Friday, March 27, 2015

Notre Dame: Holy Museum?

Entrance to Notre Dame
Photo by: Jessica Hardy
   When thinking of Notre Dame, one might picture ornate spires, rusted gargoyles, and monumental entrances. I, too pictured this in my head, in anticipation for my visit to Paris. While I did found these characteristics to hold true, Notre Dame was also overrun by various less appealing characteristics as well.
   Upon approach, Notre Dame offers a spectacular entrance, second to none, characterized by three doors ornate with not only biblical and historical sculptures, but also royal motifs. The cathedral’s larger than life appearance excited my architectural passions and beckoned me to see more. Once inside, however, I witnessed first-hand the results of the presence of tourists and holy relics in one city. While the nave of Notre Dame is nothing less than an impressive showcase of both Romanesque and Gothic architecture, I was easily distracted by the presence of the crowd, murmuring and snapping pictures. I will not lie, I took pictures too; but I was constantly pervaded by the thought – this was not a gothic cathedral.
Ceiling at Notre Dame
Photo by: Jessica Hardy

   During medieval Paris, the Catholic clergy had Gothic Cathedrals constructed with massive stained-glass windows, colossal columns, complex ceilings, and dimmed lighting to create a supernatural experience for Parisian commoners, making the individual minute in comparison to the church. However, the presence of camera-snapping tourists and church-related advertisements coinciding with serious Catholics performing prayers and visible confessionals created a quite uncomfortable juxtaposition. Such a contrast provided no room for the reverence due to such a holy building. I had expected a holy cathedral and found a “holy museum”?
Alter at Sainte-Etienne-du-Monte
Photo by: Jessica Hardy
Even though Notre Dame did not satisfy my preconceived notions, I still highly recommend visiting the cathedral for its sheer scale as well as its biblical and historical symbolism. However,  I found that the smaller cathedrals around Paris present a more personal and traditional experience. For example, the Sainte-Etienne-du-Monte is a church in Paris, located on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève in the 5th arrondissement, near the Panthéon. Although much smaller that Notre Dame, it contains the shrine of St. Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. In addition, its’ smaller scale allows a more individual experience. I also found that I was able to enjoy the ceremonial mass, the lighting of the prayer candles, the symbols of the stained-glass windows, and the solemn atmosphere in a quieter, more traditional space. Who knew that I would find what I was looking for at Notre Dame in a smaller, less famous church – home to the patron saint of Paris? On second thought, that makes perfect sense.


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