I noticed that the threshold of Notre Dame, like that of St. Germain l’Auxerrois, was very much worn away by the feet of the crowds who have crossed it during many centuries. The organ is an excellent one. It is forty-five feet high, thirty-six broad, and has three thousand four hundred and eighty-four pipes. Its power is great, and as the organist touched some of the lower notes, the cathedral walls reverberated with the sound.
The Porte Rouge is a splendidly sculptured door-way. Under the arch-way there is a sculpture of Jesus Christ and the Virgin crowned by an angel. Behind it there are bas-reliefs representing the death of the Virgin—Christ surrounded by angels, the Virgin at the feet of Christ in agony, and a woman selling herself to the Devil. The interior of the church abounds with sculpture of every description, and some of it was executed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
There now remains only one of the old peal of bells which used to exist in Notre Dame—but one has escaped the fury of French revolutions. It was hung in the year 1682, and was baptized in the presence of Louis XIV. and Queen Theresa. Its weight is thirty-two thousand pounds—the clapper alone weighing a thousand pounds. A clock in one of the towers is world-renowned for the intricacy and curiosity of its mechanism. The feats it performs every time it strikes the hour and quarter-hour, can hardly be credited by one who has not seen them.
It is supposed that the first foundations of a church on this spot were laid in the year 365, in the reign of Valentian I. It was subsequently several times rebuilt, a portion of the work which was executed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries still remaining. The other portions were built in 1407, by the duke of Burgundy, and are of a deep red color. The Porte Rouge was built under his special superintendence. He assassinated the duke of Orleans, and built this red portal as an expiation for his crime.
In 1831, when the church of St. Germain l’Auxerrois was sacked, the mob crowded into Notre Dame and completely destroyed everything within its reach, including, among other things, the coronation robes of Napoleon. The archbishop’s palace was next attacked, and in one short hour all its rich stores of ancient and modern literature were thrown into the Seine. The palace itself was so completely ruined, that the government afterward removed every vestige of it. Nothing is more terrible in this world than a mob of maddened people. And though such Vandal acts as these cannot be defended, still it be hooves us to remember, that the conduct of the inhabitants of these palaces was such as to bring down on their heads the just indignation and censure of the people.
Slowly passing through the aisles of the cathedral, I passed again the threshold into the street. The majestic towers and turrets were bright beneath the gaze of the sun, and it seemed to me that I could stand for hours to look at them. It is not so with the Madeleine. Its architectural beauty is great, but it is new—it has no age. Notre Dame has seen centuries, and is full of historical associations, and I could have lingered about it and dreamed over them till the sunlight faded into night.