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6. Notre Dame de Paris

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

As I write, Notre Dame de Paris is burning. It's the most awful thing to see.

The tower is said to have been made of wood and lead.

The fire, seen from Place Saint Michel, by Adélaïde Calais WMFr , Wikimedia Commons

Another Place Saint-Michel in front of a cathedral.

Incendie de Notre-Dame-de-Paris 15 avril 2019 Remi Mathis, Wkimedia Commons

This is what Notre Dame looked like when it was first built:

Notre-Dame-de-Paris, dans Pontifical romain aux armes de Jean II de Mauléon, évêque de Saint-Bertrand-de Comminges, BnF, Ms. Latin 1226-2 Noël Bellemare, entre 1525 et 1530 - Gallica - Bibliothèque nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons

And this is what the cathedral looked like until this evening.

West facade of Notre-Dame, Paris, France, by by Dietmar Rabich, Wikimedia Commons

The southern end of the Notre Dame de Paris, where many of the flying buttresses can be seen on the cathedral - one of the first buildings to use such architecture., By Eutouring - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Vaults in the nave of cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris, France. The pillars are slightly offset, so that the vaults are a bit skewed., by Uoaei1, Wikimedia Commons

Stained glass windows in the apse of cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris, France Uoaei1 , Wikimedia Commons

Notre-Dame de Paris, detail of interior, by Alvesgaspar, Wikimedia Commons

Detail of the west facade of Notre-Dame, Paris, France, Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons

Detail of the west facade of Notre-Dame, Paris, France, Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons

Notre-Dame, Paris. Detail of main portal, by Alvesgaspar, Wikimedia Commons

Notre-Dame, Paris. Detail of main portal, Alvesgaspar, Wikimedia Commons

What faces, and such mystery. Why the feet on the heads of snakes? Why stand on a castle and under another? What's in the closed book? What does the hand gesture mean? Who are the people above, pushing stone slabs?

A small section of the Notre Dame de Paris, holding sculptures and gargoyles and one of the spiritual lightning rods, holding part of the Crown of Thorns and two other religious relics. By Eutouring, Wikimedia Commons

Printemps Haussmann's decorative weather vane (architect : Paul Sédille, builder : Perin-Grados, 1882) with view on Palais Garnier from panoramic terrace - 9th arrondissement of Paris, by Selbymay, Wikimedia Commons

A caduceus on its side! How strange. Mercury must be tipsy.

Haussmann is the man who redesigned Paris in the late XIXth century, partly to try to eradicate disease from the narrow medieval streets. What aesthetic, or perhaps esoteric, considerations did he put into his work, I wonder.

Notre Dame de Paris is the very centre of France. This star on the ground in front of the cathedral shows that all roads start from here, proof, if ever it were needed, that cathedrals are not just placed any old which where.

Kilometer Zero near Notre Dame, Paris, France, Dietmar Rabich, Wikimedia Commons

Allegory of alchemy, central portal, Wikimedia Commons

An open book and a closed book. A ladder with nine rungs. A sceptre. What does it mean?

It's also at the heart of alchemical Paris, a building full of coded images, and instructions to those who can interpret them. Have a look at this program, ten minutes into it is Notre-Dame-de-Paris.

Plate 11 of the Turgot map of Paris, By Louis Bretez - Kyoto University Library, Public Domain,

You can (just about) see on this map that the Place Saint-Michel to the front of the cathedral, on the island, had its name long before the Haussmann redesign of Paris.

There has been a building on this site since at least Roman times, as evidence has been found of a temple dedicated to Jupiter, and work on the current building was started in 1163.

The archangel Michael features here:

Archangel Michael and Satan weighing souls during the Last Judgement (central portal, west facade) PHGCOM , Wikimedia Commons

The Festival of Reason is celebrated at Notre Dame during the revolution, 1793. Wikimedia Commons

How will the new Notre-Dame de Paris encode what we believe today?

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