Do You Also Giggle When You Say Flying Buttresses?

DSC_0516_2Every time I say “flying buttress” he laughs.  For some people, Notre Dame is a religious experience.  Our promenade around the exterior was more like a giggly experience.  Each time someone said “buttress,”  it was pronounced “BUTT-ress.”  You can’t take us anywhere.  Nevertheless, I still think flying buttresses are cool and good for more than just a laugh.

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Gothic churches are tall, spacious and filled with light.  Why?  The magic of technology.  Buttresses support the walls outward force.  Pointed arches (instead of the round Romanesque arches) allowed the enormous weight of stone roofs transferring it out and not just to the walls.  Essentially, the buttresses support the weight of the roof. This made building thinner walls with windows possible.

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You can see the support inside with a network of columns that become pointed.  They intersect at the top of the roof.

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Nowhere can you see this more than in Paris’ Sainte-Chapelle.  Almost all the walls are windows and it is filled with light.

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Intimate Moments Inside Notre Dame

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I posted about the history and architecture of Notre Dame.  It is part of Paris‘ cultural and religious lifeblood.  It’s huge, historic, and imposing.  I was surprised to find pockets of warmth, small details and intimacy when we visited during a mass.

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Notre Dame (The One In Paris, Not The One We Beat In Football)

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Notre Dame is a huge Gothic masterpiece.  Built in the middle ages (construction started in 1163), it has seen a lot.  It survived the French Revolution, allegedly housed the Crown of Thorns, saw many coronations including Napoleons and inspired Victor Hugo‘s story of a hunchbacked bell-ringer (Quasimodo), The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

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Construction began in 12th century.  Two centuries passed before it was competed in 1345, spanning almost the entire Gothic period.  At the time, it was an engineering feat; it was one of the world’s first buildings to use “flying buttress” (the support arches attached to the exterior at the garden end of the cathedral that help support the weight of the enormous roof).

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The church is known for its size.  It is massive and can hold 6000.  It is also known for its large stained glass rose window.  Like an idiot, I used to look for pink in rose windows.  It was awhile before I learned that rose window is a generic term applied to the large circular windows, particularly those found in Gothic churches.  They are divided into segments by stone mullions and tracery, the color pink is in no way a prerequisite.  Go figure.

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I was especially smitten with the hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of humorous gargoyles.  The rooftop has amazing views of the city, but we were with older family who couldn’t make the trip up the stairs.  Please feel free to comment and tell us what we missed.

Reims Cathedral, It’s History Has More Drama Than A Telenovela

When I visited Champagne, I had to stop by and see the cathedral in Reims.  I’d heard so much about it and had to see it in person.  Yeah, from a distance, it might look a lot like many other French cathedrals, but this one is different.  It’s beautiful, light and airy, but that’s only scratching the surface.  It’s fascinating because of its dramatic history.

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is considered by many to be the world’s most perfect Gothic church.   Located in eastern France (an hour or so away from the WWI battlefield of Verdun),  it was almost completely destroyed during the First World War.    On September 19-20, 1914, 25 German shells struck the cathedral which then caught on fire, causing massive damage.  It became known as  the “Martyred Cathedral” a symbol of destruction during the Great War and brought out strong emotions in the French.  Strong emotions are an understatement.  Several injured German prisoners found refuge in the cathedral but were killed outraged French.

In 1924, billionaire American John D. Rockefeller, gave money to restore the cathedral.  Fabulously wealthy Andrew Carnegie kicked in some money too.    Today, it’s mostly restored, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and definitely worth the few million they poured into it.

Reims has been a town since Roman times. In 498, Clovis was baptized as the first Catholic French king at the church.  This was a big deal.  If you don’t believe me, Pope John Paul II visited for the 1500th anniversary of the event.  I can pretty much guarantee that no world leader will mark the 1500th anniversary of anything I have done or anywhere I have been.  Monkey see, monkey do.  All the cool kings wanted to do it like Clovis did and it became the site for coronations of French kings (until the revolution).   Joan of Arc famously knelt in front of Charles VII when he was crowned King of France there.  Today, they have a Gallery of Kings, statues of the famous kings who were crowned there.

Here Saint Remy Baptized Clovis King of France

In 1211, when the existing church burned down, the built a bigger better one on the site of an earlier church (just like Geneva’s Cathedral St. Pierre).  Part of what makes Reims Cathedral such an amazing building is the amount of light inside (particularly in comparison with others constructed around the same time).  The architects designed the windows so that they would let in as much light as possible.

Notre-Dame de Reims did not escape the French Revolution unscathed. Fleur-de-lys and clovers were removed because they had been symbols of the monarchy.   They were replaced during the restoration.  Thanks Mr. Rockefeller.

Large circular windows at the ends of the cathedrals are known as the “Rose Window.”  It took me a few cathedrals to figure that one out.  Luckily, we’ve seen a few this year (Toledo, Milan). The church is known throughout France for its impressive stained glass windows.  During the restoration, some more contemporary have been used.  I like the one depicting Champagne making from the 1950’s.  Who would have thought church windows would depict hooch? The windows designed by Marc Chagall from the 1970’s (above) were my favorites because they were ethereal and dreamy.  You wouldn’t expect something so massive to look so light.   They plan on continuing with the different windows, making it interesting to for visitors compare and contrast the different styles.

