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.

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.

 

Praha, Prague, Whatever You Call It, You Will Love it

Last weekend, we met Mrs. DiCaprio in Prague and had a great time. There are no friends like old friends and it is a wonderful city.  Aside from the great company, here are some of the things we liked about Prague:

While certain parts of Prague have definitely figured out the tourist schtick, it didn’t seem as overdeveloped and the local culture seemed a bit more accessible than some cities.
It wasn’t majorly bombed during WWII and so it is rather old and incredibly beautiful.
It’s got a ton of history, a river running through it, beautiful buildings and the light is amazing.  It gives the city a romantic, dreamy quality.
Czech culture is really interesting.  Completely over-generalizing, the Czech Republic is independent, peaceful, loves democracy and is skeptical of authority (which is understandable given their conquest and years of rule under foreign empires like the HapsburgsNazi Germany and The Soviet Union).
The Czech Republic has a rich tradition of art, music and literature that are distinctly Czech.  This tradition still percolates through daily life there.  Below is the Franz Kafka Memorial in the Jewish Quarter.  It was inspired by his story “Description of a Struggle“.
Vaclav Havel, playwright, poet, essayist, dissident and first post-communist leader of the Czech Republic died in December 2011.  His contributions cannot be overstated.

Czechs are proud of their history.  Statutes abound.  You see plaques all over the place with little paragraphs.   For example, Johannes Kepler, the mathematician, scientist and astronomer lived in Prague.  He has a plaque on a former residence.
Crosses in Prague’s main square commemorating the execution of 27 Protestants during the 30 Years War by the Catholic Hapsburgs in 1621.
There is a statute known as the Jan Hus Memorial in the center of Prague at at one end of Old Town Square.  It depicts depicts Hus, a young mother, victorious Hussite warriors and Protestants who were forced into exile.  He was burned at the stake for his beliefs that  Catholic mass should be given in the vernacular, the local language, and not in Latin.
Prague has lots of interesting public art.
 
After John Lennon’s death, people painted his portrait, lyrics and grievances on this wall.  The communist government painted them over every day.  Each night, they appeared anew.  It’s known as the Lennon Wall.
The Penguins below are by the Cracking Art Group.  They are on the edge of  Vltava River waiting for their boat to Antarctica.
We couldn’t help but get our picture taken by the Crawling Baby bronze sculpture by David Cerny.
If you get too cold walking the beautiful streets, excellent cafes and beer halls abound.  Perfect places to warm yourself up.
Prague has an abundance of things to see and do.  Three days were definitely not enough and we hope to be able to go back.

The Swiss Guard

The Papal Swiss Guard is actually Swiss.  They are mostly from Zurich, Luzern and St. Gallen.  The Swiss Guard has been responsible for the Pope‘s security and the protection of the Vatican for around 500 years.  Back then, Switzerland was a poor country whose citizens worked as mercenaries all over Europe as there weren’t sufficient jobs at home.
The Papal Swiss Guard’s first and deadliest engagement was on May 6, 1527 fighting the forces of Charles V during the sack of Rome.  Their efforts enabled Pope Clement VII to escape the Vatican.

To be a Papal Swiss Guard, you must:

  • Be Swiss
  • Be Catholic
  • Be a man (they aren’t opening it up to women anytime soon)
  • Be at least 185 cm (5 ft 8.5 inches) tall
  • Be between 17 and 30
  • Have a high school diploma or professional degree
  • Have completed basic training in the Swiss army
  • Apply
  • As you can see from the first photo above, you must also be able to rock a uniform

 

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.
 

 

St. Bartholomew’s Day

Cathedral Saint-Pierre (Calvin preached here) 

Geneva was a center of Protestantism and the Reformation. The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, the slaughter of several thousand Huguenots (Protestants) in 1572 triggered a fast in Geneva the next year to remember those who were killed.

Reformation Wall*

St. Bartholomew’s Day is the first Thursday in September.  Over time, it lost its religious significance. It is now associated with eating plum tarts (yum).** Since this is Switzerland, banks, post offices, shops, restaurants and bars close. However, unlike Thanksgiving, which also falls on a Thursday, you don’t get a four-day weekend. I did some shopping to prepare yesterday. You should take the day off too. I will be.  He will be working, remotely.

The whole ten all lit up at night

* The people on the wall are Theodore Beza, John Calvin, William Farel and John Knox.  On one side are: William the Silent, Gaspard de Coligny and Frederick William of Brandenburg. On the other side are: Roger Williams, Oliver Cromwell and Stephen Bocskay.

**People were supposed to abstain from meat on a day of penitence, and plums happened to be in season.