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Thoughts While Exploring Notre Dame, Paris

Adam Pagryzinski ’14 – Mar. 14 – We like to think of gothic cathedrals as temporally static, giant stone anomalies which have escaped the passage of time; constants that connect us with the genius of a lost age. This perception of cathedrals as constant and unchanging engenders feelings of comfort, security, awe, and perseverance which speak to the human desire for universal truth, for immortality. The thought that these stone giants could be movable, transitory, or destructible is existentially troublesome, for how can something that has endured so long be subject to the fickleness of time, subjectivity, or human interpretation? This was the very struggle encountered today while exploring the cathedral of Notre Dame de Chartres.

Despite the breath-taking exterior, intricate carvings, and the most magnificent stained glass windows ever created, the focus of our investigation and discussion was the partially complete renovation project seeking to return the cathedral’s interior to its original state. Rather than the gloomy, somber, and bare stone walls so associated with the gothic aesthetic and the medieval ages, we instead found brightly painted walls and columns in hues of yellow, red, green, and blue. The shadowy mysticism and cold uniformity of the building was lost, and along with it all the feelings and sentiments typically associated with the gothic.

In the quest to rediscover the lost historical aesthetic of the cathedral, a different aesthetic truth has been destroyed. The perception of cathedrals held by modernity, although not true to history or the creators’ intent, has maintained for centuries and is engrained in the global mind. The traditional bare stone walls offer us something; they fulfill some need, satisfy some unique desire which remains unaddressed by society. While it is true that modernity has a duty to antiquity, to preserve and rediscover the lost realities of lost times, we must also be careful not to destroy the modern conception of the cathedral that has been developed over hundreds of years. It is evident after appreciating the cathedral in Chartres that the role cathedrals play in politics, community, religion, and society has changed since the birth of the gothic, however we must reach a balance between remaining true to the gothic aesthetic of antiquity and exploring the modern gothic interpretation lest we lose the many things that this new aesthetic provides.

Puckett ’15 Fascinated by Kings, Cathedrals

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.

Sklar ’15 Sees Gothic Church Differently

Stephen Sklar ’15 - In Political Theory one can use architecture to provide a sense of place and time where ideas were originally produced. Difficulty with this method naturally arises when the architecture is changed or renovated. After observing the Chartes Cathedral one may encounter this difficulty. The new painting of the sidewalls in the back of the cathedral, which in turn redefines what something meant to be gothic, causes this conception. With this new belief one can also take a different view on the royalty’s use of power.  French cathedrals all possessed many of the same qualities.

FranceWhen the standard person reflects on a vision of a gothic cathedral, one will most definitely think of dark shadows and large grey stones. With their use of light, many gothic cathedrals possess a feeling of mystery and sometimes almost fear.  Some remark that the dissolution of light from the stain glass projected on the walls creates an atmosphere of unity or oneness. This theme, which one can draw from the gothic cathedrals, can be transferred to themes in Medieval Political thought. However, all this changes when someone introduces color to the walls.

Chartes does not possess unity; it is just another pretty church. Chartes Cathedral’s treatment of light is almost unnoticeable in the front of the church. Although, the windows are beautiful, the soaring magnificence of shadow from the floor on upward is lost due to the reason of the pillars flanking the center of the church are now painted in a brownish color. For this single reason one could postulate that the Chartes Cathedral new coloring made it lack the gothic feel.  If this is to be true then the modifications of the cathedral have desecrated this once gothic church and transformed it into something else. Yet, to one’s own surprise the painting of Chartes is mimicking how it was decorated in the 12th century and throughout the medieval times.  So what truly is Gothic?

The common view of the medieval is skewed. Most people conceive that the classic gothic church is a dark dreary place to  its lack of paint.  This derives itself from the churches presentation in the modern day as paint lacking. In spite of this, the medieval Gothic church actually was painted fully and the shadow and darkness that most people preconceive in their minds of the gothic is only a modern notion. This in turn forces one to rethink all of medieval political thought.

Cathedrals among other symbols represent France. The cathedrals were a conduit for emotion and thought including that of political actions by the ruling kingdoms such as, the coronation or the funerals of the ruling class.  One could immediately assert that there is a massive difference from celebrating the royalty in a dark place without paint to a beautifully painted cathedral. The effect on the individual would be me more calming and festive than that of pure subjection to the royals. The gothic cathedral can now be thought of as a more joyous institution.  The painting in the gothic church actually makes sense if one asserts that the royalty, to bring joy to their followers and to provide a beautiful place to contemplate and feel secure did the painting on purpose.

