Notre Dame de Paris

In the sanctuary, leaning against the south east pillar of the transept, flowers which remain white honour a Virgin with Child dedicated to " Notre-Dame de Paris" Ever since the cathedral was first founded in the 12th century, an altar dedicated to the Virgin has stood on this spot.

This statue is the most well known of the thirty-seven representations of the Virgin housed by the cathedral. Sculpted in the middle of the 14th century, it comes from the Chapel of Saint Aignan in the ancient Cloister of the Canons on the Île de la Cité. After being transferred to Notre-Dame in 1818, it was first of all placed on the trumeau of the Portal of the Virgin, to replace the 13th century Virgin knocked down in 1793. It was in 1855, during the restoration campaign of Viollet-le-Duc, that it was moved to where it now stands. This is a historic location, as since the end of the 12th century an altar to the Virgin had been in place on the same spot.

"Long, elegant and with one hip sticking out considerably, she is carrying the Baby Jesus on her arm, who is playing with the fastening of her cloak, whose wide folds fall gracefully. Her head is adorned with a crown." [1]

"She is more strange than beautiful with her joyful smile issuing from such melancholy lips! When viewed from a certain angle she appears to be smiling at Jesus, in an almost mocking way. It looks like she is waiting for the Child to say something comical so that she can finally laugh; she is a new mother, unused to her son’s caresses. Seen from another viewpoint, and a different angle, this smile, on the verge of breaking out, is wiped away. Her mouth tightens as if she is pouting and seems to foreshadow tears. Perhaps in simultaneously depicting these two conflicting emotions of tranquillity and fear, the sculptor wished to portray through the statue both the joy of the Nativity and a presentiment of the pain of the Crucifixion." [2]

It is next to this statue that the poet Paul Claudel was converted, during Vespers on Christmas day 1886, explains an inscription on the ornamental tiling. He refers to this event in his writings:
"It was the darkest of winter days and a black, rain-soaked afternoon in Paris, with the Vespers in the twilight of Christmas, the choir in the gold and linen illuminated centre, the great carpet with its gold and altar cloth arrangement of officiants up to the altar, the ceremony to the side of me and the illumination of these white-clothed people, singing and accomplishing something in real time." [3]

"I was standing in the crowd, next to the second pillar at the entrance to the choir, to the right on the side of the vestry. It was then that the event which changed my life took place. In an instant, my heart was moved and I believed. I believed so strongly, with such an uprising of my being, with such powerful conviction and with such certainty that no ounce of doubt remained. From then on, all the books, arguments, all the hazards of a turbulent life, could not shake my faith or even affect it in any way. At once, I felt a heartrending feeling of innocence, God’s eternal childhood, an ineffable revelation." [4]


For more than eight centuries, pilgrims and visitors have therefore prayed to Mary, Queen of the Heavens, their prayers carried up by countless votive candles, burning night and day all year round.


[1"Notre-Dame de Paris, Notice historique et archéologique" by Marcel Aubert, 1950

[2"La Cathédrale" by J.-K. Huysmans, 1898

[3"Visage radieux", 1942

[4"Ma conversion", 1913

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