When in Paris… sometimes not having a plan and just showing up can lead you to a wonderful surprise and an unforgettable experience.
It was sunset when we passed by the main entrance to Cathédrale Notre Dame, taking casual notice of the movement of people congregating toward the doors. Since it was the end of the day, we thought it was somewhat unusual, so we wandered in to see for ourselves. As we drew closer to the main altar we realized that a mass would soon begin and so we too settled in, gazing about in full anticipation. We expected to participate in a traditional mass but were rather treated to the vespers service, a sunset evening prayer service. Vespers opens with the singing or chanting of the words (in French) and continues throughout the ceremony, interchanging between the priest and the choir. Understanding the French language is not necessary. Simply behold and listen. The innate beauty of this special ceremony is a profoundly moving experience and one that you won’t soon forget.
Today, the cathédrale is a sparkling crowned jewel, as well as a collective symbol of faith’s bright energy, hope never-ending and indomitable will. Badly damaged during the French Revolution, the cathédrale and many it’s treasures were either destroyed or plundered. The statues of the biblical kings of Judah (erroneously thought to be the kings of France), located on a ledge on the facade of the cathédrale were beheaded, however, the great bells were spared from being melted down. Sadly, the cathédrale came to be used as a warehouse for the storage of food.
In 1829, the great French poet and novelist, Victor Hugo began writing Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), largely in part to create public awareness about the invaluable importance of the cathédrale he so admired. His novel was published in 1831 and was met with enormous success, thus leading to the monument’s salvation and major restoration, undertaken in 1845 and lasting 20 years.
Long considered an artistic masterpiece of Gothic architecture with stained-glass rosette windows, towers and gargoyles, the cathédrale is the most popular French monument visited by 13 million people each year. By ascending the 387 steps in the South Tower, you can enjoy a 360° panoramic view of Paris. Requiring less stamina, is a visit to the archaeological crypt which was built to protect the ruins and elements from successive buildings, discovered during the excavations in 1965.
Access to the cathédrale is open and free of charge every day of the year. Visit their website for directions, opening hours, services, concerts and events. So When in Paris…