Unto the populace of the Barony of Nottinghill Coill does THL Eldred Ælfwald send greetings from foreign lands!
At the end of June, I made a brief pilgrimage to the lands of Charlemagne: France. Business occupied most of my time there, however, I did avail myself of the opportunity to see and pay homage to a few of the masterpieces of Gothic architecture in and around the city of Paris.
No visit to Paris can be complete without visiting the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. In 1163, under the authority of Pope Alexander III and King Louis VII, construction of the cathedral--dedicated to the Virgin Mary--was begun by Maurice de Sully.
To see the cathedral, one must find their way to the Seine River where it passes through the center of Paris. We approached from the south side of the river making our way from a Paris suburb called Suresnes. The cathedral was hidden behind various government buildings that also occupy the Île-de-la-Cité. We caught tantalizing glimpses of the twin bell towers as we crossed the bridge to the island. As we rounded the corner into "le parvis", or the square in front of the cathedral we were delighted to see the glorious façade of Notre-Dame de Paris. The exterior of the cathedral is bright white--a beacon of light under a cloudless blue sky.
The brilliant exterior is in sharp contrast to the unexpectedly dark interior. Once you grow accustomed to the dim light--which is mainly provided by the glow of hundreds of votives and chandeliers that do little to alleviate the darkness--the Gothic columns and arches of the cathedral draw your eyes heavenwards and inevitably towards the jeweled lights of the windows. The beautiful stained glass of the cathedral becomes even more so because of the contrast with the gloom.
Standing beneath the central spire, one can view all three of the rose windows that grace the cathedral. The west rose window that sits above the entrance to the cathedral is centered around an image of the Virgin and Child who are surrounded by more secular images: the virtues and vices, labors of the year, the signs of the Zodiac and the four seasons. These themes are detailed in the stonework surrounding the doorways into the cathedral.
The rose window in the North transept is dedicated to the Old Testament but concludes its theme with another depiction of the Virgin and Child as the central rosette. Glass prophets, judges, kings, and high-priests surround this central figure. The rose window in the South transept is dedicated to the New Testament. Christ is the central figure, and the petals of the rose show a mixture of apostles, martyrs, angels, and gospel scenes.
However, rose windows are not the only treasure that Notre-Dame de Paris holds! The screen that surrounds the choir is graced by beautiful painted wood carvings. As one walks around the ambulatory around the choir from the North side, the 14th century carvings tell the story of the Christ-child. The South side of the choir shows the appearances of the risen Christ. Unfortunately, the eastern end of the choir that was devoted to the Resurrection was destroyed during a reorganization of the choir in the 18th century.
Notre-Dame de Paris contains one other treasure that is not normally available for public viewing. Every Friday during Lent, the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ is presented for the veneration of believers. The relic itself is a band of woven rushes to which thorns were attached to form a crown of derision. The relic was acquired by Saint Louis who brought it to Notre-Dame in 1239 and was kept in the Sainte Chapelle which had been built as a shrine for that express purpose.
Next time, I will describe my visit to the first Gothic building!
THL Eldred Ælfwald