So it was with teeth chattering I crossed the plaza and the Seine to join the queue for entry into the great Notre Dame Cathedral.
This beautiful church built in the French Gothic style of architecture continues today as a functioning parish church – though I think that purpose may rate well behind its use as a Parisian tourist draw card. Hundreds of us filed in through the magnificent doors into the warmth of massed humanity inside. There was a smattering of devout folk up front taking part in the midday mass but that seemed rather surreal as we tourists gawked at the icons and clicked our cameras and chattered about the beauty of the stained glass windows – all the while trying to ignore the broadcast prayers for the faithful.
Construction of the cathedral began in 1163 and was completed by 1345 – it is celebrating its 850th birthday this year !!! ... The exterior walls and statues were originally painted in vivid colours, but over time the paint has worn off to expose the grey stone – but even in its greyness on this cold overcast day, the cathedral is a truly wonderful sight to behold.
The cathedral treasury is notable for its reliquary which houses some of Catholicism's most important first-class relics including the purported Crowns of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross and one of the Holy Nails – needless to say though, none of these are on view to mere mortals such as we tourists. But we were allowed – for payment of 4 euros – in to view the extraordinary treasury of gold chalices and other ceremonial stuff, all encrusted I might say with diamonds and sapphires etc. - the sale of which would surely ease the suffering of the poor wretches begging outside.
I resisted the temptation to join another long queue outside and climb the 387 steps to the top of the towers to view its famous gargoyles in close quarters, as well as having a spectacular view across Paris – maybe another day.
After a brief wander around the outskirts of the cathedral I retreated over the road for caffeine and cake and the warmth of a café, then hit the Metro for the warmth of home.
That night, after an early dinner, and with nothing on the TV – though I don’t have a TV – and even if I did, I’m sure there wouldn’t be anything worth watching – and with nothing to do at home, I jumped on the Metro back into Paris Central to attend an organ recital back at Notre Dame – as you do !!!
The great organ – ( built in 1401 – and added to down through the centuries ) -, survived the revolution, unlike a lot of church property that was plundered at the time ( late 18th C ) - most likely thanks to the patriotic music played on it.
So for over an hour several hundred music enthusiasts sat enthralled by the bone-rattling boom of this great instrument. A Russian organist played pieces by composers I had never heard of – it was a great experience.
Since the revolution all the great cathedrals are owned by the state – so, not only are they looked after well, entry into them is free – including recitals like the one I attended.
Who is for some more art tomorrow ? ... ok ... please join me and we'll start exploring that other great Paris institution - the famous Louvre ...