Austin Puckett ’15 – As our group entered into day five of being in Paris and studying the different Gothic themes of the Cathedrals in Paris and the surrounding cities, it was easy to tell that everyone was becoming more comfortable. Conversations started to become a little more organized and a little more passionate. That was largely in part because now we have seen multiple cathedrals, enough that we can start making comparisons and viewing common themes.
One of the biggest aspects that I have found particularly interesting when we are looking at these cathedrals is the way in which the government of the time was and still is intertwined within the religious community. That is something that we have been asked to look at since day one and it is just something that is difficult to wrap your brain around. We visited the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims today and one of the things we were told to look at was the way in which the kings of France were shown in stained glass windows at the very top of the church. The kings were even given their power inside of the cathedral and the coronations happened there also We find this so interesting because in America we mainly see a major separation of church and state and here we see the actually leaders of the country being displayed inside what is a holy, religious building.
It wasn’t just at Notre-Dame de Reims in which we saw evidence for this; it was also at Notre Dame de Paris, where the statues that are located in the front are associated also with the 28 kings of Judah and Israel. We are not actually sure who the statues are supposed to be but throughout the years it has been accepted that they in some way they depict these kings. Obviously, there would have to be a reason for this intertwining to happen and it would have had to stem from the people. The reason I believe this happened is security. The people that resided in the town would have wanted security and to feel safe. That is what the cathedral gave these people, the sense that they were part of a bigger community and not a stranded individual. They lose themselves within the church and therefore feel safer.
Another aspect of this churches that I have seen in almost everyone we have visited, something that I believe correlates well to the first idea, is the open space that is located in front of most of these cathedrals. The open space maybe today, is seen as a tourist area but what it could have been used for is amazing. Essentially you have a building where everyone goes to church to worship and then you have all this space out in front in which they all fit, this is where the two worlds collide. The church is where citizens went and citizens make up the city and therefore the government and church are intertwined. It was an inevitable merger that played out and has been personified within the walls of the church. There are stain glass windows that depict God giving the power to the King and also the fleur-de-lis is found throughout many of the churches. The idea that the church and the state being one is so foreign to us as Americans. We see that as something that would hinder the efficiency of the government but however the French embraced the idea and we can see that within the cathedrals that we are studying. The citizen went to the church for everything. If there was ever a problem, the church is where they would go. The readings only made me believe more in this idea that the church helps to manifest these principles of security and comfort within the individual. They gained knowledge of government and certain issues all while worshiping within the walls of the church. This was the idea that I found the most intriguing and challenging as I searched for a topic within the readings and group discussions we had.