Notre-Dame and Hotel-Dieu: Paris Landmarks

Notre-Dame and Hotel-Dieu: Paris Landmarks
You are bound to visit the cathedral of Notre Dame during your first visit to Paris, and probably go back many times, as this is, unquestionably, one of the beauty spots of Paris. How about looking into some of its inside story, as described in Around and About Paris, Volume 1, in the chapter on the 4th arrondissement? Hôtel-Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris This is part of the walk through the two islands: bordering the esplanade to the north is the Hôtel-Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris and for centuries its only one. When it was built in the 12th century, it was situated on the southern side of the esplanade, from where it expanded gradually to occupy the whole area between the Petit Pont and the Pont au Double. The Bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, undertook its construction, at the same time as that of the cathedral of Notre Dame. This enterprising man was born into a very poor family in Sully-sur-Loire in 1120; in 1165 he baptised the Dauphin, the future Philippe-Auguste. Bishop Maurice de Sully, future Philippe-Auguste, directs Hôtel-Dieu construction An earlier hospital and a chapel stood here back in the 9th century, both bearing the name of Saint-Christophe. They too must have been swept away by the Norsemen. Maurice de Sully ordered each canon of Notre Dame to contribute a bed to the hospital when he died, a welcome initiative at a time when five patients shared one bed, as was the case well into the 18th century. It was also only at this relatively recent date that patients were separated according to sex and disease. The hospital enjoyed the protection of the Crown and, when Philippe-Auguste left for The Crusades, he magnanimously offered the hospital the straw of the vacated horse stables as extra bedding. Saint Louis and his mother Blanche de Castille ruled that anyone in need be admitted, regardless of sex, nationality or religion, except those afflicted by contagious diseases. By this time, efforts were also being made to reduce the number of patients per bed to three, hence the sarcastic observation, “Each bed is shared by three—the ill, the dying and the dead.” In the 17th century, the hospital expanded to the Left Bank, connected by way of the Pont au Double. Bridges were often built upon at the time, and the Pont au Double had a glass gallery, which served as a promenade for the patients. A narrow corridor for pedestrians ran along the hospital premises, allowing Parisians to cross the river for the price of a double farthing, hence the name of the bridge. The hospital was moved to its present location during the radical transformation of Paris at the time of the Baron Haussmann. Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris in its glory And now for Notre Dame. The cathedral is all the more venerated by visitors as they believe it to be one of the oldest standing vestiges of medieval Paris. However, most of what you see is the work of architect Eugéne Viollet-le-Duc, dating from the 19th century only. Many of the cathedral’s treasures were simply done away with because they were no longer in vogue, notably the gorgeous chancel screen, the high altar and the tombs, all of which disappeared in 1699. In the middle of the 18th century, the fabulous 13th-century stained-glass windows were replaced by plain glass so as to bring in more light, but some of the original glass of the two rose windows is still there. The one on the western façade was studded with gold stars against two angels, each bearing a chandelier. On the night of Sexagesima, the chandeliers would be lighted with candles and all the priests of Notre Dame in their cassocks would gather on the parvis to sing litanies throughout the night. Napoleon I’s coronation at a bare Notre Dame devastated by French Revolution looting Whatever was spared over the generations hitherto was looted and profaned during the French Revolution. The bare, dilapidated edifice that remained standing was dedicated to Reason and the esplanade became known as Le Parvis de la Raison. When Napoleon I chose this symbolic shrine for his coronation in 1804, the walls had to be draped with hangings to make up for their bareness. That they were standing at all was a miracle, for the cathedral had been earmarked for demolition and put up for sale. A potential buyer had even been found, the ‘Citoyen Simon’, Claude-Henri de Rouvroi Saint-Simon by his previous name, a member of the same family as the duke and writer of memoirs and the count who would inspire the utopian Saint-Simonian sect a few decades later. Fortunately circumstances prevented the sale of Notre Dame from proceeding. Writer Victor Hugo and The Hunchback of Notre Dame initiate restoration of Notre Dame By the early 19th century the Romantic movement had aroused a growing interest in medieval values and a revival in taste for the Gothic, which had been spurned only recently. Victor Hugo undoubtedly deserves most of the credit for bringing the plight of Notre Dame to the attention of the public in 1831 through his novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. At his instigation, a temporary restoration committee was set up by the poet Alfred de Vigny, the painter Ingres and the Catholic politician Montalembert. A competition for a contract to restore the cathedral was launched in 1844 and won jointly by Viollet-le-Duc and Lassus, but the latter soon died and Viollet-le-Duc alone remained in charge of the colossal enterprise. A past master in the art of restoration, his conception was, however, that restoring…

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