Notre Dame Cathedral - Paris, France
Maria's Adventure - Part One
We arrived to a cold and damp pre-dawn taxi stand outside of the sprawling Charles DeGaulle Airport outside Paris. My daughter was clinging to my side with her tired eyes trying to ward off the chill as we waited. Ah - April in Paris where it can either be sunny and carefree or windy and bone jarringly cool.
How did we get here? Since my daughter was a young girl she has been caught up in the idea of the romance of Paris. She read books set in the 'city of light' and watched any movie that had Paris in its' title. As I would put her to bed at night while reading her a favorite story she would ask me if I would take her to the city of her dreams one day. I would say yes and finish up the conversation with a quote I heard Gwyneth Paltrow relate about what her father once said to her, 'You should see Paris for the first time with a man who will never stop loving you'. So here we were, my daughters wish come true, and on the eve of her 16th birthday. My wife and I had said at the time, 'If we don't do it now it may never happen since the older she gets the less she will want to travel with us'. For our European trip, we split up, with my wife taking our son to Norway.
We finally caught a cab sharing with a family from the same school district as Maria! I hate to say something trite like 'it's a small world' but it is. We had booked a three star, slightly worn around the edges, Hotel St. Christophe on Place Monge in the 5th arrondisement of Paris arriving around 6am - too early to check in but they graciously took our bags.
I said to Maria, 'What would you like to see'? Not really sure we asked the desk clerk, who was this tall thin fellow who spoke with a heavily French accented English, what was within walking distance? Notre Dame Cathedral was the answer - so we were on our way. After about 15 minutes we were near the River Seine on our way to the Ile de la Cite which, incidentally, is the actual birthplace of Paris - located in the middle of the river and easily defensible from a then hostile countryside. This is a gorgeous area of Paris with storybook French Classical apartments and small shops lining the streets running down to the river which frames the sight of the cathedral, with its flying buttressed walls and twin towers soaring above the original island of Paris. We were early and the cathedral was not yet open for entrance.
We passed a huge statue of Charlemagne in the plaza - interesting since, years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Aachen Cathedral in Germany which is the final resting place of Charlemagne, during which, with a small contribution to a monk, I actually sat in his throne - but that is another story!
Maria was cold, since we didn't expect to have to dress warmly, and she wanted to go back to the hotel. I said to her that we only had a few short days in Paris and we had to make it all count. There was a line forming at the far side of the cathedral and we decided to join it. We didn't know what it was, and no-one spoke English, but I coaxed her to wait while holding her close. Forty five minutes later it started to move towards a small, heavily fortified timber door. We stooped to enter and wound up climbing the actual ramparts of the twin towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral! We walked up a winding turret of stone stairs to a catwalk overlooking the entire city - we could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance! We passed the stone gargoyles that Maria remembered from her childhood while watching Disney's Hunchback animation - she was thrilled! While traveling you need to take chances in order to see the unexpected and unique.
After we climbed down we were able to walk right into Notre Dame and wander throughout its' cavernous interior and gaze with awe at its Rose Medallion stain glassed window. Dedicated by King Louis in the mid 1200's it is a breathtaking sight with its thousands of stain glass pieces making up a window almost 20 meters high and depicting the New Testament.
While leaving, a small line of people began to file into pews for a morning mass. Maria and I thought it would be great to say the we attended an actual mass at Notre Dame and proceeded to join the line. Not a second later a short, stout, older man who had an uncanny resemblance to Fritz Feld (you know the actor who would 'pop' his mouth with his hand to make a point) pounced upon us wielding a large scepter and yammering in French. Oh-oh, sometimes you can push your luck only so far with trying to experience everything! He pointed to a sign which read in French and English that mass was only for parishioners - no guests. We made our apologies and promptly exited. After regaining the sunlight in the plaza Maria giggled from adrenaline and lack of sleep.
We excitedly walked back to the hotel - but not before stopping at one of Paris' numerous pastry shops with Maria begging me for a Pain de Chocolate. This pastry, baked fresh, and filled with chocolate would become sustenance for Maria during our stay.
- Built in the French Gothic style the twin towers reach 110 feet
- Designed in a 'cruciform' it was the most monumental church in France when completed in 1345
- Built on the same spot as the Roman Temple of Jupiter
- Before their epic journeys to Constantinople Crusaders would stop and pray at the cathedral
- Napoleon had himself crowned emperor at the Cathedral
- During the French Revolution many of the facade statues were removed as the revolutionaries, in their fervor, mistook them as representations of French kings instead of the saints that they really were
- Some of the removed statues were found hundreds of years later in basements throughout the Latin Quarter
- Only the church bells, the largest weighing 13 tons, survived being plundered during the revolution
- Notre Dame was used as a warehouse immediately after the revolution
- The west front displays 28 statues of the kings of Judea and Israel
- Until the mid 1960s' a thick warren of medieval structures stood in what is now the plaza- obstructing views of the cathedral - during their removal artifacts of the Roman settlement were uncovered