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Friday, October 31, 2014

Paris - Notre Dame Cathedral

Date of visit: 16th April 2014

We took a connecting Metro from RER lines straight to Notre Dame which is located in Place Jean Paul II from Versailles knowing very well that the time of visit is from 7.45am till 6.45pm. What we did not know was, the last access to the cathedral tower is 45 minutes before the closure times. We reached Jean Paul street at around 3pm, supposedly to be a quick stop for lunch and toilet break at Le Petit Chatelet. But my 2 sisters were suddenly out of sight while shopping at the nearby shop. By the time we reached the cathedral, it was already passed 4pm. My heart broke into pieces when the guard stopped me from climbing 387 steps to reach a south tower, for I have promised myself to be at where Quosimodo (his story as narrated in below paragraph) spending most of his time. Nizam, my social media friend has captured the gargoyles and chimera built by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century and the 17th century Emmanuel Bell. For those who may not know, the cathedral open it's tower for visitors to take a tour through all of the upper parts of the western facade, dating from 13th century where visitors can contemplate the gargoyles and chimera (see below photo as captured by Nizam). 

"Half man half beast chimera" Photo by KNizam Artwerk, who has walked up 387 steps to snap this dream shot

Notre-Dame de Paris is 1 of the oldest cathedral, age over a 800 years old. It was built by the decision of an appointed bishop of Paris in 1160, Maurice de Sully to give the capital a cathedral worthy of France’s largest city. He wanted to build it in the present architectural style of the day, now known as the Gothic style. King Louis VII, one of his classmates, encouraged the project. The Church, notable residents of the city, and the entire population participated in construction contributed to the project. Some offered money, others offered their labour, whilst the rest offered their knowledge.


Construction commenced in 1163, but due to financing issue Notre-Dame was completed some 100 years later, i.e. in 1272. During that time, many craftsmen’s association (sculptors, carpenters, joiners, masons, and glassblowers) worked relentlessly under the supervision of seasoned architects. They all made an equal contribution to God and to Mary, Mother of Jesus, to whom Maurice wanted to dedicated the entire cathedral at.


Yes, the cathedral was dedicated to Mary, Notre-Dame de Paris, referred as “Our Lady of Paris”. There are no fewer than 37 representations of the Virgin (sculptures, paintings, stained glass, and more) was furnished in the whole cathedral. Since it was built, the cathedral has been one of the main symbols of Paris and of France. It has been a stage to major religious and political events, which is why the historian Michelet said that Notre Dame is a history book in its own right. No one could not list all the major events here.


When the cathedral wasn’t even completed, in the late 13th century, the Parisians watched over the body of the King, Saint Louis, who died in Tunis. It was there too that King Philip the Fair opened the first Estates General of the Kingdom of France in 1302. In 1572, it was where King Henry IV married Marguerite de Valois, and where he converted to Catholicism in 1594. It is also there, where Pope Pius VII crowned as Napoleon I Emperor of the French in 1804 (the coronation painting was hung at Versailles). It was there too, at Notre-Dame that the Te Deum (also known as Ambrosian Hymn or A Song of the Church) was sung at the end of the First and Second World Wars.


The following are the timeline of how it’s construction took place and completed (within that 100 years gap):-

  • 1160 Maurice de Sully (named Bishop of Paris) orders the original cathedral demolished.
  • 1163 Cornerstone laid for Notre-Dame de Paris; construction begins in 3 years later.
  • 1182 Apse and choir completed.
  • 1196 Bishop Maurice de Sully dies.
  • 1200 Work begins on western facade.
  • 1208 Bishop Eudes de Sully dies. Nave vaults nearing completion.
  • 1225 Western facade completed.
  • 1250 Western towers and north rose window completed.
  • 1245–1260s Transepts remodelled in the Rayonnant style by Jean de Chelles then Pierre de Montreuil
  • 1250–1345 Remaining elements completed.


To me, I personally thought of the story “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”, the cartoons version that I watched a countless time when the kids were young. It was a movie inspired/originated from French Romantic/Gothic novel by Victor Hugo published in 1831. The title refers to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, on which the story is centered. 22 years ago, I was glued at the beautiful sights of cartoon sketches of the Gothic Notre Dame in the movie, therefore, it was a dream comes true to stand in front and inside the beautiful cathedral for real life on 16th April 2014.


