28 May 2008

Paris, Part Two

I spent most of Sunday sightseeing, choosing to focus on three main sites rather than rush through more just to say I’d been there. I arrived at the Notre Dame quite early, with the city still sleepy and quiet, at least as far as cities go.
The west facade and entrace of Notre Dame Cathedral.
The cathedral imposes over its own square, its dual towers rising solidly next to the river. After entering the building, I had to pause as my eyes adjusted to the heavy Gothic lighting before continuing into the church, trying to be unobtrusive since the Sunday mass had just begun.
View of the nave.

It is an experience beyond belief to be standing in the nave of Notre Dame as the kyrie is sung and echoes off the stone of the piers and arches.
Northern side aisle.

Rib vaults!

The cathedral is filled with beautiful stained glass, much of it replicas of earlier originals, and interesting chapels which line the side aisles of the nave.
View from the northern side aisle into the nave.

View of the ambulatory with numerous chapels.

The main rose window is beautiful, and joined by two additional rose windows at the end of each wing of the transept.
The iconic rose window.

The combination of the darkness of the interior with the glow of the chandeliers and candles and the colored light of the windows is sublime.

Gothic style statues of saints next to the main entrance of the cathedral.


My visit to the church came to a close as more tourists filled up the space and I exited the nave, heading across the Ile-de-la-Cité to the Sainte-Chapelle, the royal chapel built by Louis IX in the mid-thirteenth century in the Gothic style within the space of six years and at enormous cost.

Exterior of the Sainte-Chapelle.

I was fortunate to arrive shortly before the building opened, affording me a relatively calm view of the chapel’s spectacular interior. I decided to take in the Upper Chapel first, so I climbed the short flight of spiral stone stairs and emerged into a spectacular space with slender Gothic arches framing soaringly high stained glass windows. Upon entering the space, I felt as if I had entered a completely different world (the intended effect, I suppose), a stone and glass globe encapsulating an ethereal space. Light flooded this miniature recreation of heaven. To describe the chapel as spectacular grossly under represents it. The experience of entering and viewing the space somehow profoundly changes you as a viewer. The thought that the chapel was built in honor of God, and the foundation of faith required for such a commitment to me is intense and moving. I think the Sainte-Chapelle is one of those few places which cannot be described by words or pictures as both of these remove the element of experience. My description and these pictures are nothing more than a taste of the real thing.
The ceiling in the Upper Chapel is quite high, with narrow, Gothic windows running nearly from the floor to the ceiling and filled with colored glass, original to the building which miraculously survived the royal iconoclasm of the French Revolution.

Interior of the Upper Chapel - breathtaking.

The light projected into the chapel through the windows glows with color, illuminating the space in deep blues, purples, and reds.

Apsidal ending of the Upper Chapel.

The height of the windows draws the eye up to the ceiling, spectacularly painted with a deep, bright blue and covered with gold stars. In the few feet below the windows, gilded ornamental Gothic columns and arches decorate the walls against a backdrop of blue and red. At the rear of the chapel, a rose window filled with more glass punctuates the room, below which a vibrantly painted and richly gilded painting depicts Christ enthroned.

Rear of the Upper Chapel.

Descending to the Lower Chapel, which lacks the iconic windows of the space above it, the richness of the wall and ceiling decorations becomes more striking.

Ribbed vaults with painted ceiling decoration and gilding in the Lower Chapel.

This part of the building is defined by graceful vaulting, with columns painted in rich red and green, overlaid with gold castles and fleur d’lis. Like the Upper Chapel, the ceiling of the lower space approximates an exaggerated night sky, this time more pertinent to the viewer because the height difference has been reduced. The combined effect of the two spaces is overwhelming and inspiring.

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