Thursday, October 21, 2010

Heaven is in the Details

Well, you knew this day was coming. This was a pretty churchy trip, and eventually we made it to the most famous Church of them all. (Well, other than that one in Rome.)

Notre Dame de Paris. Nearly 200 years in the making, many hundreds more as a gothic inspiration.

They say that heaven is in the details. Lately, I've taken that to mean that if you want to get to the crux of the thing, anything, look closer. See the big picture, sure, but keep looking until you see the things that go into it.

I would say that that approach works particularly well at a place like this cathedral. It has survived the Hugenots, the Revolution(s), Napoleon, the Commune, the Nazis and, well, just hundreds and hundreds of years. And it is Massive.

And awe-inspiring.

And ornate.

And see, just in these few images so far - the details start to emerge and tell a story that has more impact than what happens if you just go and get overwhelmed by this Big Huge Obligation of a Church. You notice the way the vast Rose window works from the outside, and you see the light pouring through it from the inside. You take in the Holy Mother ("Notre Dame" refers to her, after all) with her baby, flanked by angels in the front window. You might take a look at some of the other 36 (!) representations of her in and around the Cathedral. You look at the other figures sculpted into and onto the edifice.

And then you climb up to the top.

The way that happens is that you climb a bunch of stairs and then they make you wait in a holding area (which also serves as a gift shop, of course! They wouldn't want you to miss a chance to buy stuff.) until enough time has passed that some of the people already up there have gone back down, then you climb a whole BIG bunch of more stairs. We positioned ourselves so that we were at the front of the line when they opened up the door, so we wouldn't get caught behind any slowpokes, and Cory took the opportunity to charge up those steps. She seriously was on a mission. By the time we were about halfway up, it was she and I and one other guy who decided to keep up with us, and the rest of our group was way back behind.

And of course once we made it, Paris was there to greet us.

Sacre Coeur through the fog.

And the gargoyles were, if anything, even more amazing than I'd imagined.

Those of you who know your Gothic architecture (I, of course, am now an expert on Gothic architecture, having read at least two online articles and a few tourbook entries) realize that most of these guys are actually chimeras, rather than gargoyles (which are only properly so called when they function as water spouts) and that they were added as part of a 19th Century renovation.

What's incredible to me is how many individual treatments there are - each with its own character and, again, its depth of detail. This one may be the most famous, situated to greet you as you emerge from the stairs, and having been so often referenced in other art works. (Including, my nephew was quick to point out, The Simpsons.)

So many characters, each one unique. These are all full color photos, by the way (though that teaser from the earlier post was a B&W)

Now that you're fully involved in attending to details, you're surely wondering something along the lines of "Hey... wait a minute! If this was such a gray day, what's up with that blue sky and those cottony nuages in the establishing shot for this entry?"
Well, you caught me. We did stop by the Cathedral on two separate days. on Saturday, when it was bright and sunny, we took in the outside, and strolled through the sanctuary (that's also why the colors in the stained glass are so vibrant.) On the day we went to the top, Paris was muted by clouds.
Here are a few 'true gargoyles' from both days, with their functions as drain spouts still active.

One other thing before I go. Compare this last shot with the other two images of the most iconic chimera in this series (we'll call him "Moe") See how he changes depending on the light, on the juxtaposition with the other figures, or with the horizon and Sacre Coeur.

It's a pretty nifty world. Look closer.

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