See Now in Paris: Treasures of Notre-Dame Cathedral

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See Now in Paris: Treasures of Notre-Dame Cathedral
When the fire spread through Notre-Dame de Paris last year on April 15, all of our worst fears came to light. The beautiful church that has stood for over 850 years and lived through the Revolution, Occupation and multiple restorations was now on the brink of total loss. Because of the brave work of the many pompiers, she was saved and still stands today– a little beat up but she’s still there. I have been in love with Notre-Dame de Paris long before I ever saw her. My grandfather took countless photos of the church facade and high atop the towers and even brought back a gargoyle that matches the same one his aunt purchased at the church in 1904. With a need to know everything about the many statues and details, I enrolled in an online class through Yale University. It was a dream and the next time I saw the cathedral, she came to life before my eyes. I would spend hours upon hours, notebook and camera in hand, documenting every single thing inside the chapels and on the walls. Today I am so very happy I have those records and can relive every square inch. Since that fateful day, good news comes out all the time. While the roof was destroyed and the ceiling fell into the crossing, within the rubble they were able to find the rooster that sat at the top of the spire. Inside the church as the burning embers came down around the 14th century Virgin Mary, she survived without a scratch. Everything in the Treasury that sits off the main building survived and was removed that night by quick thinking officials. And while the water poured in to put out the fire, the many paintings– some of which were painted by Charles Le Brun and Laurent de La Hyre– all survived. Today we are very lucky that many of these things are being exhibited across Paris so we can see even just a small part of Notre Dame before the long restoration is finally finished. Just to the right of the altar in Notre-Dame de Paris stood the Virgin Mary, or Virgin of the Pillar statue, dating back to the start of the 14th century. One of the oldest things inside all of Notre Dame, it was in the clear path of destruction. Originally this beauty was in the Chapel Saint-Aignan that once called the Ile de la Cité home. Built in the 12th century, Saint-Aignan would see the ancient lovers Heloise and Abélard as devotees. When it was partially destroyed in 1791, the Virgin Mary was removed and, under the restoration of Viollet-le-Duc, it was placed near the edge of the south transept in 1855. The gothic statue represents the virgin with a crown reminding us of her royalty while she holds the baby Jesus who is playing with a buckle on her gown. Holding a lily in her right hand and in his hand he holds an orb representing the world, and in part telling us that he is Salvator Mundi, the savior of the world. Earlier this year, she would reappear quietly, cleaned up and looking better than ever. She can now be found in the same right corner of the altar, now in Saint Germain l’Auxerrois. Once the former church for the royalty living in the Palais du Louvre, this beautiful and quiet church is worth at least an hour to explore. Along with the Virgin Mary, the large candle holders have also been moved here. Be sure to walk around and see the stunning stained glass windows, carved wood and Flemish altarpiece. Light a candle to Notre Dame before you leave, and a wish for her speedy return. With a giant stroke of luck, just a few days before the fire, the 16 verdigris copper statues by Adolphe Geoffroy-Dechaume were removed for restoration. They consist of four symbols– an ox for Luke, a lion for Mark, an eagle for John and an angel for Matthew– alongside the 12 apostles, with one looking a bit different from the others. Eleven of the apostles face away from the spire, looking out across from Paris, however on the southeast side at the top, one was looking up at the spire. Adolphe used the face of Viollet-le-Duc on Saint Thomas, the saint who only believed what he physically could see. In the end Viollet-le-Duc was able to look at his creation up until its last days. In the wonderful Cité de l’Architecture et Patrimoine situated just across from the Eiffel Tower, until July 3, you will have a once in a lifetime chance to come face to face with some truly stunning pieces of Notre Dame. Inside this wonderful museum– a must for any history or architecture fans– are four pieces that were once out of reach. The eagle of Saint John and the angel of Saint Matthew are so close you can almost touch them. The head of the man behind the largest restoration, Monsieur Viollet-le-Duc looks on while the most amazing piece still awaits you. Atop the spire since 1935 was a copper rooster placed there by Cardinal Verdier and filled with the relics of Saint Geneviève, Saint Denis and a piece from Christ’s Crown of Thorns. As the fire burned and the spire fell it was all I could think…
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Lead photo credit : Image credit: Claudine Hemingway

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Claudine Hemingway had a deep love of Paris instilled in her at an early age from her beloved grandparents. Following in their footsteps, she is happiest strolling the historic cobblestones soaking in the architecture, art and history. Highly sought after to plan your Parisian adventure that ventures off the beaten path and digs deeper into the historic and secret Paris. Contact her at [email protected] to plan your trip. You can follow her adventure and daily Paris history lesson on Instagram @claudinebleublonderouge

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