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What To Look For When Exploring Notre-Dame Cathedral

Notre-Dame de Paris (“Our Lady of Paris”) is one of the most famous cathedrals in the world. It is located on the eastern end of the Île de la Cité, one of two islands in the River Seine that lie at the heart of Paris (the second one being the Île Saint-Louis). There is a marker in front of Notre-Dame, known as Paris Point Zero, that indicates the exact centre of the city. Locations are measured in their distance to Paris from this point.

The marker for Paris Point Zero. It is an octagonal brass-plate with an eight-pointed star.

From Wikipedia.

There is a statue, Charlemagne and his Guards, located in the square in front of Notre-Dame. It was made for the Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) 1878 by architects Louis and Charles Rochet. Charlemagne was King of the Franks (768-814), King of the Lombards (774-814) and the first Holy Roman Emperor (800-814). He united much of western and central Europe in the early Middle Ages, and was the first leader to be recognized as Emperor in western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three hundred years earlier. Charlemagne wears the crown of the Holy Roman Empire (added to the statue after 800) and holds a sceptre. Two warriors are depicted alongside him, Roland the Brave (also known as Hruodland/Hroutland in French) and Olivier the Sage.

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame is situated on a spot that has served as a place of worship for nearly 2,000 years; it is believed that a pagan temple existed here when the Île de la Cité was part of the Roman city of Lutetia (est. 52 C.E.). A Romanesque church, the Basilica of Saint-Étienne, was then built between the 4th-7th centuries. It was located about 40 metres to the west of the current cathedral.

Below is a view of the back/east end of the Cathedral, known as the chevet. Note the angled stone supports that surround the Lady Chapel (the circular structure) in the picture below; these are known as flying buttresses, and are discussed later in the post. They act as a counterweight to the mass of the nave and the walls of the choir. The buttresses span more than 15 metres and were the work of Jean Ravy, who was in charge of construction from 1318-1344.

In 1160, the newly-elected Bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, had the Basilica of Saint-Étienne torn down. Maurice de Sully had come to power largely through the influence of Louis VII (1120-1180). Louis VII wanted to assert that Paris was the political, cultural, and economic centre of France. One of the ways he set about doing this was through the building of impressive French Gothic monuments (he also founded the University of Paris/the Sorbonne in 1150). A cornerstone was laid for the new Cathedral in 1163 in the presence of Pope Alexander III, and then de Sully began the work of building a larger and taller cathedral—one that could impress a King.

The caption for the sign, translated, reads: In the year 1163, under the pontificate of Pope Alexandre III and the reign of King Louis VII, Maurice born in Sully on the Loire, Bishop of Paris (1160-1196), undertook the construction of this cathedral in the honour of the Virgin Mary under the title of Notre Dame of Paris.

Side view of Notre-Dame.

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame is often considered to be one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture. Gothic architecture is a style that originated in France and was popular in Europe from around 1000-1500 C.E. However, the use of the term “Gothic” to describe this architectural style is a misnomer and, in fact, didn’t find use until the 16th century. During the time period in which many of these buildings were constructed, the architectural style was actually known as opus francigenum (French/Frankish work).

The Saint-Étienne portal, shown below, is located on the southern arm of the transept. Construction on it began in 1257 by Jean de Chelles. The gable above the portal contains another rose window.

The Visigoths and the Ostrogoths were two branches of an East Germanic people who engaged in a long sustained period of armed conflict with the Roman Empire; eight different “Gothic Wars” took place between 249-554 C.E. This militaristic pressure on an already over-stretched Roman Empire certainly helped contribute to its fall, and the rise of Medieval Europe. When the Roman Empire collapsed, the Goths and other Germanic tribes (including the Franks) rushed in to fill the power vacuum. This didn’t endear them with any of the Renaissance writers or thinkers in the 14th-17th centuries who revered the idea of Rome and its classical art style. The “Goths” were savages and barbarians who brought about the end of a more cultured and refined civilization. They destroyed ancient Romanesque buildings and replaced them with new ones that featured their “barbarous German style.”