By the way, if you go there, hunt out the “Smiling Angel” (also known as  “Smile of Reims”  and “L’Ange au Sourire”).  Decapitated by a burning beam in 1914,, during the fire of September 19, 1914 it the destruction and then with the restoration of the city. 

 

Tales From The Crypt

Geneva is old.  Really old.  The Allobrogians built a fortified settlement in Geneva that was conquered by the Romans in 120 BCE.   For me, pre-Roman = old.  Located at a strategic location between Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) and the Rhone, Julius Cesar came to Geneva on his Gallic campaign in approximately  58 BCE.   From the 1st to 4th centuries, they built a large building close to where the St.-Pierre Cathedral now stands .

Under the St.-Pierre Cathedral, in the crypt is an archaeological site.  The foundations of those original buildings are still there.   You can see the layers of building.    In the photo above, you can see the original monk’s cells on the left.  Cozy.

The site is massive, with many levels.  Some of our guests missed seeing an entire part of it when they took a wrong turn.

When I went back to look for them, I stumbled upon this gentleman (or lady).  The  hole is from the excavations searching for his or her head!

With so much history piled up in one spot, they have a handy color coded system to help you determine the age of what you are seeing.  The colored sticks correspond to different time periods.  

There’s plenty of evidence of the Romans, from mosaic floors to coins to wells.

I don’t think the coins at the bottom of this cistern date from Roman times.  I tossed one in.  It couldn’t hurt.

In the 4th–5th century, as Christianity spread across the Roman Empire and the  cluster of buildings on the hill began to include places of worship.  In 443, the Burgundians (a tribe of barbarians who invaded) took over Geneva. They made Geneva one of their capitals and the city contented to develop.  The site also developed encompassing multiple uses.

By the 9th century, cluster had grown significantly and undergone fundamental changes.  Three places of worship and annexes were built in the 4th–5th centuries.  These early christian churches have been extensively excavated.  In the 7th–8th centuries, a larger cathedral was erected.  In 1000, a monumental crypt was added and the choir extended.  The bishop built a himself a residence, a palace for him to live in.  Of course he did.

 

Bellinzona’s Churches

 

Bellinzona is probably Switzerland’s most Italianate town.  Therefore, it is not surprising that it has tons of churches.  Being the idiot that I am, I was still surprised that such a small town had so many.  Being a trading center, Bellinzona drew people from all over, including religious folk.   There are many churches and convents in the area.  The local tourist office has even developed a walking tour that covers some of the highlights.

Piazza Collegiata (also known as Piazza Grande) is one of Bellinzona’s center squares, When you step into Piazza Collegiata, your eyes are drawn to its elegant, imposing Renaissance church.  Its rich baroque interior is incredibly ornate.  Perhaps because it isn’t very large, the Collegiata dei Ss. Pietro e Stefano somehow manages to be intimate, even cheerful.

Dating from 1424, was largely rebuilt by Tommaso Rodari from Maroggia.  He was the master builder of Italy’s Como Cathedral.   Just around the corner, toward the path to Montebello, you pass ancient church buildings.

The 14th century oratory of San Rocco is known for its frescos of St. Christopher and the Virgin Mary with Christ.  These frescos are 20th century restorations, but the Chiesa di San Biagio has some originals.  The Church of San Biagio in Ravecchia, known as the red church, also has frescos.

The walk from Castello di Montebello to Castello di Sasso Corbaro provides a stunning view of the Chapel of San Sebastian (Chiesa San Sebastiano).  On a hilltop with the alps derriere and the vineyards in front, it is sunning.

 

Milan’s Duomo-mo-mo

From the square, the Duomo, Milan’s cathedral, is stunningly beautiful.   It looks fresh and cool in the heat of the day.  In the afternoon, it radiates with the warm late afternoon, early evening light.  At night, it glows.

It took centuries to build and spent most of its life as a construction zone.  Started in 1386, the building continued until 1810.  They added the final touches in 1965.  Renovations began shortly thereafter.  Go figure.  As a result, the inside is a mish-mash of architectural styles and materials. It is huge (housing over 40,000 only the Vatican’s, London’s and Seville’s are larger).   With 52 hundred-foot pillars, over 2000 statues (just inside) and countless enormous paintings, you didn’t know where to look.  It was a bit overwhelming and the huge mix of styles made it hard to process.

It contains everything, including the kitchen sink.  It’s so big, there has to be one in there somewhere.  Some of the more interesting items include:

  • The body of Saint Carl Borromeo in a glass casket in the crypt.
  • Rappers aren’t the only men who like to wear a lot of bling.  Apparently, priests and/or cardinals do as well.

  • On a similar note, kings aren’t the only ones who like to wear crowns.
  • That little red dot to the right above the altar is where they keep a nail reputed to be the one that nailed Christ’s right hand.

  • This guy was a little creepy.  Check out the hand.
  • Although the ceiling (second photo above) looks carved, it is actually a much more budget-friendly trompe l’oeil paint effect.  Top that Trading Spaces.

