Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame de Paris

Paris watches across the Seine stunned as the Cathedral of Notre Dam burns.

As I type these words the great Cathedral of Notre Dame is still in flames, its brilliant windows shattered, vaulted roof collapsed and the spire fallen.  Perhaps the gargoyles have melted.  Paris looks on and weeps—reverent Catholics, Communist intellectuals, Yellow Vests, fashionable mademoiselles, old men with rheumy eyes, school children, whores and pickpockets, dreaded Muslims, despised Jews, and American tourists with their selfie sticks.

Fire officials announced moments ago that “the next hour and a half is crucial in order to see if the fire can be contained.  Every method to suppress the flames is being employed save the one demanded by Donald Trump in one of his insane Tweets—attacking the fire with water dumped from aircraft as if church was a California forest fire—which the officials know would “collapse the walls,” the only thing there is a dim hope of saving.

[Up Date 4am CST edit]  The famous façade and twin bell towers stand and the shell of the Cathedral stands.  Religious artifacts including a relic of the Crown of Thorns and a remnant of St. Louis’s cloak were saved as well as some of the priceless art on the interior.  The French nation is already pledging to restore the Cathedral no matter the cost.]
Notre Dam by Childe Hassam.
The foundation of Notre Dame was laid on the Île de la Cité in the Seine in 1163 and construction continued through 1345.  It was among the great Midlevel Gothic cathedrals, with its spire, twin towers where Quasimodo rang his bells and swept up doomed Esmerelda, flying buttresses, gargoyles, and rose windows.  
One of the three great Rose Windows of Notre Dame.
It survived plagues, riots by Huguenots and the Paris rabble, a disastrous modernization by Louis XIV that replaced the great stained glass windows  with clear glass to admit more light, and the French Revolution during which many of its statues were mutilated or destroyed, the Queen of Reason set on the altar instead of the Our Lady of Notre Dame, and at last became a mere armory and garrison.  Napoleon restored the Cathedral to the Church and snatched a crown from the Pope to declare himself Emperor.  
Quasimodo and Esmerelda amid the Gargoyles.
After years of tumult and neglect  the Cathedral was battered and deteriorating in 1831when Victor Hugo penned his novel Notre Dame de Paris known in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame to help save the great building.  The restored Bourbon King Louis Phillipe ordered a complete restoration in 1844 which took twenty years and far outlasted his reign.  The spire, which had fallen in 1786, was enlarged and replaced, and the Medieval windows were painstakingly recreated from drawings and paintings.

Notre Dame survived Hitler’s orders to burn Paris when the German occupation command refused to obey.  Then it was pockmarked by bullets and some windows shattered in the street fighting between the French Resistance and the Nazis before the Liberation of the city.

Soot, air pollution, and acid rain begrimed and threatened the stone and in 1963 the Minister of Culture André Malraux, the novelist and former Communist, order a cleaning and restoration for the Cathedral’s 800th anniversary.  Another restoration began in 1991 and the Cathedral was once again shrouded in scaffolding when the fire broke out, almost surely connected to work being done on the roof.
Victor Hugo.
Victor Hugo described the importance of the church in the opening of Book Three of Notre Dame de Paris:

Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of centuries. Art of undergoes a transformation while they are pending, penent opera interrupta; they procced quietly in accordance with the transformed art.  The new art takes the moment where it finds it, incrusts itself there, assimilates it to itself, develops in according to it fancy, and finishes if it can.  The thing is accomplished without trouble, without effort, without reaction,—following a natural and tranquil law.  It is a graft which shoots up, a sap which circulates, a vegetation which starts forth anew.   Certainly there is matter here for many large volumes, and often the universal history of humanity in the successive engrafting of many arts at many levels, upon the same monument.  The man, the artist, the individual, is effaced in these great masses, which lack the name of their author, human intelligence is there summed up and totalized.  Time is the architect the nation is the builder….

All these shades, all these differences, do not affect the surfaces of edifices only.  It is art which has changed its skin.  The very constitution of the Christian church is not attacked by it.  There is always the same internal woodwork, the same logical arrangements of parts….The service of religion once assured and provided for, the architecture does what she pleases.  Statues, stained glass, rose windows, arabesques, denticulations, capitals, bas-reliefs,—she combines all these imaginings according to the arrangement which best suits her.  Hence, the prodigious exterior of these edifices, at whose foundation dwell so much order and unity.  The trunk of a tree is immovable, the foliage is capricious.

Other writers and poets have been moved by the cathedral and by the story of the Hunchback and Gypsy girl Hugo wrote to enshrine it.   
Laurence Overmire.
Laurence Overmire is an American-born poet, actor, director, educator, and genealogist as well as the author of 11 books living in Scotland. For more information visit his web page, laurenceovermire.com

Quasimodo to Esmerelda

i look into your eyes

and see the stars

burning quietly

in a midnight sky

and i am humbled.

what hope have i

to rein a winged foal

dancing on a distant cloud

chasing the maiden moon

as she scatters her delicate veils

of luminous dust

on the sleeping earth below.

what hope have i

disfigured and alone

who cannot speak

and dare not feel

you will not hear the silent voice

that clamors in a trembling heart

you will not see the man

imprisoned by the shackles of his soul

you will not know


i leave you now

lift your voice to the wind

run free

brave spirit

we never meet again

but i have looked into your eyes

and glimpsed the stars.

—Laurence  Overmire

Kerrie O'Brien.

Kerrie O’Brien is a young Irish poet who holds a BA in History of Art and Classics from Trinity College Dublin.  She describes her personal experience of Notre Dame, an experience shared with countless visitors from around the world.  Learn about her work at kerrieobrien.com

Notre Dame

Certain mornings
I would be the only one
To see the first streams of it—
Tumbling through stained glass
Smattering everything
Red gold rose blue.
The beauty almost frightening.
Yves Klein would daub his women
And hurl them at the canvas.
Living brushes
Haphazard and outrageous—a
Same effect.
Different every day
This glittering cave
Big beautiful lit up thing.
It knew and knew
Why I had come.
Blue gold rose red
Falling like water
My river walk,
My morning prayer.
I would step into it slow
Circling the altar
Gold cross flickering
In the centre
Anchored, rooted, still.
As above, so below
Eyes closed
Filling my heart
With the warmth of it
Until my body was
Sunlight and roses
And the fear
Fell away in petals
Would you believe it
If I told you
Nothing felt separate.

—Kerrie O’Brien

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