Never mind that this architectural style originated in France, and was referred to as French and Frankish when it was used. It is thanks to these 16th century critics that “Gothic” carries, even today, a mild tone of disparagement. It calls to mind darkness, gloominess, and lack of class or refinement. You would be forgiven for thinking that it began as a German architectural style, as even some great German writers and thinkers thought the same (such as Goethe).

In contrast to its grim reputation, Gothic architecture actually involved the development of construction techniques that allowed buildings to increase their amount of natural interior light. Rib vault ceilings and flying buttresses provided new ways of supporting the roof of a structure. Walls no longer had to bear the full load of this weight, and so they could now be used to host more and taller windows. Consequently, buildings became taller, lighter, and stronger. Stained glass and rose windows were used extensively to bring a riot of colour and light into these edifices. There was an increased use of realistic statuary on the exterior of the building, particularly in the portals overtop of the doors. These figures were used to illustrate biblical stories to churchgoers, who were largely illiterate¹.

The rib vault ceiling of Notre-Dame. This style of ceiling allowed for the use of windows higher up in the building’s walls.

Below is a picture I took at York Minster in England. I’m using it here because you can see the flying buttresses used to support the roof more prominently here than in any pictures I took at Notre-Dame. The arches support the weight of the roof by carrying the force laterally to the side, and then down to the ground.

Stained-glass windows inside Notre-Dame.

The north rose window.

Realistic statuary used on one of the three portals at the front of the cathedral relates the story of the Coronation of Mary for illiterate parishioners.

The entrance of Notre-Dame was designed to face the setting sun in the west, and the high altar was located in the east. The choir and the altar were finished first so that the church could be consecrated and used even while construction of the rest of the building continued. The choir was constructed between 1163-1177. The High Altar was consecrated in 1182.


Construction continued on the cathedral until 1250. The two towers on the western façade were the last major element of the cathedral to be undertaken. The south tower (the one on the right when you are facing the church) was built between 1220-1240, and the north tower (the one on the left) between 1235-1250. The latter tower is slightly larger. They are both 69 metres in height and, until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, were the tallest structures in Paris. The first set of flying buttresses were introduced to the cathedral in the 13th century, and were later replaced by larger and stronger ones in the 14th.

From Pixabay.

Notre-Dame has been the site of many notable occasions. My favourite historical figure Mary, Queen of Scots, was married to Francis, Dauphin of France, in Notre-Dame on April 24, 1558. A large raised platform or stage had been erected in the space at the entrance of the cathedral for the viewing pleasure of normal, everyday people. More crowded around the building, trying to peer in the windows. The spectacle did not disappoint. Mary wore a lily-white dress, a colour that she thought best suited her complexion and auburn hair. At the time, white was actually the official colour of mourning. White would not become a popular choice for bridal gowns until nearly three hundred years later, when Queen Victoria sparked the trend (and now tradition) of wearing a white dress at her wedding in 1840. Mary’s dress and veil were heavily weighted with precious jewels, and two ladies carried her train. The heralds cried out “largesse!” three times, and then threw fistfuls of gold and silver coins² to the gathered public. The crowd rioted in their excitement, crying out and crushing each other in their desperation to grab a few coins.

Mary, Queen of Scots and Francis, Dauphin of France. From Wikipedia.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, some alterations were made to Notre-Dame to make it more suited to the classical style of the period. The choir was rebuilt in marble, the sanctuary was modified, and (quelle horreur!) the 12th and 13th century stained-glass windows were replaced with panes of white glass to allow more light in the building. The 13th century spire, which had been damaged and bent by centuries of wind, was removed in 1786.

Worse was to come with the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. The Revolution was triggered by people who (rightfully) opposed the corrupt and exploitive systems of power that were being practiced by the French monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church. Notre-Dame was a monument that had been erected to glorify these same institutions. Many of the Cathedral’s treasures were stolen or destroyed during this time. Most of the large statues that decorated the exterior of the church were demolished, including the Gallery of 28 Biblical Kings. The revolutionaries, believing they were statues of French nobility, beheaded these stone figures in dramatic fashion³. They were filled with blood lust after the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and wanted more monarchs to meet the blade—living or stone.

