Sunday, May 25, 2008

Paris: chapels, churches and cathedrals (2)

Being my first time in Paris, I naturally wanted to take a look at two of the most famous churches – the cathedral of Notre Dame and the Basilica of Le Sacré Coeur. Accordingly, I set aside Sunday for exploring these and made my way from the apartment onto La Rue Vaugirard, a street that was now more familiar, having already followed it to reach the Jardins du Luxembourg. On the previous day, I passed by the Chapelle St Joseph des Carmes, which during the Revolution of the late 18C witnessed bloody scenes resulting in more than 100 martyrs.

Chapelle St Joseph

I was just in time for a quick visit - I tagged onto a tour group and when lingering at the front of the church I got a call from their guide, who had the key. Afterwards I said "I was lucky", actually meaning that I was lucky to get a look, but the guide thought I meant something else, "Yes, you could have been locked in there all night." Maybe that would have been even more interesting, however I think I would have preferred another church with a more harmonious record! On this occasion, I just took a snap to record its history:

Histoire de Paris: Les Carmes

There are lots of these triangular information points that look like metallic oars - perhaps to symbolise the navigation through the munipal information waters! In any case, they are useful - here relating the discalced Carmelite origins of the early 17th century.

Proceeding onwards, I made my way to a square by the Sorbonne. I wanted to find a guided tour to explore this ancient seat of learning, but whereas there had been quite a bit of activity the day before, with quite a few students gathered around posters commemorating the 1968 uprisings, this was Sunday morning - not known to be a time for so much student engagement! So I contented myself with a coffee and croissants, watching people amble by and relaxing through the sound of the fountains:

Fountains by the Chapelle de la Sorbonne

I crossed over the Seine and soon came to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I immediately saw the long queues and was instinctively put off from going in, so I aimed to just take a photo or two of the main entrance:

La Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris

But then I reconsidered and reflected that I ought to be more patient and go with the flow, so I joined the queue and found it was snaking its way very quickly. After a few steps, I looked up again and saw the sky had changed - there was now a halo above the cathedral.

A Halo Around La Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris

I've seen this effect before (I like rainbow effects and often spot them). The scientific explanation is that they are the result of sunlight refracting through ice crystals, but as to how this combination arises in the first place ... :-)

Inside it was very crowded - Mass was just starting and the clergy filed past close to where I was standing, carrying the cross before and appearing completely unruffled by all the motion around them. They were well aware of the grand ceremony of the Mass being the real spectacle, centre stage. Even so, it felt strange to have this proceeding surrounded by so many tourists clicking away as though this was just another series of exhibits. I too was part of the crowd, taking the odd photo; I thought that my father might be interested in proceedings, but generally the light was very poor. At least the cross was clear enough:

Cross at Notre Dame cathedral

Videos were a bit better: I took a couple of short videos, including the following, which shows how popular the cathedral is:

It was easy to get distracted from the cathedral's purpose as a place of worship, but I just made my way slowly and it was alright.

I saw some people praying earnestly in the side chapels, some with drooping shoulders and generally sunken posture looked to be heavily burdened; I wanted to touch them lightly and say not to worry, but I didn't have the courage (or temerity). Buddhist practitioners are instructed that whatever their circumstances, the meditation posture should be upright, which can help brighten the mind; it doesn't mean a loss of humility. I think such advice would be helpful here.

Emerging from the cathedral, I took a few more photos, one showing paintings on sale and the other a view further along the river:

La Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris View of La Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris from the South East

After lunch I headed North, initially to the Ile de Saint Louis, now a very well-to-do place to reside. I visited Saint Louis church, where they had some information on a noticeboard about Christian Meditation, as inspired by Desert fathers. They featured St. Bruno's simplicity in being still in God, but primary attention was given to the practise of Father John Main and the community he established. Actually, there exist many methods for Christians; some of the deepest states of stillness I encountered in church were when people were praying silently in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Afterwards I took the Metro to Montmartre to visit Le Sacre Coeur. Weaving in and out of the throngs, I approach from the South and beheld its bleached white Château-Landon stone:

Le Sacré Coeur, Montmartre

It was the strictest church i've come across so far - inside no photos or videos were allowed; gentleman had to remove hats and ladies especially were requested to be dressed modestly, very similar to a Thai temple :-) At 4pm there was Vespers, with very prominent roles given to the nuns: forming the choir, they sung very bright alleluias. The organ accompaniment built up very gradually until it was booming, making quite a statement!

Emerging, after taking in the view into the distance, I took a route down one side and took a photo from a corner:

Le Sacré Coeur

Having done quite an ecclesiastical tour, it was time to go home for evening reflections (browsing the photos on the Eee PC in the comfort of the apartment :-).


Brooke said...

Excellent blog! Your narrative and pictures are superb. Great resource for my upcoming trip to Paris.

Paul Trafford said...

Thanks for your kind words. Glad my blog is useful - for your trip I hope you have good weather and that the exchange rate becomes more favourable (even for us in the UK, the Euro is very strong at the moment). I hope to write more entries - about art, architecture, gardens etc - when time allows.

I see you are from Seattle - I went there last October and was very impressed, but have only some photos to share, no narrative.

Brooke said...

Thank you for sharing your Seattle photos with me. I enjoyed seeing your framing and composition of shots, thus providing, for me, a new perspective of familiar sites. (Oh, the Fremont troll's Volkswagen is the real deal, just buried in concrete.)