Notre-Dame de Paris
1908 Atget (BNF)
“The church of Notre-Dame de
Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime edifice. But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable
monument to suffer, without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or for Philip Augustus, who laid the last.”
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame – Victor Hugo (1831)
The Gothic novel
written by Victor Hugo generated broad interest in the cathedral which was then in a very poor condition and largely contributed to major renovations led in the 19th century by a brilliant thirty years old architect: Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The degradation caused by men that Victor Hugo refers to, are for example the ones made mainly during the 18th century: hence, the replacement of the medieval
Gothic altar with a new one ordered by Louis XIV, though splendid but also awkwardly suited to a 12th century church; the destruction of the 13th century stained glass panels replaced in 1752 by white glass; the enlargement of the central portal by Soufflot
Many outdoor sculptures, damaged by time had been already been removed when the French Revolution finished the degradation. The statues of the biblical kings of Judah, erroneously thought to be French kings were beheaded by the revolutionary
people. Fragments of these statues were found by chance a long time after, in 1977 when works were done in a private mansion, 20 rue de la Chaussée d'Antin. The statues that can be seen today on the front of the church, like this monumental statue
of the Virgin, were completely redesigned by Viollet-le-Duc who took inspiration from other cathedrals like the ones of Reims and Amiens.
Portals like the Virgin door are covered with elaborate hinges admired since
the time of their creation. The perfection of their design made people even think that the locksmith Biscornette was helped by the devil. This splendid wrought iron work was destroyed when a new door was built in 1771 by Soufflot. The ones that we can see
today were done by Pierre Boulanger, a wrought iron craftsman directed by Viollet-le-Duc who succeeded in making them almost similar to the medieval ones.