The Gallery of Biblical Kings are lined up below the west rose window in the picture below. These 28 statues portray the 28 generations of the kings of Judah, descendants of Jesse (the father of King David), and the human ancestors of Mary and Jesus. The original statues were installed at the start of the 13th century. They were restored in the 19th century.

From Pixabay.

A close-up of some of the Kings.

From Pixabay.

In 1977, the heads of many of these statues were discovered in a nearby excavation and they are now on display at the Musée de Cluny. The bodies are shown immediately below, and the heads in the photo following.

In 1793, Notre-Dame was rededicated to the Cult of Reason, France’s first established state-sponsored atheistic religion, which was meant to replace Roman Catholicism. No gods were worshiped in the Cult of Reason; the guiding principles were, instead, the perfection of mankind through the attainment of Truth and Liberty, exercised through Reason. The Goddess of Liberty replaced the Virgin Mary. “To Philosophy” was carved over the cathedral doors. A Festival of Reason was celebrated on November 10, 1793³, in churches across France that had been transformed into “Temples of Reason.” Notre-Dame hosted the largest ceremony of them all. Women dressed up as Goddess figures in white Roman-style outfits with tricolour sashes. A flame, symbolic of truth, burned on the altar.

In the image below, the Goddess of Reason is personified by a young woman wearing a Roman-style tunic and a Phrygian cap, a symbol of the French Revolution.

Fete de la Raison (Festival of Reason) at Notre-Dame. Engraving from the National Library of France, anonymous artist, circa 1793. From Wikipedia.

In March of 1794, Maximilien Robespierre denounced the Cult of Reason and the leaders who were behind it. He sent them to the guillotine and then established a new, deistic state religion that he called the Cult of the Supreme Being. Robespierre was at the height of his power during the Reign of Terror, and had near-dictatorial influence. He was no admirer of Catholicism, but he especially despised atheism. He thought that belief in a supreme being was necessary for social order. He agreed with Voltaire’s quote that “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” The Cult of the Supreme Being, devised almost entirely by Robespierre, was authorized by the National Convention on May 7, 1794 as the civic religion of France. Notre-Dame was accordingly re-dedicated to it.

Engraving by an unknown artist, circa 1794, from the National Library of France. Translated, it reads “The People of France recognize the Supreme Being and the Immortality of the Soul.” From Wikipedia.

The primary principles of Robespierre’s new religion were belief in a supreme being and the immortality of the human soul. He believed that reason was a means to an end, and that this end was virtue. He felt that belief in god and living by a higher moral code were essential elements of a civic-minded, republican society. To inaugurate the new state religion, Robespierre announced that a day of national celebration would be held on June 8, 1794.** Every town was required to commemorate the occasion, but the event in Paris was designed to be the grandest of them all. It was held on the Champ de Mars, a large public green space that today can be found to the north-west of the Eiffel Tower.

Festival of the Cult of the Supreme Being. Pierre-Antoine Demachy, 1794. From Wikipedia.

Robespierre didn’t have long to enjoy the fruits of his religious labour. He was sent to the guillotine a mere 20 days after the Festival, on June 28, 1794; the cult subsequently disappeared from public view. Notre-Dame was then used as a warehouse for storing food, and for other non-religious purposes.

In July 1801, Napoleon Bonaparte signed an agreement to restore Notre-Dame to the Catholic church. On April 8, 1802 he officially banned the Cult of Reason and the Cult of the Supreme Being. Napoleon was crowned Emperor of the French at Notre-Dame on December 2, 1804. In 1810, he was married at the cathedral to his second wife, Marie-Louise of Austria.

The Coronation of Napoleon. Jacques-Louis David, 1804. From Wikipedia.

