Monday, March 30, 2009


You can’t come to Paris and miss Notre Dame. It is a must see. While it is true that the ubiquitous amount of churches and cathedrals that stand sprinkled all over Europe are certainly lovely and have their own unique charm and sense of wisdom held over from the ages, Notre Dame is still different.
There is something magical about ‘Our Lady’. This gem began its story in 1163 and after nearly a thousand years, it still retains its original glory.

This Gothic cathedral, known for its flying buttresses on the exterior of the building, is a site for sore eyes. For the best view of the façade stand at the end of St. Michel on the Quai and turn towards the great cathedral. You won't be sorry you did. I showed this particular vantage point to a French woman recently and she couldn't get over how this building, she had long taken for granted, was really quite spectacular, particularly from this angle.

Also, while standing at this corner, don’t forget to turn around and look back at where a statue of St. Michel overlooks one of the most famous fountains in Paris. He raises his sword in a commanding stance and is absolutely worth a few photos for your album. By the way, if you haven't figured it out already, for us English speakers, St. Michel is Archangel Michael.

After you are done gazing at Michael, walk back across the street and take a stroll around the cathedral. Each side is interesting and beautiful. The flying buttresses alone are worth paying attention to. There is also a small park in the back of the building that you may enjoy. What could be better than resting on a bench amongst the trees and the flowers as the great edifice looks over you?

Furthermore, don't forget to make a trip at night. The cathedral is lit up and offers a completely different perspective. It could inspire romance in the most hardened of souls. I have even seen some pretty spectacular street performers such as fire throwers here at night. You never know what fantastic shows you may be lucky enough to see.

So, enough about the exterior, let's go inside. Depending on what time of year you come, the lines can be quite enormous, but don't let that stop you. The good news is that it does move fairly quickly, so you won't have too long to wait. There is no entrance fee to the main part of the cathedral, however, even a few coins left in the various donation boxes would be appreciated. Keep in mind that if you choose to see the crypts, towers or special exhibits you can expect a fee. You can also opt for an audio guide for a small fee, as well.

When you first start circling the interior of the cathedral make sure to give a nod to the statue of Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc). Where once this woman was excommunicated and murdered by the church she is now deemed a saint and posterity can view her image upon entry.

As you continue towards the altar of the cathedral, don’t forget to turn towards the back of the room and look up. Behind the Great Organ is the original stained glass window. It is très fantastique! The colors are as rich as an oil painting. Unfortunately, most of the stained glass in the rest of the cathedral was replaced due to wars and the like, but this window along with only one other on the side are original. Believe me, you will be able to notice the difference. The original glass dazzles the eyes and is simply fabuleux.

I highly recommend attending the Gregorian Mass on Sunday at 10. Even if you are not Catholic (I am not) you can still stroll around the church and listen to the ethereal sounds of the Gregorian Chants. They will be sure to bring you back in time to a bygone era.  I personally meditate in the seats while listening to the lovely singing. I just can't get enough.

Tours are available on Wednesdays at 2:00 sharp. Meet underneath the Great Organ in the back of the church, between the two entrances. There are many groups meeting there at the same time, so look for the person with the sign that says English. The tours are free, but if you are so inclined to leave “a trinket or two” afterwards, the proceeds go towards educating children. The tour guide knows about the history of the cathedral and will share highlights with you for an hour.

The cathedral is open from 8:00 am to 6:45 pm daily (7:15 pm on the weekends).

For more information, please visit their site at Notre Dame and hit the ‘welcome’ link. It will be in English.

Thank you for reading and bonne journée!