A Sunday Visit to Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

One of the biggest items on my travel to-do list was to visit Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Prior to visiting, my knowledge of the cathedral extended about as far as watching Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, but I had heard how beautiful it was inside and I wanted it to be one of the first places I experienced in Paris.

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral was built alongside the Seine beginning in 1163. Restorations and alterations have been made since, but the cathedral still has a similar appearance to when it was first completed in 1345. The pointed spires and flying buttresses on the outside of the cathedral are common to many churches built in the Gothic architectural style, but what I think sets Notre-Dame apart, and really any church for that matter, are the smaller details – the statues, carvings, and sculptures that tell the church’s stories.

The most defining characteristics on the front of Notre-Dame Cathedral are the West Rose Window (the circular window at which the Virgin Mary stands with an angel on each side), the Gallery of Kings (28 statues depicting the Kings of Israel and Judah), and the three asymmetrical portals that mark the entrance to the cathedral.

Notre-Dame Cathedral is also well-known for its famous architectural gargoyles. These statues actually do serve a purpose other than to befriend Quasimodo. I really need to start watching better films. They were added to the cathedral’s exterior to direct rain water downward. (That’s code for fancy rain gutters.) I’ve got some great photos of the gargoyles that I plan to share when we take a look at Paris from the top of Notre-Dame Cathedral, but for now let’s head inside.

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

I have heard people say that if you’ve seen one cathedral then you’ve seen them all, but I have to disagree. It’s a new experience for me every time. It was unintentional, but our arrival at Notre-Dame Cathedral coincided with Sunday morning mass. What at first seemed like a hindrance (how can I possibly take proper pictures with this many people around?), turned into one of the most spiritual moments of my life thus far.

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

Never before had I attended a Catholic mass, and it seems so appropriate now that my first be in one of the most famous cathedrals in the world. It was not the service itself that triggered such a reaction in me. That part was in French and might as well have been in Morse code for as much French as I know. But it was the music – the choir in combination with the organ. Never in my life have I ever heard something so beautiful. Heavenly is the only word in my limited vocabulary that I have to describe it. Looking around at the beauty of the situation – being inside Notre-Dame, the smell of incense in the air, and the sound of the choir in perfect acoustics – you may laugh at me, but it made me want to drop to my knees and weep. In the moment, that seemed like the only appropriate response. (I didn’t, in case you were wondering.)

Serendipitous encounters such as this are what keep me traveling. I have a whole collection of moments similar to this one that I keep tucked away for when the draw of spending a holiday on the living room sofa with the TV starts to sound more appealing than going somewhere new. (Nothing worthwhile has ever happened to me while watching television, and yet sometimes I have to fight the urge to park myself in front of it.)

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

After mass ended, we wandered among the shrines along each side of the nave where visitors were lighting prayer candles and leaving offerings. There is much I don’t understand about the Catholic religion, but you don’t need to understand the nuances of Catholicism to grasp the importance it holds in the lives of those who follow it. Even with hundreds of visitors as distractions, those at the cathedral for worship were focused and intent on making their offerings to the saints within the different shrines. We were careful not to disturb anyone. Photography is allowed in the cathedral, but flash is prohibited out of respect for those there for worship.

While practically everyone who visits Paris is told to reserve a spot on their itinerary for Notre-Dame Cathedral, I’m going to take it a step further and recommend, if at all possible, to try and make your visit coincide with one of the church’s services. Watching the traditions within the mass and hearing the glorious singing of the choir will be an experience you won’t soon forget.

Notre-Dame Cathedral: Website
Address: Place Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris

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Notre-Dame Cathedral In Paris

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  • rick fagan
    April 16, 2019 at 2:51 PM

    They should auction off the remaining unburnt pews at large price tags.
    many people around the world would pay a fortune for one of these.

  • nylonliving
    March 2, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    Cool! We were in Notre Dame for Sunday mass too. The choir was amazing don’t you think? It was really cool the voices floating in the air like hundreds of people had previously for hundreds of years. Even if you are a non-believer, I would think you would find it a special experience. My photos did not come out anywhere as good as yours!

