Cities / Towns Visited: 2
Countries Visited: 2
Steps Taken Today: 19,849
Steps Taken Around the World: 349,211
Leaving the weather situation unspoken, we’ll just say our day began as always, as we weaved our way through the city to one of the best know silhouettes of the city; Notre Dame. After getting through the security line (which snaked from the gate and across the bridge), we made it into the courtyard. I’m not sure if their security is always like that, or if it’s heightened because of the religious holidays in progress, but we’re talking heavily armed actual police officers, patting down every man passing through the gate, and looking inside the jackets of all of the women. Anyway, once in the yard we were faced with a line so long and wound that if you covered it with a giant dragon costume we could have celebrated Chinese new year right then and there. So down into the archaeological crypt we ventured, where the line was non existent. Now when I say crypt, wipe the idea of more tombs or skeletons out of your mind, it is only a crypt in the way that it is below a church. It, instead, houses a highly interesting display of the ancient ruins of the old church, and other Roman buildings which occupied this spot prior to what you see above ground today. The crypt also houses a large display of information explaining the historical production of coins in France, with examples from Roman times, all the way up to the French monarchy in the 1700’s. Fascinated by the foundations of the church we ascended to the present to take in the jewel that is the Cathedral.
With its iconic twin towers (which are an OCD sufferers nightmare as they are ever so slightly asymmetrical), it’s gargoyles, and it’s flying buttresses, it was everything I’d imagined it would be, despite its obvious lack of hunchbacks and dark haired gypsy women playing the tambourine. With countless intricate statues adorning the facade, the long journey down the line, didn’t feel that long at all. Like most churches though, it is the inside where the real magic is, and as beautiful as the famous rose windows are on the outside they are infinitely more so from within. Vaulted ceilings stretched to incomprehensible heights, light danced through the stained glass painting the walls with colour, and, despite the sheer number of people in the church, it still held that peaceful calm you would expect in a house of God.
Unsure of whether we could find something to beat Notre Dame, we still moved on to enter Sainte Chapelle; the church King Louis IX built for himself and his family to house the relics of Christ, including the crown of thorns (which now resides in Notre Dame). Now from the outside the small building looks as nice as any other church, with soaringly high walls and a spire that looks to almost brush the clouds. When you enter the bottom floor it is painted with royal blue and adorned with much gilding and gold painted stars on its vaulted ceiling. It is beautiful on its own merits, especially considering most churches no longer have their interior paints, and instead stand with unadorned stonework. But if ‘it’s what’s on the inside that counts’ is true, it is incalculably true as you reach the top of the narrow stone stairs to the top floor. I am not ashamed to say that I quite literally stopped in my tracks and turned to my partner to say only one word; ‘WOW!’. Floor to ceiling, where their should be walls, there was just arch after arch of the tallest, brightest, and most colourful stained glass windows you’ve ever seen. Each one dedicated to a different story from the bible, and each one just as beautiful as the last. Paris, as if to show off, allowed the sun to come out, if only for a blip, but as the rays passed through the windows I felt as though I were in a kaleidoscope, painted every colour by windows which made me suddenly understand why Beauty and the Beast starts with its story told through this medium. I would return here a thousand times over before I would return to Notre Dame. I have a hunch it will be hard for me to find a church I like more. The bottom floor may be gods house, but the top floor, it belongs to the sun.
With the light in my soul shining we continued our journey to our last destination for the day; the Pantheon. This St. Peter’s Church inspired building is the former church commissioned by King Louis XV, but after the revolution it was converted into a monument to house the remains of France’s finest, the men and women who called France home and came into the world only to leave it a better place. With such strong figures as: Marie and Pierre Curie, Victor Hugo, and Louis Braille, as well as important members of the revolution, and a memorial to those in France who risked their lives to protect persecuted Jews in World War II, in its crypt, it is surprising the building needs stone foundations at all. The building above is just as patriotic, with a massive statue commemorating the victory of the revolution, along with floor to ceiling murals, at least 30 foot high, depicting beautiful scenes, including a series of panels showing the life and subsequent death of Joan of Arc, from her being called to arms by the holy spirit, to her untimely death by fire.
After a day of viewing such fervent memorials to both God and good people alike, it was hard not to feel better about the world. If there is such beauty and good in the world, perhaps there is hope for us as a species. Maybe, just maybe, if we choose to put others before ourselves, we can turn it around and dig ourselves out of the hole that is the human condition. We are a social species, and only by caring for others will we triumph. Finally, to all of you out there who are already doing good in the world, I beseech you not to stop; keep following your moral compass in this world where so many have seemed to have lost theirs.