Although the cathedral was in use again, the building had suffered a lot of damage after the tumultuous years it had just endured. Thankfully, Notre-Dame had a champion in the shape of French Romantic writer Victor Hugo. In 1831, his novel Notre-Dame de Paris was published (the English translation would follow in 1833 with the title The Hunchback of Notre-Dame). Hugo’s French title referred to both the church and the lead female protagonist, Esmeralda (“Our Lady of Paris”). Hugo started writing the book in 1829 in an effort to highlight the value of Gothic architecture to his contemporaries; at the time, many of these buildings were being demolished or their Gothic features modified to suit current tastes. (Recall that the medieval stained-glass windows of Notre-Dame, unappreciated for their artistry, had been replaced in the 18th century with white-panes of glass–Hugo criticized this specific act in his novel). Hugo’s novel was hugely popular, and it kicked off a historical preservation movement throughout France. A lot of important national landmarks were saved as a result. Hugo would later successfully campaign for restoring another prominent example of Gothic architecture, Mont-Saint-Michel.

Victor Hugo. Portrait byÉtienne Carjat, 1876. From Wikipedia.

Notre-Dame benefited from the increased attention that Hugo’s book brought to it. In 1844, King Louis Philippe ordered that the church be restored. Two architects were hired to oversee the 25 year restoration project: Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (who also worked on Mont-Saint-Michel, Sainte-Chapelle, and the medieval city walls of Carcassonne!). Sculptors, glass-makers, and other craftsmen worked from drawings and engravings to remake the original decorations that had been lost. If no models were available, new elements were created to match the original style.

Drawing from a later edition of Victor Hugo’s novel, showing the recently restored Galerie des Chimères. Luc-Olivier Merson, 1881. From Wikipedia.

A major cleaning of the cathedral’s façade was undertaken in 1963 and restored the stone to its original off-white colour. Another major cleaning and restoration program was undertaken in 1991.

Notre-Dame circa 1890-1910, prior to the big clean-up of 1963. Unknown author. From the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division. From Wikipedia.
The cathedral is looking really spiffy these days. From Pixabay.

With the history retold, let’s move onto some more pictures I took from our visit to Notre-Dame. Below are some shots taken of the interior. Check out the rib vault ceilings, and how many stained glass panels there are on the walls!

Here are some supplementary pictures of the interior of the cathedral from Pixabay. Notre-Dame has five naves and 37 chapels. The central vault, shown below, is 35 metres (115 feet) high!

From Pixabay.
From Pixabay.
From Pixabay.

The choir screen. Construction on this screen was begun in 1300 by Pierre de Chelles, continued by Jean Ravy in 1318, and completed by Jean Le Bouteiller in 1351. Some of the original sculptures, referring to the birth and life of Christ, are the oldest in the cathedral.

A crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ now resides in Notre-Dame. It was brought to Paris in 1239 by (Saint) Louis IX; he had the Sainte-Chapelle Cathedral built to display it. The holy relic has been in Notre-Dame since 1806.

The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre are entrusted with the crown’s guardianship. They present it every first Friday of the month for viewing by faithful visitors.

This is what the crown looks like when it is not in the above display case. It’s kept in a crystal and gold-covered tube. Apparently, the crown no longer has any of the original thistles, as they were all broken off and given as gifts to notable people including Mary, Queen of Scots!*** There is a gold wire wrapped around the tube that give the impression of thistles, as you can see below.

From Wikipedia.

There are three rose windows in Notre-Dame. The west rose window, located on the western façade, was the first one installed and is the smallest of the three. The window displays signs of the zodiac and of life in the Middle Ages. It was added in 1225, and is about 9.6 metres (31.5 feet) in diameter. Sadly, none of the original glass remains in this window. It was recreated during the 19th century. Chemists analyzed fragments of the original 13th century glass, determined its composition, and were then able to reconstruct how it was made. Science!

From Pixabay.

The window is located behind the organ so it can be a little tricky to get a picture of.

From Wikipedia.
From Georgetown Library Repository.

A statue of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus is located on the exterior side of the west rose window. They are flanked by a pair of angels.

The exterior of the west rose window. From Pixabay.

