Like many others, I have visited the cathedral of Notre Dame every time I am in Paris. Except the last tine. I regret that now, that I wa s too lazy or too blasé to bother. However, I do have great memories. My first visit I was still stirred by Victor Hugo’s great saga and the history of the place. Always the thought of the generations of workers it took to get these great gothic arches in place, the small pieces of stained glass stitched together with hot lead, the way the artists poured their soul into the work with no thought of recognition, inspired me and filled me with awe.
But what I remember best about Notre Dame is from when I was thirteen, living with my mother for a while on the Isle de la Cité, and going to mass one Sunday in the cathedral. Suddenly the main doors opened and the emperor Haile Selassie came in with an impressive entourage of cardinals and bishops and such, incense swinging as the great organ thundered. The Conquerng Lion of the Tribe of Judah struck me as quite handsome, looking every inch an Emperor! That was the only time anywhere that I have seen the main doors of a cathedral open.
I love those grand old many-storied Churches of Europe, the wonderful stained glass, the soaring archways, the lingering smell of incense and the beeswax scent of many candles. I was shocked to discover lately that some places have switched to ghastly (but much safer) flickering battery operated things. No soul. Little ritual. Bah. Humbug. The way it should be, however, lingers on my memory.