Notre Dame qui êtes aux cieux


Our Lady who art in heaven…

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Notre-Dame in 1482, as seen in ‘Notre-Dame de Paris’, by Victor Hugo. A long, long time ago, I found this old book in the gutter, downstairs from my parents’ flat in Paris. The cover was gone. I opened the book, saw the engravings, picked it up and brought it home. It took a bit to restore, glue some pages together, put on a new cover pasting the leather cut off a derelict leather armchair I bought at the flea market. But finally the book was alive again. Bound anew.

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Notre-Dame de Paris was published in 1831. Hugo was 29. This edition is probably 1870-1875, based on some of the drawings. You can see the main cast: Esmeralda, Phoebus, Frollo, Quasimodo. And the writing on the wall: Anagké or Ananké.

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“Les sanglots longs des violons de l’automne

Bercent mon coeur d’une langueur monotone…” (Verlaine)

The long sobs of the violins of Autumn

Wound my heart of a monotone lassitude…

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“Un cofre de gran riqueza hallaron dentro de un pilar”.

A coffer of great wealth they found inside a column.”

Esmeralda dancing in front of Notre-Dame de Paris. The action takes place in 1482. The engravings are c.1870. The text is in Spanish in the French edition. I assume Hugo spoke Spanish?

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Our Lady last year. Construction started in 1163 and lasted for two centuries. Last year, one of the towers that had been wrapped in scaffolding for years, was finally “finished”. Fully restored. Time to climb for the first time. I’d never been up the towers of Notre-Dame. The queues alway stopped me a tad.


“J‘ai tendu des cordes de clocher à clocher; des guirlandes de fenêtre à fenêtre; des chaînes d’or d’étoile à étoile, et je danse.”

I flung ropes from belfry to belfry; garlands from window to window; gold chains from star to star, and I dance. (Rimbaud, as quoted by Sylvain Tesson, who just wrote a magnificent text on Notre-Dame)

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From the pont de l’Archevêché. 2018.

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On the River. 1482. (As seen in 1870). Note the houses on the bridge to the left. All bridges had houses then. Think Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

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August 1944, Paris has just been liberated. A Te Deum was held at Notre-Dame. German commander of Paris Von Choltitz was under strict orders from Hitler to explode charges on all monuments and burn Paris if the Allies arrived. He refused to obey the orders. Paris and Notre-Dame survived.

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“I am a bad Christian but a Christian still”, Tesson writes. “Chrétien” in French does not have the exact same meaning as “Christian” may have in America. In French it just means Catholic or Protestant. No “revivalism” involved. He also writes: “Maybe an (entire) people will rush to their Queen’s bedside?”.


One of Viollet-le-Duc’s chimeras. I’ll come back to that. Photo (c)ourtesy Karla.


The kings of Israel, on the western façade. Mistaken for the Kings of France, they were torn down during the Revolution, and replaced during the major restoration led by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. In other words: those are copies. The original heads were found a few years ago in the cellar of a bank. 🙂

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From the Ile Saint-Louis. That island did not exist when the cathedral was built. Originally a couple of small islands, Saint-Louis was not “built” until 1614, under the reign of Louis 13th, and the Regency of Marie de Médicis. “Yesterday”, from the perspective of a city that’s been around for 2000 years.

eugene-viollet-le-duc Ateliers Romeo

Eugène Viollet-le-duc (1814-1879) was not even an architect, which may explain why he drew so much criticism. My French compatriots can be… how can I phrase that? Haughty? If you haven’t gone to the right school…

(Source of the photograph: Ateliers Roméo)


He did however have a very good hand, as shown in the above (Source: BNF). Those sketches of gargoyles are a good example of the enormous work he had on his hands when he was awarded the restoration works of Notre-Dame, in 1843. He was barely thirty and commissioned to restore the old Lady. Notre-Dame was in a poor state. Many gargoyles and other elements had been destroyed over time. The task was huge.



Left to right: The Virgin Mary.




And… I don’t know. The Bishop? The statue on the left is “Synagoga” who personifies Judaism, and the Jewish roots of Christianity.


Violet-le-Duc set to work. One of the fist things to do was to replace most or all the Chimeras placed between the towers. Yes. You read correctly. Those are… not fake, but the product of Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th century imagination:


The pelican. (Source unknown.) Those are chimeras. Not gargoyles. The gargoyles are exclusively dedicated to evacuate the water from the roof and do so at a distance for the walls, to preserve the stone. The name gargoyle comes from the latin ‘garg’, gorge, throat, and the old French: ‘goule’, gueule. To simplify: in English, think ‘gargle’ or ‘gurgle’. The chimeras have no functionality.


In Notre-Dame de Paris, by Hugo, author’s edition. (To not make this tedious, when you seen an engraving, it comes from that rescued book) 🙂

Note: the book’s tremendous success in 1831 contributed to an awareness of the need to restore the old Lady. 150 years ago.


Gargoyles, 2018.


La porte rouge, the red door, 1482.


The red door, 2018. The very same door, on the northern side. Shorter clothes. No idea who the ladies are. Now, check on the engraving above, you will notice 6 statues are missing!

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The novel opens with this word: Ananké. In ancient Greek mythology, Ananké is the Goddess of Fate, of the inevitable. Most adequate for the beginning (and the end?) of the greatest of cathedrals?

To be continued…

Unless otherwise mentioned, all material displayed is mine, so are my opinions… This is a much longer post that I like to publish, but the subject… The subject! Until next time then.