One must change their notions about the gothic as a truly mysterious institution to that of a joyous place subtly showing subjection.  One can make this notion for the reason that the preconceptions of the gothic being dark do not relate to the church’s origin being painted and bright. This impression changes one’s view on the purposeful actions of the royalty and their desire to remain in power.

Wentzel ’14 Fascinated by Wally Immersion

Jeremy Wentzel ’14 – I’ve been trying to pinpoint one specific theme that makes the Wabash immersion experience so great and unique from a social perspective.  Having gone on a previous immersion trip to Europe, I believe it’s possible to articulate a specific “slice of life” that is specific to a group of Wabash men overseas.

It should come at no surprise that a Wabash immersion experience, in many cases, is the first opportunity for a Wabash student to travel outside of the United States.  It should also come as no surprise that, for many, there is an immediate visible exposure to the new culture.  Some students can blend in better than others.  However, what I’ve noticed that inevitably comes from this process of cultural adjustment, is that the Wabash man manifests himself in a different way, with a guiding spirit that comes from the college mission statement.  To put it more concisely, you can spot a Wabash man wherever you go in the world, but that same Wabash man might not have to be perceived as a stereotypical American.

It comes as no surprise that taking risks is part of the Wabash education, as well as the ethos of many students.  In Paris, I have observed a healthy amount of risk taking that transcended cultural barriers.  Some risks were in the purview of an American outlook, but more commonly, there were risks taken for the sake of humanity – risks that truly embodied the mission of Wabash College, in a different nation.

Maybe it was the times when students would, out of sheer curiosity and friendliness, talk to strangers on the Paris Metro.  The Metro is traditionally silent, but for some strange reason, a group of Americans livened the atmosphere in a tasteful way at various points.  Or, maybe it was the time when a student gave up his seat for a couple to sit with each other on another form of public transportation.  Generally, the couple would have had to split up to find separate seats.  Or, maybe it was the time when I was walking with another group of students in the evening when one decided to strike up a conversation with a gentleman walking his dog.  Generally the gentlemen would have not been approached by an American on his evening walk, but the small risk on the part of the Wabash man led to a brief encounter of positive conversation.

These impulses are very specific to a group of Wabash students who find themselves immersed in places they don’t understand completely.  Yet, when our power of lingual and cultural certainty are diminished, small risks that enhance humanity sort of filter through.  This is another example, to me, of “spreading the fame of her honored name” in a culturally sensitive way, that comes only through immersion learning through Wabash College.

Kubisz ’14 French Major Exploring History, Baguettes

Philip Kubisz ’14 – Bread, stained glass windows, and calves of steel – so far I have increased all of my skills in these areas throughout the many runs across Paris. From the walk down the stairs in the hotel to the impressive cathedral doors I have picked up on the conversations of the locals and put my French education to the task! There is a very strong sense that I am truly elsewhere in the world, and how my diet and process of learning has changed in the past handful of days has really helped the transition from the classroom Paris to the living and breathing Paris.

The much-visited Notre Dame

The much-visited Notre Dame

Baguettes, baguettes, baguettes – I have been deemed the bread master by many thus far. Vegan life in Paris is not always the most glamorous, yet it functions very well with the small bakeries and markets that thrive in the city. Around every corner there is a place welcoming me to experience their take on the French classic. As well as the beginning of my evening tonight leading me to the sole vegan bakery in the town, I have given my best to experience what Paris has to offer to my lifestyle.

As far as my knowledge of the language and tidbits of specialization of the French history goes, I have proved myself quite useful to the group and I have had a few more genuine opportunities of participating in the native culture than otherwise. It has been a very enlightening experience upon entering the cathedrals and seeing not only the magnificent displays of the churches, but the groups of young students who experience all of these important parts of the history of France at such a young age. The international culture that is present here speaks to me in a way the gives me something to look forward to with my future in Europe starting later this year. The people here speak all kinds of languages coming from all corners of the world – either visiting or working in this cultural center of Europe, and the city has a lot to offer everyone.

With one visit outside of the busy city and two more to come I look forward to the contrasts to the busy life in the city and to experience the country side landscapes and life of those in smaller towns. This of course in addition to checking out all of the Patisseries!

