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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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 :-).