2022 – France – Day 3

Saturday August 27th

We took the Metro to Ils de la Cité, an island in the Seine. That’s where Paris originally was founded, and it’s also where Notre Dame is now.

Learning how to travel on the Metro was liberating. My wife and I live in the Pacific Northwest and neither of us has ever lived in a city with an underground system like the Paris Metro. But once we understood how it worked, and how to read the maps that are everywhere, we quickly realized that we could get almost anywhere we wanted to go on the Metro.

Once we arrived at Ils de la Cité we had a 2 hour walking tour during which Linda immersed us in the early history of Paris. The walking tour ended at Sainte Chapelle, a Catholic church built by King Louis IX to house relics brought back from the Crusades. The Crown of Thorns was originally the primary relic on display, but it was later removed to Notre Dame. When Notre Dame caught fire there was some concern about retrieving the Crown of Thorns, but despite some confusion it was recovered without damage.

The main feature of Sainte Chapelle is its beautiful strained glass windows, which tell the stories of several books of the Bible. There’s even an entire panel devoted to the book of Numbers, which has to be the most boring book in the entire Bible. The windows have recently been restored after a multi-year process of cleaning and refurbishing. Today from inside they look fantastic. I didn’t take any pictures because although they were lovely it was very hard to see what they depicted. The windows are tall and narrow, and the images at the top were too distant to make out. Just take my word for it that they’re gorgeous.

Afterwards Jackie came back to our hotel. Jackie was having a terrible time with her allergies, so she rested while I went to the Cluny museum, which has just recently been refurbished. It’s a museum of medieval art. It has a couple of Visigoth artworks dating to about the 6th century. I had no idea that the Visigoths made such elegant art! My mental image of the Visigoths was that of a group of marauding hooligans who only knew how to grunt and wield battleaxes.

There is one entire room devoted to tapestries each featuring a fair maiden and a unicorn. There’s another room filled with altarpieces, some of them huge. And there is a subterranean level that has the remains of a Frigidarium from a Roman bath dating, obviously, to the times of Roman occupation. There was also a 4th century CE Roman statue of a priest of Serapis, a god who combined elements of Osiris and of the Apis bull of ancient Egypt. I was surprised at the condition of that statue– it appeared to be completely intact.

Notre Dame had once statues of 28 kings above its portals. In the aftermath of the Revolution the heads of those statues were chopped off because the revolutionaries believed they were statues of the kings of France. 19th Century scholarship showed that they were in fact statues of the kings of Judah, not of France! The heads were rediscovered in 1977 in the courtyard of a mansion in Paris, and they are now on display in the Cluny museum– unattached to the rest of their respective statues.

The statue of a priest of Serapis:

Visigoth artworks– these don’t look like the crude works of 6th century barbarians:

The heads of some of the statues of the Kings of Judah that once adorned the exterior of Notre Dame cathedral:

A book published in the 15th century:

One of many altarpieces in the Cluny museum– this one was hand carved of walnut, from Antwerp: