Notre Dame, translated Our Lady, is one of the first gothic cathedrals in the world. It revolutionized architecture because for the first time, a building that large could be built without the arches they had used before, making buildings very thick on the bottom and not very tall. The secret was using ribbed vaults that crossed in the middle for strength and extended outside the building to prevent the walls from falling inward: Flying Buttresses. And what a beautiful example of architecture Notre Dame is, especially since it actually used double flying buttresses, allowing the building to stretch even higher towards Heaven.
This building project started in 1163 and wasn’t finished until 1345 — 182 years later. The building project alone spanned over the reigns of nine different kings! The rose windows were a highlight, especially the one dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the middle of the window is Mary, holding her baby son, Jesus. The figures around them are kings — not French kings, but the kings of the Old Testament. This is significant because it shows Hebrew Kings recognizing that the Messiah they had been waiting for for centuries had finally arrived.
One thing that is unusual about Notre Dame is that it is owned by the French government but used and maintained by the Catholic Church. Masses continue to be held in the pews, even as tourists meander quietly about this famous landmark. It reveals part of the effect of the French Revolution because the people were fighting against the monarchy, who taxed and made unfair laws, the rich, who owned all the land, and the Catholic Church, who had become corrupt. The resistance seized the church in battle. They even destroyed all of the statues of the Old Testament kings across the front facade of the church because they thought they were French kings, and they wanted to remove any evidence of the monarchy. Once the Revolution was over and these powers overthrown, Napoleon, who had become their hero and was chosen as emperor, removed the corrupt bishops and cardinals and offered the use of Notre Dame back to the “low clergy”. These were the priests who were actually helping the people and not wielding their power unfairly.
We learned several interesting facts about details of the cathedral. One of those facts was that we get the word gargle from the gargoyles. That’s right. Those creatures that are made so hideous in The Hunchback of Notre Dame are really just rain gutters designed to collect moisture and send it to the ground away from the stone walls so the outside walls won’t be stained with drip marks. They are not statues of crouched creatures but horizontal figures resembling animals from nature, such as frogs or fish. There are also statues of many of the saints. One such saint, Saint Denis, is a headless statue. Well, it’s not completely headless; he is holding his head in his hands. This illustrates the story of his martyrdom. This man was an evangelist who wouldn’t stop preaching about the Lord, even after the threat of execution. He was eventually beheaded for it, and it is said that he calmly picked up his head, which continued to preach as he walked through town. He finally collapsed to his death, but not until after he finished his sermon!
Though we will remember our visit to Notre Dame and its architecture, statues, art, and breathtaking stained glass windows for a long time, we will be thankful to return to our little church in Estes Park, where the worship is uninterrupted, the fellowship is intimate, and the teaching is in English.