Friday, 26 June 2015

Parisian Church Fest

Notre Dame with its ornate facade
Our first full day in Paris was... a full-on one. We started off a bit late in the morning but arrived at Notre Dame to find a massive line to get into the cathedral, though it moved fast and in about 15 minutes we got in.

One of two rose stained glass windows
Construction of Notre Dame began in 1163 and then took almost 200 years to complete. After that it witnessed medieval executions, was a food warehouse during the Revolution, the coronation of Emperor Napoleon in 1804, and had a service marking the Liberation of Paris in 1944.

The facade of the cathedral is mesmerizing with so many things to see, lots of panels depicting scenes from the Bible, and the 28 kings from Judea, though the latter were destroyed because they were mistaken as French kings during the Revolution.

As a result a lot of rebuilding went on at Notre Dame. Even the gorgeous round rose stained glass windows underwent lots of repair too. Inside the place is so grand with very high ceilings, arches and chandeliers.

A service began when we were in there, and in attendance were nuns in their full habit, one even singing and leading the congregation with a few hymns.

Lots of locks still hanging out on Pont de Notre Dame
While the church tries to get donations from visitors, a neat way is through selling medallions with the church's design stamped on it for 2 euros each. It turns out other churches do the same, where people can buy them from a vending machine right in the cathedral which was interesting. Some designs have Pope John Paul II, or Pope Francis, other non-religious sites of Paris.

Afterwards we wandered behind the cathedral to Pont de Notre Dame, famously known for the padlocks on the fences lining the bridge. In late May the city announced it would remove the locks -- symbols of everlasting love -- because one part of the fence broke off last year because of the weight of the locks.

However they were still there...

An unusual but fun dome design at the Pantheon
After some lunch we headed to the Pantheon that took a bit of effort to find because there wasn't much signage giving directions. However we eventually found it and it is undergoing some major refurbishments on the outside.

The place was originally designed as a church dedicated to St Genevieve for Louis XV, who wanted to give thanks for the recovery of his illness. However, when Victor Hugo was buried here in 1885, the place became less religious and has now become more of a pilgrimage to those who made huge contributions to France's culture and celebrates generals.

The main dome is being refurbished, and in the meantime when you look up at the ceiling, it's not a traditional ceiling, but features modern faces photographed in black and white which is quite a contrast to the solemnity of the place.

The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry
Downstairs is the crypt which is where Hugo is, along with Emile Zola, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire and Marie Curie.

Then we headed to Musee de Cluny nearby and while it looked like a small space, it was packed with lots of interesting items from the Middle Ages. It is considered the only surviving Gothic residence in Paris.

While there was a lot of religious iconography housed in there, we were most impressed with the six large tapestries featuring the Lady and the Unicorn.

Each one depicts a different sense -- taste, touch smell, hearing and sight. The last one, considered mysterious, has "To my only desire". In it, the lady puts into her jewel case the collar she had been wearing in the other five panels. This could possibly mean her refusal of temptation, and renouncing the other five senses.

Pope John Paul II at St Germain des Pres
In any case, the colours of the tapestries are vivid and seem to be made around the same time as they have a similar look and colour, though the lady looks slightly different in each one.

Another church on the list was St Germain des Pres, which takes its name from the 8th century cardinal of Paris. It is the only Romanesque-style church in Paris and was once part of a monastery.

The outside has a humble appearance, but inside it's somewhat grand, with blue ceilings with gold stars, and the stained glass windows are impressive too. There was a bust of Pope John Paul II with a friendly face.

Then we headed north to Sacre Coeur which is high up on a hill. We missed the funicular so we schlepped up the stairs and had a good workout! Outside in front of the church there's a hippy-like atmosphere, as people hang out with bottles of beer and free entertainment from a guy strumming a guitar and enjoying the sound of his voice.

Inside there are lots of glittering mosaics depicting religious scenes, mostly on the theme of the crucifixion. Construction on the church began in 1875 and wasn't completed until 1914.

Sacre Coeur attracts a big crowd outside
While we were there a service was being conducted, and staff were strict about being quiet, and taking pictures. We rested our feet by sitting in the pew and watching the proceedings. Once the offering baskets came out, some parishioners left. Interestingly the basket was extended to us as well and I dropped our donation in there.

Finally, after some dinner -- moules marinere, duck confit, and steak, we took a brief look at Moulin Rouge, though it has seen better days. From there we took a ride home all the way back to our hotel. Our two-day pass is already worth it!

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