I’m a confirmed Catholic, but I must confess that I haven’t been actively practicing. Still, visiting Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris holds a deep significance for me as it is one of the world’s largest Catholic churches.
But what does visiting this cathedral mean for non-Catholics, I wondered. Perhaps they come to see its famous Gothic architecture, flying buttresses, and gargoyles.
Regardless of the reasons that millions of visitors come to Notre Dame each year, it looked like everyone only wanted to do the same thing: take selfies in front of stained glass windows, marble statues, and the Point Zero geographical marker in front, which reportedly marks the spot where ancient Paris, or Lutèce/Lutetia, began.
Well, OK, I took a bunch of selfies outside, too. But what would I experience inside? Here are a few of my impressions of Notre Dame (based on notes from my journal):
I’m not wearing my hat today, but I did notice the “no hats/caps sign” when I first entered Notre Dame. Unlike Sacré-Cœur, photography isallowed here. Inside, it smells like smoke from candles.
There will be a mass at noon and I’m thinking of coming back for it, but we’ll see. It’s only 11:04. If I thought there were hoards of tourists at Sacré-Cœur, that was nothing compared with the crowds here at Notre Dame. Everyone has made the pilgrimage: school groups, senior tours, YouTube vloggers – everyone’s here!
After going around the aisle, I found a seat in the back of the nave. I’m looking up and around, trying to experience this place. Under my breath, I say a prayer for my family, my friends, and I express my gratitude for this trip and everything.
There’s a constant buzz. I wish the souvenir medallion vending machines weren’t inside. The clink-clunk of coins gives Notre Dame a carnival or casino vibe. But what to do? To my left, there’s a group of people speaking very loudly. (Ugh, “Ugly American” in action!) While I find the familiar American English accent oddly comforting, I feel embarrassed. For them? For me? I think the noise removes the solemnity of this holy place of worship. How is God supposed to hear my prayers?
Hallelujah! They just made an announcement over the PA system: “Shhhh…Silence, s’il vous plaît.” (Translation: “STFU, please.”)
I stifled the urge to let out a cacophonous laugh myself. That announcement was the best moment for me!
OK, the silence lasted a whole ten seconds. The buzz is starting up again.