The Notre-Dame Cathedral of Paris: it’s relationship to art history and religious expression in a history
“A minute afterwards he appeared upon the upper platform, still bearing the gipsy [sic] in his arms, still running wildly along, still shouting ‘Sanctuary!’ and the crowd still applauding. At last he made a third appearance on the summit of the tower of the great bell. From thence he seemed to show exultingly to the whole city the fair creature he had saved; and his thundering voice, that voice which was heard so seldom, and which he never heard at all, thrice repeated with frantic vehemence, even in the very clouds, ‘Sactuary! Sanctuary! Sanctuary! The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
The Visceral Storytelling of Victor Hugo
When you read the words of Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame and how it magnanimously expresses the immensity of the Catholic cathedral in all its spires, stained glass windows and stone vaults, it is a visceral experience. The words stir up an amalgamation of emotions and feel like a direct connection to an endless, secret world. The palpable connection to a salvation, a sanctuary of the Lord and a direct line to a unique spiritual realm; it heightens our feelings of mortality into one of eternal salvation within Christ’s hands. Hugo’s powerful narrative gives us a compelling and deep spiritual perspective into the significance of what the Notre-Dame Cathedral (“Our Lady of Paris”) meant to the city and to it’s people.
Famous Artists depicting the Seine & Notre-Dame Cathedral
The inspiration this Catholic Cathedral has gathered since it’s inception, which was constructed within the 12th and 14th centuries, was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and has created a wealth of artistic iterations. North Door, Notre Dame, Paris 1845 by James Holland (1799–1870), The Pont de la Tournelle, Paris 1862-4 By Stanislas Lépine (1835–1892) and Notre-Dame c.1900 By Henri Matisse (1869–1954) are just some of the more famous examples of artists who were greatly inspired by the creation of the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
The architectural genius of Notre-Dame
The three famous stained glass windows, which are called “Rose Windows,” are the architectural giant (as well as the 39 high windows in the medieval cathedral’s nave, choir, transept and sacristy)that creates the history behind the art. The Rose Windows within Notre-Dame Cathedral creates the shape of the openwork bay in the wall, while rose is the name of stained glass. An intense and euphoric experience to invest in and ingest all at once, this glittering and rich display of religious, spiritual and Christian/Catholic imagery throughout the church is an important role in art history and religious material history.
The Gothic spire and rich sharply pointed arches, ribbed and vaulted columns, and flying buttresses, mainly constructed by Artichtect Pierre de Montreuil(the one who had constructed the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in 1239 and the Saint-Denis basilica around 1247.), (1200-1267), was a point of beauty and inspiration that the city looked to for safety and security.
April 15, 2019 Fire
Le Canard Enchaîné reported: “Electric wires were running in the roof, placed there at the express demand of the clergy. Despite the risk of short-circuiting, and in breach of all the safety regulations laid out by the chief architects of historic monuments.”
On April, 15 2019 the City of Paris watched in shock and horror as the symbol of spiritual and religious sanctity was on fire. Under the eaves of Notre-Dame Cathedral’s roof, the fire that had started due to a short-circuit of six electronic bells that were temporarily installed within the spire, it engulfed the gothic spire and most of the roof.
With the help of Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris and other organizations, this monument to history in art, religion and the human race has been slowly restored to its former glory. It is still temporarily closed, but set to hopefully reopen to the public in December of 2024.
Contemporary lessons learned on modernizing historical and sacred temples
When President Emmanuel Macron and the building authorities pledged a five-year plan to reconstruct and restore this symbol of spiritual wealth and tranquility for and of the city, it grieves me to look back at what could have been.
The risks of the temporary installation of the six electronic bells were inherent and known to the building authority and clergy. To place wiring and electronic bells within such a historic spire, knowing it could short-circuit, is a tragedy nothing short of irony.
The Notre-Dame Cathedral of Paris was meant to shoulder the Seine and the city with a grounded sense of wonder, safety and spirituality. It was not meant to be upgraded or modernized to fit society in it’s current state. It was meant to stand as a structure of it’s own right and prestige. The dignity of it’s stone, glass, wood and brick is that it stays the same for all generations to admire and learn from.
The historical beauty and artistic nature of it’s roots should be admired, not altered. The very nature of it’s recorded art history is in it’s structure and Gothic stones.
It is our duty to keep this beautiful and historical landmark of religious, spiritual and art history alive, and to preserve its original message of sanctity and sanctuary for all who enter it’s hallowed walls.