The line to enter Notre Dame begins to form early in the morning. It crosses the broad plaza and curves over the bridge halfway across the Seine. Travelers pass the time taking long perspective shots with their cell phones, and the great towers looming above the great doors make for impressive post cards for Instagram. My girls and I were on our way from the Marais to the Louvre by foot; it looked like rain, so a mid-journey sanctuary under the protection of the rose window seemed a good idea. The line, however, thought otherwise, so A and M sauntered off to buy French-themed aprons for their own girls, and I stayed on the plaza to photograph the details of the facade, the statuary that seems to get lost, hidden as the individual carvings are in the overwhelming entirety of the building. By way of warm-up, here are a few pictures from St. Merri’s church, just down the road from the Pompidou Center. Notably, in modern, mostly secular France, the church is largely devoted to social projects and evening concerts. But in days gone by–584 years if you’re counting–the parish priest of St. Merri’s sat among the judges at the trial of Joan of Arc.
And now we’ve arrived at Notre Dame. The facade, as I’ve said, is so highly decorated that you need consciously to arrest your gaze on one piece at a time before it is swallowed by the edifice, like the poor Christian swallowed whole by Christianity. Mary appears at her essential moments: the birth of Christ, her Assumption into heaven. She also appears, standing, with the infant Jesus in her arms; the base of the statue is the carved scene depicting the seduction of Adam and Eve by, in one of Christianity’s unresolved icons, a definitely female serpent.
We also have saints and angels by the dozens, cherub busts and torsos, workers, kings, demons, modest women, depraved counselors, animals, magi, the court of Herod, the full panoply of the ship of fools who make up the world that exists to be judged.