  • Even the marble floor is interesting.  We learned that black marble is harder than other marbles.  As a result, the different colors in the floor have worn unevenly.  Amazingly, you can feel it when you walk!

  • My favorite thing inside was the 16th century statue carved by a student of Leonardo da Vinci.  It depicts Saint Bartolommeo, a Christian martyr who was skinned alive by the Romans.  It is grotesque, but is an amazing depiction of human anatomy and a powerful sculpture in its own right.    Ironically, the knowledge of human anatomy needed to sculpt this was only available from dissection, something prohibited by the Catholic church at the time of sculpting.

Avignon’s Palais Des Papes

History time folks.  In the 14th century, Pope Clement  V and his court fled political turmoil in Rome, escaping to Avignon.  Clement V was French and well, where else would he go?  From 1309 to 1377 there were seven French-born popes and the papacy was not in Rome, but in Avignon.  Yep, the place with the bridge into the river, the Pont du Gard.

The Popes spent a fortune building palaces, decorating them and outfitting them with accouterments.  You can still see some of it today (and learn a little bit about the history) by touring the papal palaces.

The Papal palace was built between 1335 and 1364.

Needless to say, the Italians weren’t huge fans of the move and continually lobbied to get them back to Rome.  There was the Great Schism (which you may remember reading about in high school).  When Pope Gregory XI left Avignon and died, Rome and Avignon both elected their own popes.  These popes both excommunicated the other and tried to gain control of the church (with the accompanying revenues).  When all sides finally found a pope acceptable to all, Martin V, he established himself in Rome, ending Avignon’s time in the spotlight.

In addition to the pope pens, it is licensed sell alcohol.

 

Holy Toledo!

We took a daytrip from Madrid to Toledo*.  I have always wanted to see it.  Now, I want to go back.
Holy Toledo it was beautiful.  It is is well-preserved, filled with history and contains a rare mix of religious influences.
See what I mean…gorgeous.
When you read that something is “well-preserved” in a guidebook, translate that to  “a confusing maze of streets whose difficulty in navigating has only increased over the past few hundred years”.  We had a great time getting lost.  It took us longer than normal to get around because I was constantly taking pictures.
Still love dogs
Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in Toledo; both are in La Mancha.  Swords have been manufactured there since Roman times and there were swords everywhere.  He wanted one, but I didn’t think we could get through security with it.
The large steeple in the middle of the town is the cathedral.  It is enormous and amazing with an incredible collection of art.  The church is rolling in it.  He was more impressed by this by St. Peter’s in Rome.
Each of the seats has carvings like the one shown below.  They commerate Christian victories over the Muslims with each seat showing a different town.
I’ve been to more than a few churches traveling in my day, but I’ve never seen a skylight.  This skylight behind the altar adds more light and allows sunbeams to fall on the altar during mass.  The red hat belonged to a cardinal.  When they die, their hat is hung from a spot of their choosing in the cathedral.  They stay there until they disintegrate.  If you look thought the pictures from the cathedral, you can spy another one or two.
Franco’s sword.  He got a lot of support from the church.
Believe it or not, this puppy holds communion bread.  I guess that helps you to put the size of the cathedral into perspective.  Unfortunately, photographs were not allowed in its most impressive part, a massive art collection.
Although I don’t have good pictures, one of the most interesting things about Toledo is its history of religious tolerance.  In Toledo’s heyday, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived side by side in the city.  That is until they were expelled from Spain in 1502 and 1492 respectively.  Oh yeah, and this little thing called The Inquisition came along.
*We have been to Toledo, Ohio many times.
 

 

Tourist’s Geneva – St. Pierre Cathedral

When you look at Geneva, the building that stands out is the cathedral on top of old town. It’s called St. Pierre Cathedral.  On your first clear day in Geneva, go to the top and enjoy the view.  In addition to the stellar view, the building’s history tells you a lot about the city of Geneva.
 
They’ve started excavating underneath St. Pierre Cathedral and found Roman ruins* (visit the archaeological site to learn more).  The site was continuously occupied until the current building was built in the 12th century. Back then, it was a Catholic church.  When the reformation arrived, it became a center of the Reformation.  The cathedral is best known as Calvin’s home church.  They even have his chair inside. 
 
Calvin’s chair

The Reformation brought changes to the building as well. It’s philosophy of austerity impacted the interior of the cathedral.   Ornaments were removed; colors were whitewashed.  The Calvinists didn’t believe in religious images, so statues, alters, paintings and furniture were out.  The windows are just about the only thing they keptCompare this to St. Peter‘s Cathedral in Rome and you can really see the austerity, solemnity and restraint.

To get to the top, you will climb 157 steps up to the North Tower.
Don’t get spooked out by the twisty stairs or the attic-type space, keep heading up.
Don’t stop when confronted by wire cage.
If you continue, you will be rewarded.  Aaaahhhh.  There it is, that’s the shot you came to get.
*There are Roman ruins throughout Switzerland.  I even stumble onto them during my runs (there’s a ruins of a Roman villa in the Parc des Eaux-Vives).  We saw them in St. Saphorin and Sion has Roman roots.