Photo by Chris Card Fuller ©2008
It’s true that you can only appreciate the beauty of Notre Dame‘s stained glass windows during the day – which is part of the reason – just about any day of the year – you’re bound to encounter huge crowds of visitors. However, if you want to appreciate a totally different aspect of the cathedral, come at night for a concert.
Earlier this month, I mentioned the Easter week concert of Gregorian chant which took place last night. We walked over to the cathedral during the day to purchase our tickets for the concert. That allowed me the opportunity to spend a few mesmerizing moments before the stained glass windows. No matter how many times, we visit Notre Dame, the kaleidoscope of color never ceases to amaze me.
The strange thing is that this is the first time – when we arrived simply to buy tickets for a concert – that the beauty of the Notre Dame suddenly struck me like the sudden smile or a toss of the head in a manner totally lacking in pretension. The problem with being a tourist is that sometimes we just try to hard to be good tourists.
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Inevitably, whatever monument we have placed on the top of our list as a ‘must see’ is bound to disappoint in some way, on some level, because rarely does reality match our dream image. Today, I had no intention of lingering. It was an afterthought, ‘the winter light’. Certainly the winter light should have a profound effect on the intensity of color in the stained glass. As if, this was our recompense for a particularly gray March day. I wasn’t disappointed. The towering walls of glass seemed to shimmer with color – and I could enjoy all of this with no pressure – no time frame – no other places to visit- no bus to catch – no audio guide.
When we returned again at 8 pm, in March, the church is already totally illuminated against the winter sky. This is really (in my opinion) the best way to appreciate the facade. I spotted a number of other Americans who were lining up for the concert. The one and a half hour concert may have seemed somewhat long for those of us who are not well-versed in Gregorian chant.
But certainly the effect of hearing men and womens’ voices strike chords that rise like columns at varying intervals throughout the church is a joyful meditation. In this instance, rather than stand in one place, the men and women circulate throughout the church while they sing, so that if you close your eyes, the music envelops you.
Being in the church at night, you’ll find that the daytime crowds have dispersed. It is a good time to really soak in the aura of Notre Dame without necessarily looking closely at any specific statue or architectural detail. On such nights when one can sit quietly, it’s not hard to imagine Quasimodo lurking in the upper tiers or the coronation ceremony where Napoleon I placed the crown on his own head.
Monuments become real and palpable when you stay long enough to become part of its history.
Be part of Notre Dame.
Notre Dame de Paris can be visited with a Free guide. These are volunteers who offer guided visits in English.
For a listing of concerts offered at Notre Dame, check the official Notre Dame website.
We paid 15 Euros for an adult ticket and 10 Euros for a Senior Citizen.