Medieval Beauty in the Heart of a Modern City: My First Visit to La Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris



Photo credit: David Martínez

Appropriately enough my wife Sharon and I paid our first visit to Notre Dame on a Sunday during what was also our first visit to Paris. While fully aware, based on the friendly advice of Parisian friends, that Paris is much more than its “tourist attractions,” we nonetheless felt drawn toward the medieval heart of this very modern and secular metropolis. Neither of us are Christian, however, both of us—like countless people around the world—grew up hearing about this legendary place. So, we simply wanted to see it with our own eyes.

What we saw that morning was simply magnificent! For me the source of my experience wasn’t in Notre Dame’s relationship to the biblical God but to beauty and grace—it was the aesthetic experience that filled my heart with joy. The high ceilings, the stained glass windows, the carvings, statuary, and paintings, which transformed the interior of this church into a world unto itself, left my eyes straining to take it all in. It was like slaking a thirst I didn’t even know I had until I was here. However, the experience was more than visual. At the same time a mass was underway the perimeter of the cathedral was swarming with visitors, silently watching the ritual, taking pictures, occasionally lighting a candle (including making the suggested donation), then moving on. The mass in turn was performed flawlessly as word, music, and ceremony came together in an orderly universe of Catholic worship.

Then there was the journey up to the top of the tower where the gargoyles keep their watch over the city. You stand in a line outside of the cathedral, which moves sporadically until you’re finally let into the tower’s entrance. You climb several stairs to a room where you wait, buy souvenirs, and tickets (unless you have a Paris Museum Pass). From there it’s a long steep climb up, nearly 400 steps in all in a narrow spiraling stairwell. As for the view, even in a modern world of skyscrapers, the view from atop Notre Dame is nothing short of extraordinary! It is from this vantage point that you can finally appreciate why this place, not just the building, is so special. As you see Sacré Cœur and the Eiffel Tower in the distance, as well as the Seine and the city below, you may sense as I did that you’re in a space whose sanctity extends deep into the earth below and goes back innumerable generations into the mythic past. I hope my photographs do this place some justice. Please click on the picture above to see more. Thank you!


“We’ll Always Have Paris”: Seeing the Louvre for the First Time


Da Vinci Louvre

Photo credit: David Martínez

Although I have wanted to travel to Paris my whole life I didn’t make it there until very recently when I took my wife Sharon on what was our first trip together to this wondrous place. She had never been there before either, so we shared in the excitement of seeing this city for the first time.

Inevitably we went to the Louvre. In fact, it was the one thing that I wanted to do most of all. So, on Friday morning we took a taxi from the Hotel Joyce on Rue La Bruyère to Le Musée du Louvre along the Seine. Almost simultaneously, as we rode into the rotary around La Pyramide Inversée, we spotted the famed Louvre pyramid on our left and the Eiffel Tower in the distance to our right. I couldn’t believe we were finally here!

Fortunately, when we got in line we went in swiftly with our Paris Museum Passes, which we purchased at the Charles De Gaulle airport upon our arrival. Then, after checking in our coats and backpacks—which you do at separate counters—we looked at our museum map, then headed up the Denon entryway in pursuit of the Italian Renaissance galleries and the Mona Lisa. What we saw first made my heart beat faster. It was the Winged Victory of Samothrace! There she stood at the top of a wide staircase, bathed in light and splendor.

In a very peculiar sense going to the Louvre was comparable to my first trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Allow me to explain. They are both places that have lived in my imagination since childhood. They are also places whose images have inundated my visual world for so long that the idea of going to see them in person was going to see something that I thought was abundantly familiar. However, when you finally see them in person you realize in a wave of amazement that none of the countless photos and videos do justice to the lived experience. In the case of the Louvre, and my initial moment before the Winged Victory Samothrace, I was seeing this with newborn vision. In a word, I was awestruck! Indeed, that feeling of genuine wonder stayed with me throughout all the galleries, from the ancient Greek sculptures to the Flemish and German paintings.

As for Da Vinci’s “La Joconde,” of course I had long heard about how you will be disappointed with how small it is in actuality. Consequently, I did not enter the first floor gallery expecting a life-size image, but rather the 77 X 53 cm painting I had read about, in addition to seeing in art history books. What I did not anticipate was the radiant energy this otherwise modest work emitted from behind its glass encasement. The “Mona Lisa, Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, Wife of Francesco del Giocondo” is displayed in the middle of a large gallery, surrounded by dozens of other 16th century works. Yet, there was only one image in that room that everyone wanted to see, and it was hers. So, no, I was not disappointed by this nor any other facet of my first trip to the Louvre. On the contrary, it left me wanting to return to Paris as soon as possible.  In the meantime, please click on the link below, which will take you to a flickr album I created, where you can see several more photos I took during my transformative visit.  Thank you.