The other two rose windows were added to the cathedral after the installation of the flying buttresses. As a result, the nave walls into which they are placed were thinner and stronger than the wall on the west façade. These windows could then be larger than the first rose window.

The north rose window was created in 1250. Most of the 13th century glass is still intact in this window! It has a diameter of 12.9 meters (42 feet) and features 24 figures from the Old Testament (high priests, kings, judges, prophets) with an image of the Virgin Mary in the centre pane. It was designed by Jean de Chelles.

Here are a couple of pictures from Pixabay that are slightly more in focus than mine.

From Pixabay.
From Pixabay.

The south rose window was created in 1260, and is the largest of the three windows at 13.1 metres (43 feet) in diameter. It was gifted to Notre-Dame by Louis IX (Saint Louis) of France, the same man who also had Sainte-Chapelle built. Its images centre around stories from the New Testament. The window was damaged in 1543 by the settling of the masonry walls, and was not restored until 1725-1727. It was seriously damaged during the July Revolution of 1830. It was restored in 1861, and contains both medieval and 19th century glass. There are four circles containing 88 panes of glass representing the apostles, saints, martyrs, and angels that surround the central figure of Christ and his four evangelists.

Below the south rose window are 16 windows (of which 12 are shown in the picture below) that feature images of prophets. They are not original to the south rose window; they were added during the 19th century restoration based upon a similar window at Chartres Cathedral.

Here are some other stained-glass windows that can be found inside Notre-Dame.

After showing you the inside of the cathedral, I’ll now take a closer look at the sculptures that decorate the three portals on the exterior of the western façade. Interestingly, all of the sculptures on Notre-Dame were originally painted and gilded. They must have been really colourful!**** Keep that in mind as we study them.

The three portals, left to right, are the Portal of the Holy Virgin, the Portal of the Last Judgment, and the Portal of Saint Anne. You’ll notice that they are not quite symmetrical and the middle one is the largest. Formerly, the statues in these portals were colourfully painted and stood out against a golden background.

From Wikipedia.

A little more up-close.

The sculpted relief that appears in a portal above a door is actually called a tympanum. (I learn something new every day!). The first portal on the left shows the coronation of the Virgin Mary and her ascension to Heaven.

From Pixabay.

I like the angel just peeking in, as if from a trap door, to put the crown on Mary’s head.

One of the statues below depicts the martyr, Saint Denis, holding his head. He is the patron saint of France and Paris. He was bishop of Paris in the 3rd century. He and two companions were arrested and beheaded for their faith on the tallest hill in Paris, now called Montmartre (which comes from the Latin Mons Martyrum, meaning “Martyr’s Mountain”). According to legend, Denis picked up his head and carried it as he walked a few miles away from the hill, preaching a sermon the entire way. The spot where he actually died was marked by a small shrine that later became Saint Denis Basilica, where the Kings of France chose to be buried.

The images on the central portal depict scenes from the Last Judgement, as described in the Gospel of Saint Matthew. The lower lintel shows the dead rising from their graves. In the lintel above them, Archangel Michael weighs their souls. Sinners are led to Hell on the right, and those judged to be good Christians are taken to heaven on the left. Jesus is seated on a throne overtop of them, showing his wounds. An audience of angels, patriarchs, saints, and apostles flank the top of the portal.

From Pixabay.

The devil sticking his tongue out cracks me up.

From Pixabay.

I didn’t know this at the time but, apparently, the middle portal contains some sculptures that illustrate medieval science and philosophy. Carved figures hold plaques that contain symbols of transformation taken from alchemy. A woman on a throne holds a sceptre in one hand and two books in the other hand; one of these books is open, signifying public knowledge, the other is closed, symbolizing esoteric (specialized) knowledge. A ladder with seven steps symbolizes the seven steps alchemists followed in their quest to transform ordinary metals into gold. If you’re ever in Paris and remember, take a look and see if you can spot them! I didn’t know to look for them at the time, and so don’t have any pictures of them. I wasn’t able to pick anything out in the pictures that I did take or in those that I could find on Pixabay.

