“You have to visit the Notre Dame, its amazing!!”
Before leaving for Paris, that was a comment I received a lot in the lead up to my flight.
Visit Notre Dame.
And upon my arrival, the magnificent Church did not disappoint.
Standing tall on the Île de la Cité, the Notre Dame towers above the surrounding buildings, and watches over the hurrying mass of tourists clamouring for photos, desperately trying to fit the entirety of the church in their shots.
The Gothic architecture itself is simply awe-inspiring; with stunning details carefully carved into any available surface. All around it, captivating statues of saints and gargoyles cast their gaze over the whole city.
Inside, the architecture remains just as intricate and captivating; the stained glass windows and flickering candles adding a welcome splash of colour. There is limited sunlight streaming in, creating a brisk breeze as you wander around the cathedral. The atmosphere inside the walls of the Notre Dame is of stark contrast to the outside chaos – it’s more solemn and reverend.
Well as much as it can be.
Mass routinely takes place at the Notre Dame, and during that time it becomes a strange melting pot of eager tourists and attentive faithful. The famous bells toll and the Priest begins proceedings, with the congregation steeped in prayer – hanging on to each and every word.
However, in the moments of reflective silence, an unusual tension begins to build between the two distinct crowds. The murmur of those there for the spectacle of it all fill the air. A myriad of camera shutters click along in unorganised symphony, cutting through the communal piety. Members of the congregation shoot annoyed glances at each other.
For them this is prayer, not performance.
I’ve visited many sacred and holy sites in my travels and have always appreciated the atmosphere of reverence that is purposefully preserved – temples in Cambodia, Churches in rural Ireland and Mosques in the UAE. In each of these places there has always been an inherent understanding that for some, a site of splendour is also a site for ritual and faithful practice.
As I stood in the Notre Dame, it became clear to me that there was no order to the chaos, no line that separated intrigue from intention. I truly felt for the parishioners that day – though they must have accepted the nature of the situation by now; the Notre Dame has been, and always will be a site that garners global attention.
But I bet on that day sitting in the pews – someone was praying for a moment of quiet solace – so they could return to a state of tranquil being, even for a moment.
Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.
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