Portal of the Last Judgement

The Portal of the Last Judgement is the west façade’s central portal, which was built in the 1220s-1230s, just after the façade’s other two portals. It represents the Last Judgement as described in the Gospel of Saint Matthew.

On the lower lintel, the dead are being resuscitated from their tombs. Just above that, on the upper lintel, the archangel Michael is weighing their souls according to the lives they led on earth and the love they showed to God and to men. The chosen people are led to the left towards Heaven (to Christ’s right) and the condemned are lead to the right, to hell, by a devil.

On the tympanum, Christ is seated majestically on His throne of glory, reminding us that He came to earth to save humankind through his sacrifice on the Cross. He is showing the wounds on his hands and his side while the two angels next to him bear the instruments of the Passion: the angel on the left is holding the spear and the nails of the Cross, and the angel on the right is holding the Cross itself. Through this gesture, Jesus is asking us to trust Him and is showing us that everything is possible for us with His support and the help of all the saints who are working for us, especially Mary and John the Baptist, who are seen here as they were on the day of His crucifixion, with Mary at his right and John at his left.

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Above that, like on the other portals, the archivolts* feature the Heavenly Court (angels, patriarchs, prophets, Church doctors, martyrs and virgins), and hell takes up a very small space at the far right. We should not give up hope. We should keep our lamps burning, like the wise virgins depicted on the left abutment* (on the Heaven side), while the opposite abutment shows the foolish virgins, who do not have any oil in their lamps when the Betrothed arrives.

This Portal underwent two major modifications in the 18th century. First, in 1771, the architect Germain Soufflot [1], removed the trumeau and the central part of the two lintels upon request of the Archbishop and the Chapter, in order to make room for the canopy used to cover the Holy Sacrament during processions. They were replaced by a wooden arcade decorated with Mary’s monogram and a crown carried by two angels. The heavy 13th century doors were replaced by two doors bearing sculptures of Christ carrying His cross and a sorrowful Virgin.

Then in 1792, revolutionaries destroyed the large jamb statues along with other cathedral portals. During his great restoration campaign in the mid-19th century, Viollet-le-Duc restored the portal to its original state, by reconstituting the wise and foolish virgins, the trumeau* and the jamb statues of the twelve apostles. These statues feature on the left, Bartholomew, Simon, James the Less, Andrew, John and Peter, and on the trumeau Christ is teaching, standing on a pedestal sculpted with the liberal arts, on the right, Paul, James, son of Zebedee, Thomas, Philip, Jude and Matthew
At the twelve apostles’ feet, there are medallions representing the virtues and their corresponding vices, a theme that is also found in the west rose window.

Le Portail du Jugement
Cliquez sur la photo ci-dessus pour naviguer dans le panoramique. © Andrew TALLON

[1The architect of Paris’s Eglise Sainte-Geneviève, currently known as the Panthéon.

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