Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Gargoyles of Notre Dame

World Heritage Sites


The crowds were horrific the day we visited this important gothic cathedral.  With guidebook in hand, we were Good Little Tourists and dutifully read the passages on gothic architecture and blue rose windows as we rubbed shoulders with complete strangers.  Built during the 11th-13th centuries, it is one of the few remaining masterpieces of the medieval era.  The history within these walls is the history of western civilization itself.  Both King Louis XIV and Napoleon were coronated here.  In the 20th century, all 1500 seats were filled for the funeral of Charles de Gaulle.

But stale perfume, bad breath and body odor made me run up all 455 steps to the Bell Tower for some fresh air.  Only then, did the real magic of Notre Dame set in.   It is the stunning views of Paris guarded by hundreds of mythical, grotesques that filled me with wonder.  I stayed among the gargoyles for hours.  Give me monsters with horns and wings and beady eyes over elongated apostles any day!  And this is precisely what the Catholic Church intended.  There were still a lot of pagans out there roaming around.  They needed to be converted.  How to do this?  Scare the living crap out of them, that's how.  Bring them inside, teach them about heaven, convince them to get baptized so the devils on top of the cathedral wouldn't drag them down to a place of fire and brimstone.  It worked.
  Of course, there is another, more practical reason gargoyles were added during the construction of the cathedral.   In architectural terms, a gargoyle is a grotesque with a spout.  It comes from the French "gargouille" which means "throat", and was used as a way to convey water from the rooftops of medieval buildings.  These little guys had very important missions:   Protect the masonry and convert the pagans.

    Because our hotel was not far from the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the gargoyles were never far from sight.  At night, they entered my dreams and carried me over the rooftops of Paris.  I tell you, those early church fathers knew what they were doing!

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