Notre Dame de Paris (and other churches)

Yesterday the weather forecast predicted a sunny afternoon, so we went to Notre Dame (we thought the stained glass might look nicer in the sun). As it turned out, the forecast lied.

The Seine on an overcast, misty day{as always, mouse over images to read notes, or click to enlarge}

The sky was grey, the air misty. But no matter. We decided to postpone climbing the cathedral’s towers, and just explored the inside instead.

Notre Dame with construction in front

Magnificent carved arches and doorway of Notre Dame

In the past six months I have been inside more beautiful sacred buildings than in the past decade of my life (maybe even my whole life): St George’s Toronto, Reykjavík’s Hallgrímskirkja, the Chora church and the mosques of Istanbul. So I was very surprised when I walked into Notre Dame and suddenly found myself tearing up a little. Why this place, why this effect? I’m not Catholic and I have so little connection to the cathedral that last week I said to Erik, “Hey, we should probably see the Notre Dame, right, because we’re here?” But I was awed.

Vaulted ceilings in the hall

One of Notre Dame's famous rose windows.

Prayer area with stained glass windows and candles

Hallway with more vaulted ceilings

I was also very happy to see that the cathedral still serves primarily as a religious building, not only a tourist attraction. Remember how much I disliked the noise and gawker-y attitude of the visitors to the Blue Mosque? Here there were signs everywhere requesting respect, and people mostly gave it. There was very little audible conversation, and I didn’t see any camera flashes either.

Sign asking for silence in multiple languages

Another small chapel with many lit candles

We took a brief peek into the treasury; admission was cheap, and we were curious.

Stained-glass window with words and picture

Detail of stained-glass panel

Fancy calligraphy

Painted panel

Gold and diamond monstrance

Main room of the treasury, with more stained-glass windows

While we were in the treasury, we heard what sounded like the organ, and then a woman’s voice, singing. We left and went out to the main hall to investigate.

Main hall (or whatever you call it)

Up on the… I don’t know what you call it; the stage?… were three people: an organist, a singer, and a teacher/conductor. They were practicing — we could tell because they’d stop in the middle of phrases, and repeat the same bits over again. It was lovely to listen to.


I didn’t want to try to draw the space because it was too magnificent for my scribbles, but my fingers got a little itchy for my sketchbook. I contented myself with a sketch of the side of the stage area.

Sketch inside Notre Dame

We stayed for maybe an hour, maybe more.

Columns and candles

Organ and rose window

Another rose window

Mostly empty seating area off to the side of the main rows of seats


Shortly before 3 o’clock the musicians stopped practicing, and there was an announcement which we couldn’t understand (all I know is it said something was going to happen at 3). I don’t remember why we left instead of sticking around to see what would happen… but we did.

Detail of ironwork on outside wooden door

Exterior detail

Elaborate carved statues on the side of the building exterior

We also went around to the back of the cathedral (not on purpose, actually) and exclaimed at the flying buttresses.

Back of the Notre Dame

Then we crossed the Seine to go back home. Still no sunshine!

Autumn-hued trees along the Seine

I must say, in every place we’ve been, the famous sights are never the only examples of their kind; if there’s one fascinating historical building, there will be others, often just as interesting and with far shorter entry queues. So I feel obliged to point out the same for Notre Dame, much as I enjoyed seeing it. Paris is an ancient city of many striking structures, and all you have to do is walk around to find dozens of gorgeous churches. Not too far from Notre Dame, we passed the Église Saint-Severin (and even peeked inside, but left when we found there was a service going on); according to Wikipedia, this church houses the oldest bell in Paris, cast in the 15th century. I liked the gargoyles.

Gargoyles leaning outward from the roof

And on our way home, we took a slightly different route than usual, and discovered the Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont.

Church of Saint Etienne du Mont

Also, though we haven’t seen it up close yet, one of the landmarks of our neighborhood is Église Val-de-Grâce. I took a picture of it this afternoon… or rather, of myself with my new haircut, with the dome of Val-de-Grâce in the background.

Lisa with Eglise Val-de-Grace in the background