Paris, City of Dreams and Cathedrals

Paris is the city of cream and dreams, topped with a little chocolate. Jim and I took the Eurostar from London to Paris. I have to admit, I wondered if Paris would live up to its reputation for beauty and cuisine. Why yes. Yes it does. It truly is a city of dreams. The buildings in much of Paris are made from local stone which is cream color, topped with dark gray slate rooftops giving them the appearance of cream and sugar topped with chocolate. I fell in love with Paris just looking out of our hotel window in the Gare de Leon district. The city becomes even more breathtaking if you take a boat ride down the Seine, the river that flows through the Paris. The Seine is a well kept river with clean, neat river banks, and the cream and sugar buildings which rise above it.

At the heart of Paris, in the middle of the Seine, the Cathedral of Notre Dame stands majestic. She stands with flying buttresses and arching rib vault stonework regal and timeless as the guardian of Paris. She dominates the Seine and the city. Here in the States, we simply have nothing comparable. To think that such a majestic building was begun in 1160 is hard for me to understand. How builders were able to build such magnificence so long ago without modern tools and technology is almost incomprehensible. Notre Dame stands through the ages as a testament to human engineering and ingenuity. She stands as a testament to humanity’s belief in God, and a higher purpose. She burned in April 15, 2019 for 15 hours, but her medieval stonework stood. Without Notre Dame, an indelible part of the French spirit would have been lost. I admit I shed some tears as we watched her from the river, and later walked around her.

Notre Dame Cathedral stands proud over the Seine even as she is covered with scaffolding following the fire of April 2019. This view of her is from a boat on the Seine.
Notre Dame Cathedral at sunset. Jim and I had dinner on the other side of the street so we could watch the cathedral as her colors changed and sparkled in the setting sun.

In addition to Notre Dame, Jim and I were able to visit Sainte Chapelle and the Concierge, which are in close walking distance to Notre Dame. Sainte Chapelle was completed in 1248 for the king, who at the time, lived in what is now the Concierge. It is much lesser known than Notre Dame, however, it is a jewel of Gothic architecture. It was severely damaged during the French Revolution, but later restored. The intricate painting of the bottom floor is beautiful, but the real magic of the place is when when you go up a spiral staircase to see the upstairs. Jim went first holding my hand up the staircase. When we got to the top, he suddenly put his hand over my eyes and whispered, “Now look”. When he took his hand from my eyes, I was dazzled. Colors burst into a kaleidoscope and I felt as if I was floating in air for a moment. No less than fifteen long slender stained glass windows in all shades of blue let in the shinning sun, and the ceiling is painted in blue and white to match. The sight of the blues bursting from the stained glass took my breath away.

The sparkling stained glass of Sainte Chapelle, Paris
Saint Chapelle with it’s dazzling gold and blue kaleidoscope of stained glass and statuary.

We stopped next at the Concierge which was next door. I love history, but I admit to not knowing as much about French history as I do about English history. The concierge was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about French history. It was originally built as a palace known as the Palais de la Cite’ for the Merovingian Kings with Sainte Chapelle as the king’s own chapel. When the kings moved from the Concierge to the palace which now houses the Louvre, the Concierge was given to the people to use as a court. No, you really wouldn’t want to be locked up there! During the French Revolution, it was used extensively as a prison. Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI’s queen, and her children were housed there before they were executed by guillotine. There is a memorial to her in the rooms where she is believed to have stayed during her imprisonment. Even today, the concierge is still used as a court.

In addition to Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle, we took the Metro to the Monmartre district to see Sacre Cour and Saint Phillipe and the local artists. Sacre’ Cour sits at the top of the highest point in Paris in the Monmartre district. Sacre’ Cour is far newer than either Notre Dame or Sainte Chapelle. It was finished in 1914. Although, it is of new construction, it is built much in the old traditions and uses Romano-Byzantine architecture. If you don’t know the basilica’s history, it could fool you. It feels old. It feels as old as Sainte Chapelle. In reality, after the French Revolution, France went through nearly 100 years of upheaval. Napoleon didn’t exactly work out as the people expected. He was supposed to be a liberator, but later crowned himself emperor. According to legend, the composer Beethoven originally dedicated his Eroica symphony to Napoleon, but later angrily scratched out dedication after Napoleon’s infamous coronation. There was a brief restoration of the monarchy, but that didn’t work out either as the new kings and the people never agreed upon the how the new monarchy should be run. After one hundred years of turmoil, Sacre Cour was built as a penance because the bishop at the time thought that France had turned away from her Catholic values and morals. Today, she stands at the pinnacle of Monmartre, watching over the city.

Behind Sacre Cour, and before the much smaller Sainte Phillipe, there is an area where the local artists show their wares, and there are many tempting cafes to try. I recommend going to Sacre Cour and Sainte Phillipe, then taking some time to browse through the art, and have a croissant or something equally delicious in a cafe.

the outside of Sacre Cour in the Monmartre district.
The altar inside Sacre Cour

The cathedrals of Paris are well worth visiting. We simply don’t have buildings that old and timeless here in the United States. Even though I am no architect, I appreciate the sheer beauty of the cathedrals. As a Catholic, I appreciate the faith that it must have taken to build them.