Cathedral for art and history

South Rose Window

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The three rosettes Notre-Dame de Paris are one of the greatest masterpieces of Christianity.

The South Rose Window was a gift from the king Saint Louis. It was designed by Jean de Chelles and Pierre de Montreuil. The Cathedral’s first construction master, Jean de Chelles, laid the first stone of the south transept façade in 1258. The South Rose Window, a central element that thrones over the transept façade, was constructed in 1260 as a counterpoint to the North Rose Window, which was built in 1250. Like its north sister, the South Rose Window reached 12.90 metres in diameter and, if you include its bay, a total height of nearly 19 metres.

This rosette is dedicated to the New Testament.

It has eighty-four panes divided into four circles. The first one has twelve medallions and the second has twenty-four. A third circle is made up of quadrilobes, and the fourth circle has twenty-four trilobes medallions. This window features the symbolic number four, along with its multiples, twelve and twenty-four.

This rose window has been damaged many times over the centuries. After being propped up since 1543 because the masonry had settled, it was restored between 1725 and 1727 by Guillaume Brice, under Boffrand’s supervision. However, as the work was poorly executed and the window was severely altered in a fire in the archbishopric during the 1830 revolution, it had to be rebuilt again. This work was begun in 1861 by Viollet-le-Duc. Since the masonry was sagging excessively, he rebuild the south counter-brace façade completely and turned the rosette 15° to give it a vertical axis and a horizontal axis, thereby consolidating the stone lacework. Master glassworker Alfred Gérente restored the 13th century stained glass and put the missing medallions back together in the spirit of overall authenticity.

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Saint Laurent reconnaissable au gril, instrument de son supplice
©Daniel Dumolard

However, the succession of work on the rosette completely disrupted panel arrangement. The designer’s original plans have gone undiscovered to this day. The twelve Apostles, who were originally part of the first circle, are now distributed between the two circles, amidst other figures. In the four circles, you can see Saints and Martyrs traditionally honoured in France, as well as the wise virgins:

  • Lawrence, a deacon holding the grill he was martyred with;
  • Denis, the first bishop of Paris carrying his head;
  • Pothin, the bishop of Lyon;
  • Marguerite and a dragon;
  • Blandine and two lions;
  • George;
  • Ambrose;
  • Eustacius…

In the fourth circle, there are around twenty angels carrying a candle, two crowns and a censer, as well as scenes from the Old and New Testaments (in the third and fourth circles): the flight into Egypt, the healing of a paralytic, the Judgement of Solomon, the Annunciation and more. Also in the third circle and part of the fourth circle, there is a series of nine scenes from the life of Saint Matthew displaying precious, well-conserved workmanship. Their origin is unknown, but experts agree that they date from the last quarter of the 12th century.

At the edges, there are two corner pieces representing:

  • the Descent into Hell to the east, surrounded by Moses and Aaron (at the top) and the temptation of Adam and Eve (at the bottom);
  • the resurrection of Christ to the west, with Saints Peter and Paul (on top), and Saints Madeleine and John (at the top).

The central medallion probably originally depicted God in majesty. In 1726, after the window had disappeared after two hundred years of ruin, it was replaced by the coat of arms of Cardinal de Noailles, who was archbishop of Paris at the time, who had spent 80,000 pounds to restore the rose window. Viollet-le-Duc, through Gérente’s work, decided to depict the Christ of the Apocalypse there: the sword coming out of the Saviour’s mouth symbolises His word separating error from truth. Stars are shining on the wounds on his hands, while temple lamps are lit around Him.

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La claire-voie de la Rose Sud
© Gérard Boullay

Under the rosette, the heavenly court is represented by the sixteen prophets portrayed under the large windows of the bay, which were painted in the 19th century by Alfred Gérente, under Viollet-le-Duc’s supervision. The architect drew inspiration from Chartres Cathedral, placing the four great prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel) carrying the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) on their shoulders, at the centre. This window echoes the reflections of Bertrand, bishop of Chartres in the 13th century, on the connection between the Old and New Testaments: We are all dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants. We see more than they do, not because our vision is clearer there or because we are taller, but because we are lifted up due to their giant scale.

The South Rose Window symbolises Christ triumphant, reigning over Heaven, surrounds byall his witnesses on earth.

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