Victor Hugo began writing The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in 1829, largely to make his contemporaries more aware of the value of the Gothic architecture, which was neglected and often destroyed to be replaced by new buildings, or defaced by replacement of parts of buildings in a newer style. For instance, the medieval stained glass panels of Notre-Dame de Paris had been replaced by white glass to let more light into the church.

I could picture that Esmeralda used to dance here, at the courtyard

This explains the large descriptive sections of the book, which far exceed the requirements of the story. A few years earlier, Hugo had already published a paper entitled Guerre aux Demolisseurs (means War to the Demolishers) specifically aimed at saving Paris medieval architecture. The agreement with his original publisher, Gosselin, was that the book would be finished that same year, but Hugo was constantly delayed due to the demands of other projects. In the summer of 1830 Gosselin demanded that Hugo complete the book by February 1831. Beginning in September 1830, Hugo worked nonstop on the project thereafter. The book was finished 6 months later. 166 years later, Walt Disney Featured Animation released the movie to the theater
If Demi Moore cast as Esmeralda in Disney's 1996 animated musical drama, I was singing and dancing in my heart, out loud as Esmeralda, for at this place Quosimodo first saw her. The movie was a hit, grossed over USD325 millions worldwide 

The story begins on Epiphany (6 January), 1482, the day of the Feast of Fools in Paris, France. Quasimodo, a deformed hunchback who is the bell-ringer of Notre Dame, is introduced by his crowning as the Pope of Fools.


Esmeralda, a beautiful Gypsy street dancer with a kind and generous heart, captures the hearts of many men, including those of Captain Phoebus and Pierre Gringoire, a poor street poet, but especially Quasimodo and his adoptive father, Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre Dame. Frollo is torn between his obsessive lust and the rules of the church. He orders Quasimodo to kidnap her, but the hunchback is captured by Phoebus and his guards, who save Esmeralda. Gringoire, witnessing all this, accidentally trespasses into the Court of Miracles, home of the Truands (criminals of Paris). He was about to be hanged under the orders of Clopin Trouillefou, the King of Truands, until Esmeralda saved his life by marrying him.

I can picture very well, how sad it was for Quosimodo to hung out up there at the balcony, doing his daily routine as the bell ringer in the movie... so sad, so pitiful, so alone in his world

The following day, Quasimodo is sentenced to be flogged and turned on the pillory for one hour, followed by another hour's public exposure. He calls for water. Esmeralda, seeing his thirst, approaches the public stocks and offers him a drink of water. It saves him, and she captures his heart.
Esmeralda is later charged with the attempted murder of Phoebus, whom Frollo actually attempted to kill in jealousy after seeing him trying to seduce Esmeralda, and is tortured and sentenced to death by hanging. As she is being led to the gallows, Quasimodo swings down by the bell rope of Notre Dame and carries her off to the cathedral under the law of sanctuary.


Frollo later informs Gringoire that the Court of Parliament has voted to remove Esmeralda's right to sanctuary so she can no longer seek shelter in the church and will be taken from the church and killed. Clopin hears the news from Gringoire and rallies the Truands to charge the cathedral and rescue Esmeralda. When Quasimodo sees the Truands, he assumes they are there to hurt Esmeralda, so he drives them off. Likewise, he thinks the King's men want to rescue her, and tries to help them find her. She is rescued by Frollo and her phony husband Gringoire. But after yet another failed attempt to win her love, Frollo betrays Esmeralda by handing her to the troops and watches while she is being hanged.


When Frollo laughs during Esmeralda's hanging, Quasimodo pushes him from the heights of Notre Dame to his death. Quasimodo then heads for the Gibbet of Montfaucon beyond the city walls, passing by the Convent of the Filles-Dieu, a home for 200 reformed prostitutes, and the leper colony of Saint-Lazare. After reaching the Gibbet, he lies next to Esmeralda's corpse, where it had been unceremoniously thrown after the execution. He stays at Montfaucon, and eventually dies of starvation. About eighteen months later, the tomb is opened, and the skeletons are found. As someone tries to separate them, Quasimodo's bones turn to dust.


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