99 thoughts on “Notre Dame qui êtes aux cieux

  1. Interesting read! And neat pictures. The gargoyles remind me of a recent restauration of the kathedral St. Jan (Saint John) in the Dutch city of ‘s Hertogenbosch. One of the restored angels they provided with a cell phone. Modern times. 🙂

    • I had to look up the city’s name. Ahhh! Bois-le-duc! 😉 Not too sure about the cell phone. Just as I don’t like the pyramid at the Louvre… 🙂 Imagine the Venus of Milo with arms and a cell? Modern times indeed.

  2. Thank you so much for these photographs and etchings. And thank you for saving that wonderful book.

    Walking through Notre Dame during our Paris trip is one of my very favorite memories. But it was also, alas, a moment of unexpected relevery. We had walked and walked and so by the time we found the chairs in front of the Crown of Thorns, I was ready to rest. It was a truly beautiful spot. Cliff, raised R.C. and ordained R.C. sat quietly for a bit, leaned over and whispered, “So. After Jesus was crucified, one of the disciples picked up this object of torture and said, we have to save this. It will be a relic one day.” I did not whoop out loud, but I did clamp my hand over my mouth.

    What impressed me as much as the cathedral, I must admit, were the ruins of the Crypte Archéologique ,and learning about the ancient Parisee. I think we spent almost as much time down there as in the church.

    • Cliff your husband? 🙂 Once RC always RC I guess. I know the cathedral has a powerful effect on believers.
      Last year we did spend time down the crypt, after climbing the towers for the first and probably last time… 🙂
      And the book? It was difficult especially for the leather, but reasonably easy. I have many restored books. My father taught me how to bind and I have a press. Always repairing a book or the other in my library. Stay tuned for the next part of the post. And thanks, as usual for your visit. Hope all is well with you.

  3. My Bro, another brilliant and informative article from you which I read with interest! Congratulations 🙂
    I was there in 1978 and 1985 so my memory is fading. Thanks for the work, which brings back fond memories.
    What do you think of Fosters’ proposed design with glass for the replacement roof and spire?

  4. Dear Brian, this is a lovely post and tribute to Notre-Dame. Such a treasure you found some years ago, so glad you rescued it from the gutter. Beautiful engravings. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    • Thank you Allison. As you know I like to put things in the perspective of time… So many centuries have passed. so many generations of youngsters have kissed in front of the Lady. It needs to be rebuilt for another thousand years. Hope all is well with you.

    • The book was sheer luck. It was on the floor, by the garbage cans. An hour later it would have ben gone forever. Then I just applied what my father had taught me about book-binding. And my brother’s help at the flea market to find the exact old leather for the cover… 🙂

    • Asante sana Memsahib. Glad you liked it. Post Mbili coming tomorrow I think. 🙂
      As I heard about the Cathedral burning I though about the book and how I might compose a post. Fortunately the building was saved. It will be rebuilt.
      I read that the bells tolled in England as a salute? How very gallant.

  5. Wonderful post!
    I visited Notre Dame in 1985. Whilst I appreciate this magnificent structure’s significance throughout history and in the French peoples’ psyche, I believe that human life is much more valuable.
    I found it distasteful that the rich raised $1 billion so far for its repair, but money can’t be raised for the starving and dying. The catholic church should fund his repair bill as it has more than enough money.

  6. Stunning pictures and insight into history. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Hugo is my favourite book of all time. It has more depth than most people assume, I think. I obviously was completely heart-broken to see Notre Dame burn. Its history is so fascinating and it represents so much more than just beautiful architecture.

    • The story is a terrible one. I must have read it centuries ago, and flipping the pages right now preparing the post, I remembered. No Disney at all.
      Now, it came close but it will be rebuilt and I agree that it represents much more than just a building.
      Thank you for your visit and comment.

  7. The engravings from the Hugo Book the gargoyle etchings are especially marvelous but I love every image. Thank goodness that solider ignored orders to burn Paris at the end of WWII. A moving tribute to this grand lady. May she rise again.

  8. I love this. I have been wanting to dig out my precious photos to post as well. The rain is threatening the old girl with her current convertible roof. I hope by now they have gone in and done what can be done to protect everything left within before further water damage can be had.

    I love all of the historic photos and drawings. It is very enjoyable to see them.


  9. Oui…le sujet! Je savais que tu allais rendre hommage. And what a beautiful tribute it is. I’m sure you could write about it for days. I heard about the fire because so many people texted me…they know I avoid the media. I was so heartbroken at first. But then I put it in perspective: so many of these old, old historic sites have been devastated by war, fires, etc. They will rebuild. It’s the price of longevity. I’ve actually only visited Paris three times, but every time I had my photo taken in the same place in front of Notre Dame. Funny, because I don’t enjoy having my photo taken. I posted them on Instagram, if you want to see them. Each one is 11 years apart.

  10. Thank you for sharing the cathedral. What a great find was that book! I remember shedding tears and rereading it many times. I am not a Catholic, but I was raised to appreciate cultural heritage of humanity. Sadly, it is not quite common.

    • It is a sad book. But then such was life then, very hard, what people tend to have forgotten. And I agree religion is independent. Noter-Dame is universal… 🙂
      (Started to pack your suitcase yet?)

  11. If they fix the Grand Old Lady, in 200 years my grand-grand-children might visit it and think the new parts are “so old”… but 1482, what a shame to lose that history. (At almost the same time, elsewhere, America was being found by Columbus…) Anyway, fascinating to hear all the bridges in Paris used to have houses!!!

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