  • Molly S
    March 1, 2014 at 9:33 PM

    Wow. Great photos! I’ve never been to Paris, but when I do visit Notre Dame is definitely on the list :)

  • Bonnie Rose
    March 1, 2014 at 11:58 AM

    Again I just love all the details of the churches. Especially the candles so glad you got a neat shot of that too!

  • Brooke Neal
    November 20, 2013 at 9:12 PM

    I agree with you that each Cathedral is unique with a story to tell. The hard part is understanding that story. I bought a fantastic lecture series on cathedrals and it has made a huge difference in my experience. Now, I am able to point out stylistic characteristics, stories and meanings to my children who otherwise would be snoring on the back pew.

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 21, 2013 at 9:30 AM

      I completely understand! My daughter is always like, ‘Oh great, another church.’ :) But I have hopes that she’ll appreciate that she had the experience once she’s older.

      Before we visit places, and this goes for everywhere – not just cathedrals, I try to read about it and learn it’s history so that it’ll mean more when we go. That has made all the difference for me when traveling. Otherwise, I’d probably be just like my daughter. Ha!

  • Brooke Neal
    November 20, 2013 at 8:59 PM

    Great pics! Love Notre Dame.

  • Robert Wareham
    November 19, 2013 at 5:44 PM

    Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to visit Notre Dame during my last visit to Paris (although I have visited before). But I’m glad I could have such a wonderful vicarious visit via your blog :) Notre Dame really is incredible and you’ve captured it perfectly.

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 20, 2013 at 10:07 AM

      Thank you for the compliment! I tend to think I’ll never go inside Notre-Dame again because when I recall our experience there, I want this to be the memory that comes to mind. You know when you do something really amazing and then decide to do it a second time, but it wasn’t as good as the first? I don’t want that to happen to me. :o)

      • Robert Wareham
        November 20, 2013 at 12:31 PM

        You know, I completely agree actually. My second visit to Notre Dame was nothing like as memorable as my first visit. Not for any particular reason that I can recall, it just simply wasn’t as exciting because it wasn’t new to me. If you were to go back after such an incredible experience, it’s highly likely the second visit would only disappoint.

  • Jo
    November 19, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    It is an amazing building!

  • Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    November 19, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    It is a beautiful building!! The photos I always saw were of the front, but then you wander around to the back and wow, the detail!! How neat that you got to experience a mass as well! It does seem to add to the whole experience! :)

  • Shaylynn
    November 19, 2013 at 5:24 AM

    It just makes my heart stop.

    I’m proud of you for respecting the church go-ers. :)

  • Melanie Fontaine
    November 19, 2013 at 12:25 AM

    Believe it or not, but in the two summers I spent studying French in Paris, I never went to Notre Dame. I went passed it countless times and in when I was visiting when I was younger, but during those summers… no. I don’t even know why – I think I was just to busy trying to not do touristy stuff! ;) But it’s on the list for the next visit! By the way – I just discovered your posts on India. I think I may not get so much sleep tonight… ;)

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 19, 2013 at 12:25 PM

      I can’t believe you’ve never been inside! I understand wanting to experience Paris as a local, but it’s Notre-Dame! You absolutely MUST go next time.

      I think there are over 40 posts about India – you may want to turn it into a two-night event. :o) And please excuse the majority of the photography in those posts. I am not so skilled with a point and shoot camera. The photos that did turn out nicely were probably taken by one of my other family members. ;o)

  • Anna
    November 18, 2013 at 11:43 PM

    This is one of my favourite churches to visit in the entire world and I just love these, particularly the shots of the candles and the mass. These pictures are absolutely stunning. I hope you realise you’re an artist!

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 19, 2013 at 12:22 PM

      I would never call myself an artist, but to have someone else say it, it makes my heart feel like it might burst. Thank you for saying that. It means so much!

      I love visiting cathedrals around Europe, and each one is special to me, but this one will forever have a permanent place in my memory. I can’t even put into words how humbling of an experience it was.

  • Christy Childers
    November 18, 2013 at 7:51 PM

    Great pictures! I love Paris so much. xx

  • topchelseagirl
    November 18, 2013 at 7:44 PM

    Amazing photos. I remember climbing up to the roof many years ago – I thought my lungs were going to explode!

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 19, 2013 at 12:13 PM

      Yes, we did that, too! Stairs after stairs after stairs, but still not as many as we climbed at the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur! I should have counted how many steps we climbed on this vacation. The number is astronomical.

