doors. These are called portals, and the right one is where the public can enter the cathedral after a full security and bag check. The left portal is where you exit and the center portal remains closed. The only way to get to the top is on the paid tour.

Curtis is standing in the lower left in the gray jacket and black backpack. 🙂

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Here is a closer look at the Rose Window, the Gallery of Kings, and the three portals. You can see the heads of Virgin Mary and Jesus fall directly in the middle of the Rose Window. The long row of figures above the doorways is called the Gallery of Kings, which depicts 28 French Kings, from Childebert I to Philippe Auguste. Then there are the three portals which have a plethora of carved biblical figures above each doorway. From Exploring the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris (additional links added from Notre Dame‘s website):

“The Portail de Sainte-Anne above the right-hand doorway depicts the story of the Virgin’s parents, the Annunciation, and Nativity of Christ. The Portail du Jugement Dernier above the central doorway illustrates Christ the Judge and Archangel Michael directing the righteous to heaven and the damned to hell. Above the left-hand doorway, the Portail de la Vierge shows the Assumption of the Virgin and Ark of the Covenant.”

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Inside the Cathedral

When first walking inside the sanctuary, all of the surrounding people melt away. It became hushed. The atmosphere was thick and filled with anticipation. The lights were low, the glow from the stained glass was ethereal. Visitors were invited to sit for service but no photography was allowed inside the roped area. The priest (in purple) ascends the altar to begin the service. It was a powerful moment and hard to describe just how magical it was.

At capacity, this cathedral can seat 9,000 people.

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There are five aisles with chapels along the sides. Along the outer aisle, visitors walk slowly and take in all of the details. The chandeliers were beautiful and gave off a glow that exuded warmth.

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This is another one of my top five favorite photos. I waited here for nearly 6-7 minutes to catch a break in the crowds walking by. I wanted one person to be in the frame with these beautiful candles (actually I wish she had stopped to light a candle but sometimes artistic vision and reality don’t line up).

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It was this moment… where the light filters softly down through the stained glass windows, just after the service had ended and two women remain on their knees at the altar praying, while security installs the rope around the altar… that the weight, power, and history of this place hit me. I got literal tears in my eyes. I stood there with my camera cradled in my arms, with my eyes closed, and felt the footsteps of men in the past from the hundreds of centuries that this place has existed. I could feel them. I could feel the pain, the prayers, the exaltedness of worship, the tears, the heartache and the joy, all of it… the full weight of history hit me and I was reverent. You can see two women in the audience on the far right who were feeling the way I was.

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After Service

The people who viewed the service take in the serenity and spiritual ambiance that fills this space.

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This was almost completely taken in the dark so please forgive the grain after being edited. I’m standing directly behind the pieta, a sculpture of Mary holding the body of Jesus after he’s taken down from the cross. The altar is just in front of the pieta.

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Silence ~ Prayer

This is another of my top five favorites (ahem, I may actually have more than five in my top five, lol). The colors, the richness, the fabrics, the intensity of this place of prayer is overwhelming. This is called the Chapel of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.

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Pierre Cardinal de Gondi

This smaller chapel is located to the right of the Chapel of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and is dedicated to Pierre de Gondi, a French bishop and cardinal from the 1500s.

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Worshipers come from far away to pray here. I heard many different languages being spoken in hushed tones.

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The Light of Christ

Lighting a candle to say a prayer, remember a loved one who has passed away, give thanks for our blessings… so many stories are whispered here. Curtis got an awesome shot of these candles from closer in. Once he posts his photos, I’ll add his link.

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Stained Glass

On either side of the sanctuary just in front of the altar, are these enormous stained glass windows. The detail on them is breathtaking. This is the north rose window… from Notre Dame‘s website:

“To the north, the rose window features the Old Testament, but runs up to the time of Christ. In fact, judges, prophets, kings and high priests surround the Virgin who, as in the west window, is carrying the infant Jesus. 85% of the glass is original. “

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Ceiling Architecture

The sexpartite ribbed vault is a classic form of gothic architecture for the nave of a church. There is nothing this old in America so it’s hard to convey the sense of history you feel when viewing this in person.

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Saint Denis

We left through the left portal and we got to see the carvings up close. Lining the doorways are the figures of Saint Dionysius (Denis), John the Baptist, Saint Stephen, and Saint Genevieve. Saint Denis is the one holding his head and the story goes like this… Denis was sent by the Vatican to Paris to convert the Gauls to Christianity. He was so successful in gaining followers that he was named the first Bishop of Paris. The pagan priests were so threatened by him that Denis and his companions were beheaded by sword. Denis is said to have picked up his head and walked about six miles preaching after his death. He was then named a martyr and saint.

Exiting the cathedral, I was feeling serene. My spirit was satiated and my mind was quiet. I truly felt at peace. It was a remarkable experience.

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I hope you can see why I loved Notre Dame the most of all of our adventures. I hope that I conveyed the immense wonder, awe, and reverence I felt in this incredible place of history. There is just one post left! Roaming Paris Sunday afternoon, our stroll by the Eiffel Tower at night, and my trip home the next morning. Thanks so much for looking and following along on our adventure!

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