The three large portals are entirely decorated with statues and are each home to two very heavy wooden doors that give access to the inside of the cathedral. In the Middle Ages, most of the façade was painted, including all the statues. These statues tell stories from the Bible and from Christian history. They were used to teach Sacred History and the lives of the Saints to those who could not read.
On this façade, there are 28 statues that represent the Kings of Judah and of Israel, the ancestors of Christ. Above these figures, on either side of the façade, there are statues of Adam and Eve. In the centre, a large rose measuring almost 10 metres in diameter forms a halo above the statue of the Virgin Mary, who is flanked by two angels and presents us her Child, Jesus, the Son of God. If you want to know more about the façade, visit this site’s other page on the subject, where you can see a slideshow.
The Portal of the Virgin is on the left side of the façade. It portrays the prophets who announced her glorious destiny and the kings from whom she descended. Above, the Virgin Mary is depicted in her final slumber. While she was sleeping, in the presence of Christ and the apostles, she was taken up to heaven. The Church celebrates her transport into heaven on 15 August, the day of the Assumption. Above those sculptures, an angel is crowning Mary while Christ, seated on the same throne as His mother, gives her a sceptre: Mary is the Queen of Heaven. You can also see Saint Denis, who evangelised Gaul and was the first bishop of Paris. He was decapitated in 250. As a reminder of his martyrdom, Saint Denis is depicted holding his head in his hands, showing that death was no end for him. Across from him is the patron saint of Paris, Saint Genevieve, holding a candle that a small demon is trying to blow out. In 451, through prayer and exhortation, “Children of God, fear no longer,” Genevieve protected Lutetium from the armies of Huns led by their King Attila, who was known as “the Scourge of God”. The leaves, flowers and fruit evoke the heavenly court filled with angels, patriarchs, kings and prophets. This portal expresses the faith and hope of those who are baptised. If you want to know more about the Portal of the Virgin, go to the other page on this site. You can read all about it and see a slideshow.
The Portal of the Last Judgement is in the centre of the façade. Jesus is represented welcoming us while Mary and Saint John pray for men. Below is a depiction of the Resurrection, and the middle portion shows the weighing of the souls, where the chosen people are taken to heaven by angels, and the others, who did not choose to love God and their fellow man, are taken to hell by demons. On each side, the largest statues represent the twelve apostles framing Christ, who stands between the two doors on a central pillar called the trumeau. If you want to know more about the Portal of the Last Judgement, go to the other page on this site. You can read all about it and see a slideshow.
The Portal of Saint Anne is on the right side of the façade. It was built in honour of the mother of Mary, Saint Anne. The Virgin Mary presents baby Jesus. She is surrounded by angels bearing censers, by a bishop and by a king. These last two figures may be Maurice de Sully and Louis VII, who decided to dedicate the cathedral to the mother of God, Our Lady the Virgin. The sculptures depict episodes from the life of the Virgin, the annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, and represent Jesus’ grandparents, Saint Anne and Saint Joachim. If you want to know more about the Portal of the Last Judgement, go to the other page on this site. You can read all about it and see a slideshow.
The King of France, Saint Louis, had this portal built on the south side of the cathedral as an homage to Saint Stephen, who was stoned for preaching the Gospel. It shows episodes from his life, including his martyrdom and his burial. Jesus is present at the top of the scene, blessing Saint Stephen and welcoming him to Heaven. Around the portal, there are medallions sculpted in the Middle Ages, showing scenes from the lives of students and professors at the University of Paris, which was founded by the Church.
This portal was built on the north side, around 1250, by an architect called Jean de Chelles. The large Rose window above it measures 13 metres in diameter. This portal’s sculptures show how Mary played a role in Jesus’ childhood. Here, the artist wanted to show the humility of the manger scene, the offering to the temple of Jerusalem after the birth of Jesus, King Herod’s persecution of the children, Joseph and Mary’s flight into Egypt to protect Baby Jesus. The portal also bears the sculpture of the legend of Théophile, which took place on the cathedral’s parvis in the Middle Ages: Théophile, a deacon, sold his soul to the devil to take the place of his bishop. Théophile regretted becoming Satan’s ally and asked for forgiveness. He asked the Virgin Mary to help him find God’s Peace again. Mary presented Christ’s Cross to the devil and vanquished him. Théophile regained his freedom. He asked his bishop for forgiveness, and everyone rejoiced! This legend describes the sacrament of penitence and reconciliation, through which God, by His immense Love, forgives us for our mistakes and our sins.