  • Nicole
    November 18, 2013 at 7:19 PM

    Oh my GOSH what an amazing experience to have. It practically gave me the chills thinking about being there during mass. I’m not Catholic but I’ve been to a full mass before…stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, haha. But what an incredible memory to hold onto. Sometimes you just get so caught up in the moment that you can’t help but weep at how beautiful it is. I probably would have! And I agree with you-each cathedral is special and unique in its own way, and I always get the chills and feel the Spiritual presence whenever I walk inside of one.

  • Mandy Southgate
    November 18, 2013 at 9:42 PM

    Oh. Wow. What an amazing post! I love your photos, both inside the cathedral and out. I know what you mean about the spiritus side of it – I once sat inside Canterbury Cathdral during Evensong and that was incredibly moving.

  • Katrin
    November 18, 2013 at 8:38 PM

    Your pictures are fantastic, Sarah! I have been there too and the cathedral is really impressive!

  • Emmymom
    November 18, 2013 at 7:05 PM

    What a wonderful experience! It just blows me away to think about when these buildings were made and just all the details, so truly stunning.

  • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    November 18, 2013 at 2:30 PM

    “Admirable, however, as the Paris of the present day appears to you, build up and put together again in imagination the Paris of the fifteenth century; look at the light through that surprising host of steeples, towers, and belfries; pour forth amid the immense city, break against the points of its islands, compress within the arches of the bridges, the current of the Seine, with its large patches of green and yellow, more changeable than a serpent’s skin; define clearly the Gothic profile of this old Paris upon an horizon of azure, make its contour float in a wintry fog which clings to its innumerable chimneys; drown it in deep night, and observe the extraordinary play of darkness and light in this sombre labyrinth of buildings; throw into it a ray of moonlight, which shall show its faint outline and cause the huge heads of the towers to stand forth from amid the mist; or revert to that dark picture, touch up with shade the thousand acute angles of the spires and gables, and make them stand out, more jagged than a shark’s jaw, upon the copper-coloured sky of evening. Now compare the two.”
    ― Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
    I couldn’t have said it better (seriously!). Beautiful, beautiful images.

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 19, 2013 at 12:09 PM

      Oh, this is beautiful, Emma! I absolutely, without a doubt, need to get my hands on a copy of this book. Somehow I completed a Literature degree in college without ever reading this. Just from this short excerpt, I can tell I’m missing out. If only people still wrote and spoke this way….

      • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
        March 5, 2014 at 10:17 AM

        This has to be one of my all time favourite posts of Notre Dame, your imagery captures the hauntingly beautiful interior perfectly.

  • Hannah Taylor-Johnson
    November 18, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    Amazing photos. I love the amazing architecture of European churches. It’s completely baffling to consider that they took generations to complete. I know that often skill sets were passed down from generation to generation and it’s baffling to me that entire families would spend lifetimes working on a column or an arch. It always blows me away.

    • Sarah Shumate
      November 19, 2013 at 12:05 PM

      Oh certainly – it takes hundreds of years to build places like this. To get to be the one who puts the final touches on – now THAT would be a feeling of accomplishment!

      • Hannah Taylor-Johnson
        November 19, 2013 at 5:02 PM

        It would be fabulous. I was telling le husband about your photographs and I learnt from him that many masons put secret signatures or styles on their work so that others would know that they had designed that piece here or there. I just thought that was fascinating.

        • Sarah Shumate
          November 19, 2013 at 5:28 PM

          That is amazing! I’m so glad you told me that! I’m going to start looking for that more often now. When we saw the Catacombs in Paris, I noticed numbers and names carved onto stones there, so I wonder if those were builders signatures, too? This is fascinating!

          • Hannah Taylor-Johnson
            November 19, 2013 at 5:39 PM

            I’m really not sure, but I guess that would make sense. He’s super into history and what not, so he’s always full of random facts. :)

  • Sara Louise
    November 18, 2013 at 7:13 AM

    Really great shots Sarah! I especially love the one of the chandeliers lined up, so pretty :)

  • Tammy Chrzan
    November 18, 2013 at 1:45 AM

    There is nothing to be said but WOW.
    I mean… just wow!