From Pixabay.

The tympanum/portal on the right shows the lives of saints who were important to Parisians, especially Mary’s mother, Saint Anne.

From Pixabay.
From Pixabay.

I liked the statue of the (uncrowned) man standing on the back of one who is crowned! I wonder what the story is behind that!

Visitors to Notre-Dame can ascend the stairs in the north tower, 387 in total, to gain an excellent view of downtown Paris. A highlight of the climb includes a visit to the Chimera Gallery. Chimera are the ornamental sculptures that depict a range of  fantastical and monstrous creatures on the exterior of Gothic churches and cathedrals. The chimera served as a visual message to illiterate parishioners of the danger and evil that awaited them if they failed to follow the Church’s teachings. However, chimera have also been considered to be guardians of the church, protecting the church and its inhabitants by warding off evil.

The chimera were created by sculptor Joseph Pyanet for the 19th century restoration.

The elephant doesn’t seem too menacing.

The Strix, or Stryge, was a creature that resembled an owl or a bat, and was said to eat human flesh. The so-called “Spitting Gargoyle” (shown below) is actually a Stryge.

The guys in green in the background are Apostles; I’ll discuss them further down in the post.

Keeping a watchful eye over the city.

The chimera are different from the gargoyles, which in addition to decoration serve a functional purpose as drain spouts. Gargoyles project rainwater as far outwards as possible in order to protect the stone walls, the flying buttresses, the windows, and the mortar used to bind the stone together. The gargoyles have been a part of Notre-Dame longer than the chimera, as they were added around 1240.

Gargoyle comes from the French word gargouille, which translates as “throat” or “gullet.” The English word gargle, which you do in your throat, is similar.

Chimera and gargoyles are both known as grotesques.

As you can see in the pictures above and the one below, the area around the Chimera Gallery is enclosed by metal netting. I had a small camera lens so I was able to squeeze it in between the wires to get some decent pictures of the statues. This is something to keep in mind if you’re going to Notre-Dame, as a big lens might have a harder time getting a clear shot.

When Notre-Dame underwent its major restoration in the 19th century, a new spire was made to replace the one that had been removed in 1786. This one is made of oak and covered with lead. It weighs 750 tonnes!

From Pixabay.

At the base of the spire, at each four points of the compass, there is a grouping of three apostles (making 12 in total).

The fourth statue at the front of each set of three Apostles is an animal meant to symbolize one of the four evangelists (a steer for Saint Luke, a lion for Saint Mark, an eagle for Saint John, and an angel for Saint Matthew). I think the one in the picture below is an eagle.

One of these statues, Saint Thomas (the patron saint of architects), was given the features of architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. All the other statues are facing out at Paris; his is the only one that is looking back at the spire of the cathedral.

A statue of Saint Thomas with the features of architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. From Wikipedia.
Photo of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Photographed by Nadar (1820-1910). From Wikipedia.

Here are some more pictures of the spire and the roof, looking south-east over the Seine river. The two bridges in the distance cross the Seine to the Île Saint-Louis (which I just realized is named after Saint Louis IX, the guy who had Sainte-Chapelle built and gifted the south rose stained-glass window to Notre-Dame).

You can see some of the flying buttresses in the picture below.

Here are some other pictures taken on the roof.

Notre-Dame has 10 bells: 8 in the north tower, and 2 in the south. The largest of these bells, Emmanuel (named by Louis XIV!), is located in the south tower. It is an original bell from 1681, and weighs 13 tonnes. Today, Emmanuel is only rung on special occasions. On the night of August 24, 1944, the tolling of Emmanuel announced to the rest of the city that the Liberation of Paris was underway as French and Allied troops and members of the French Resistance advanced through the Île de Cité. The cathedral suffered some minor damage from bullets. On August 26, 1944 a special mass was held at Notre-Dame to celebrate the end of German occupation; Charles de Gaulle and General Phillipe Leclerc were in attendance.

Emmanuel. From Wikipedia.

