Paris was gloomy and damp again today, and we decided to make it a relatively easy day. We started out at probably the best street market we've seen in Europe and then headed for L'Open Tour, one of those tour buses that you can find in almost every city in the world these days. We tend to ride them to learn a little bit about the places we're visiting, especially if, as in this case, the city is huge. With a good company like L'Open Tour, we actually learn things we didn't know and see places we didn't realize existed.
L'Open Tour has four lines that travel different parts of the city and hit something like 90 sites. We did one line after the market and got off near Notre Dame to catch the main line.
"Do you want to see if there's a long line to get in the cathedral before we take the other bus," Mike asked me.
"I'm not too keen on standing in another line," I replied, "especially if we are standing in the damp, cold air." Mike thought, however, that we should give it a go since we were right there, and off we went. There was no one in line.
"I don't believe it," I said.
"Maybe they went on strike to support the Louvre workers," Mike joked as we walked through the huge door and into the very dimly lit cathedral.
In 1163, then Bishop of Paris Maurice de Sully decided that the church was neither large enough nor grand enough to represent Paris as the seat of the Kingdom of France nor to serve as the church of kings. He ordered that a cathedral be designed and built to serve not only Paris but also as a prototype of future European cathedrals.
Work on the cathedral started in 1163, but the work was not done until 1365. While the architecture is French Gothic, some of the later work actually reflects the different time, naturally. The iconic flying buttresses, one of the most recognizable features of the cathedral, were added much later when the walls at the end of the church started to crack due to stress from its size and height.
During the French Revolution, the people destroyed a lot of the statues and artwork in the cathedral. They tore down the 19 of the 20 bells in the church and melted them to make coins. Only the 13-ton Emmanuel bell was spared and is still in the cathedral. Notre Dame fell into disrepair, and there was a move to destroy it, but Victor Hugo's book made people realize its value, and they refurbished the church. In addition to adding new statues, bells, and artwork, the renovation also included a controversial spire. It took 20 years to complete the work due to its size (and controversies). The cathedral underwent another restoration between 1991-2001, this time with more attention to maintaining the historic aspects of the architecture and art.
How big is Notre Dame, you ask? First, let me tell you that as massive as the cathedral is, it is not the largest (nor the tallest) church in the world. It's not even in the top 20, believe it or not.
Notre Dame is 420 feet long, and its two towers stand 226 feet high. The spire, which was added during its restoration in the 19th century, is 295 high. Massive stained glass windows line both sides of the church and include a number of rose windows (above, left). The largest of the rose windows measures 511 inches in diameter. There are three organs in the cathedral. The smallest organ, a portable one, accompanies soloists and school choirs. The choir organ is from the 15th century, has one keyboard and 2000 pipes. The great or grand organ (the largest organ in France) has five keyboards, 190 ties, and 8000 pipes.
Along both sides of the church are a number of small chapels, confessionals, statues, and altars. The cathedral's treasures include a piece of Christ's cross, one of the nails used to hang him, and the actual crown of thorns. While several people are buried in the cathedral, there is no one of any real importance in there. The bodies of kings and queens of France are in other churches around the city.
Statue of St. Denys Patron Saint of Paris and The Main Altar
Priests say several Masses and hear confessions daily even as tourists crawl the aisles. The main nave is roped off except for two small openings. Signs all over the side aisles ask people to be silent, and surprisingly, they were while we were there.
Notre Dame is celebrating its 850th anniversary this year, and they are refurbishing a lot in the church. The lighting and bells are being redone, and the organs are being tuned up. If you're interested in learning a little more about Notre Dame, you can click here for the official website of the church.
One side note. . . . These churches (and palaces and such) always amaze me. Do you ever stop to think that people had to build them without the help of the modern conveniences we have today? How could they get bricks to such great heights? Yes, we know they used the pulley system, but it is still mind-boggling to think that they could do it back then.
And then, it dawned on me that Notre Dame was built way before Christopher Columbus set foot on American soil. Hard to imagine, isn't it?
My strike against the Louvre is over now, and we'll head that way tomorrow. However, we're going in the afternoon. I refuse to stand in line again.