This bell was in the north tower.

Now, for some pictures of the view from the top of Notre-Dame. The picture below faces west and a little to the left (south) of Notre-Dame, in the direction of the Eiffel Tower.

Looking west and a little further south.

Zooming in on the Eiffel Tower, with the gold dome of Les Invalides (which contains Napoleon’s tomb).

Zoomed back out from the Eiffel Tower and looking south west, still. I liked this picture because of the tour boat at the bottom.

Looking straight west, across the rest of the Île de Cité.

Straight west again, but zooming in on the church spire and upper half of Sainte-Chapelle. The Palais de Justice is located to the right.

Looking a little to the right (north-west) of Notre-Dame now. This has a great view of some 19th century Haussmann apartment buildings. You can see in the distance, at the top right of the picture, Sacré-Couer Basilica located at the top of the hill in Montmartre.

Looking a little more to the right (still north-west) of Notre-Dame. Sacré-Couer is now in the top middle of the photo.

Zooming in on Sacré-Couer.

I’ve walked to a new spot on the viewing platform, and am now looking north-east.

I think this picture is looking straight south from Notre-Dame to the Panthéon, a building in the Latin Quarter of Paris that used to be a church dedicated to St. Genevieve but is now a secular mausoleum for notable Parisians (including Voltaire, Rousseau, and Victor Hugo).

Neil and I visited Sainte-Chapelle and Notre-Dame on the same day, as part of a skip-the-line walking tour. Sainte-Chapelle has the beauty, but Notre-Dame has the history. I definitely recommend doing a skip-the-line tour for Notre-Dame. There are two separate line-ups: one to walk through the interior of the church (not usually as long, and moves pretty fast) and a second line-up to ascend the 387 steps of the north tower for access to the Chimera Gallery and the viewing platform (moves slowly and the wait can be hours long in peak season, due to the limited space on the stairwell and platform).

Below is a flower found in one of the gardens that surround the cathedral.

Remember to wear sleeves whenever you go to visit a church, especially Notre-Dame! Bare sacrilegious shoulders are turned away, even when it is 37 degrees celsius outside. Also, beware of scammers around Notre-Dame. It’s a tourist hot spot, and people are ready to take advantage of any moments of confusion or quiet observation you might be having.

Flowers in the garden at Notre-Dame.

Thanks for reading!


¹Gothic architecture experienced a revival in England in the mid-18th century that then spread throughout the rest of Europe in the 19th, and continued into the 20th. It was a popular choice for buildings that serve a religious (churches), academic (universities) or civic (town halls) purpose.

²Coins included “henrys, ducats, crowns, pistolets, half crowns, testons, and douzins.” You can read more about the elaborate wedding festivities here. My favourite detail comes from the reception, where two-person “ships” entertained the guests. These ships were covered in gold cloth, red velvet, and had silver linen sails. If I could time-travel to a place for a limited period of time lasting only an hour or two, this reception is what I would most want to see.

³In the new revolutionary calendar that the French had adopted, the date was 20 Brumaire, Year II.

**According to the revolutionary calendar, this date was 20 Prairial Year II.

*** Mary, Queen of Scots, took her thistle back to Scotland with her after Francis died. After her execution, she bequeathed it to her servant Thomas Percy. He passed it down to his daughter, Elizabeth Woodruff. She then gifted it to a Jesuit priest, who gave it to the Jesuit’s Stonyhurst College, where it can be found today. It is housed in a reliquary with a string of Mary’s pearls around it. It is placed in the college chapel during Holy Week.

From Wikipedia.

**** All of the ancient Greek and Roman statues that we are used to seeing in tones of ivory, beige, and white were also all brightly painted in their time.

I came across the picture below on Pixabay. It’s from the Notre-Dame church in the town of Attigny, France. The little cat chimera is so cute, I wanted to include it just for fun.

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3 Responses

  1. Wow! That was a fantastic tour of Notre Dame. Seeing where Notre Dame fits into the city with the views from the roof really give a sense of Paris. Thank you for this Leah.

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