Davis ’14 Gets Deeper Look at French History

Ethan Davis ’14 – Today in Paris the separation between tourism and education became particularly apparent. After visiting Notre Dame de Paris on Tuesday and seeing the masses of international tourists, we found ourselves in a place filled with predominantly French people, taking in their history. The class visited Musée du Moyen Age. Here we saw many of the relics, particles and original artifacts that originated from all over medieval France, including Notre Dame de Paris.

The most striking part of this museum for me was when I entered a large room filled with statues that had been beheaded (many of the severed heads were also on display). Many of these statues were part of the unrestored Notre Dame. These statues told an interesting story that goes largely unknown by so many who visit Paris. You can observe the true story of what happened to a nation and how its symbols have been interpreted. We see that there is an effort to instill an Aquinas type of order within the context of these icons. A deliberate effort to reorganize these statues in this way, and not to show the reality of their history to the masses, shows that they are placing them in an order that they see fit.

The intentionality of destroying defiling these particular statues depicts the tumultuous history of the nation and shows us, as the modern viewer, how important the use of symbols are to political movements. Revolutionaries attacked not only the political institution above them, but they then continued to destroy the emblems and the associated institutions to further there point. But the continued narrative of these statues doesn’t end with their desecration, but the resurrection and ascension of their more modern counterparts back to Notre Dame, shows us that the purpose of these symbols continued to be used to send political messages.

The most curious element of these uses of symbols is the lack of involvement in the complete story by all those that visit Paris. The relatively small amount of people that wondered throughout the Museum is immensely dwarfed by the masses who flow through Notre Dame. It forces one to wonder what many of these people could learn about themselves and their own governments, if they understood a fuller portion of Notre Dame’s story. Perhaps this is the most disappointing portion of the trip. The image of Notre Dame as it is now is what so many people walk away with. To leave with an understanding of themes such as this use of symbols is what sets the education at such a deep level. Seeing the useless way that so many walk away from these structures enforces in me more resolve to observe more decisively how symbols are used in the American political system and what ideas they are trying to instil in me.

Legerich ’15 Ponders Cathedral’s Symbolism

Clay Lengerich ’15 – After a day filled with studying St. Julien’s cathedral, one theme remained prominent among the group and myself.  This theme stems mostly from the reading Dr.Hoerl provided us with – which was a segment of The Golden Legend.  This piece argued many different ideas about who Saint Julien actually was.  But, I will be focusing on the beginning of the piece and how it forensically picked apart the name “Julian.”  The section reads, “Julian, Julianus, begins like jubilus, jubilant, and ana means upward: so Julian is close to Jubilans, one who strives upward toward heaven with jubilation” (Pg. 126).  This prominent quotation was looked at from many different angles throughout today.  But, most of these viewpoints were structured around the idea of “striving upward.” We found that the church itself was “striving upward” in many different ways, much like Saint Julian himself.

Cathedral1The class noted that one could look at this quotation from a geographical standpoint.  This had to do with the positioning of the cathedral on a certain area of land and also with how the rest of the community was situated in regards to it.  First, Saint Julian’s cathedral is placed on the highest peak visible in Le Mans.  The class talked about this largely.  It seemed that we all believed that it was a depiction of how mankind, like Saint Julien, was striving ever upward towards the heavens – which could also be seen as salvation. Second, St. Julien’s cathedral is placed at the very epicenter of Le Mans proper, or what would have been the city limits during its medieval use. By it being in the center, and also being at the peak, the cathedral was visible at almost all times in the Le Mans proper area.  In this theme’s context, some of the class thought that it was a symbol for the residents of Le Mans to witness at all times.  When one looked skyward they would see the cathedral and their minds could then turn to that need for striving upward towards salvation – continuously providing existential purpose for all citizens.

This quote was also deeply analyzed from an architectural standpoint.  The outer architecture displayed the idea that was brought forth above.  From the earth, this enormous cathedral was reaching higher than any other manmade structure could.  But, I believe that the most prominent architectural correlations with this quote were found inside the cathedral.  The class reinforced this idea during discussion.  When one enters Saint Julien’s cathedral, there are not really any important or prominent symbolic ornaments at eye level.  One had to look up!  When one looked up, he could see a ridiculous amount of stained glass with different symbols – each representing a different story.  These windows rose up so high that many were impossible to actually comprehend with the naked eye.  But, architecturally this made sense if those building had this theme in mind.  With all of the beauty being upward, it would inspire the congregation to gaze upward.  By gazing upward they could feel that close connection with God, the church, and the community that had provided this cathedral.

Wentzel ’14 Questions Cathedral’s Light

Jeremy Wentzel ’14 - On Monday, the class made two site visits in the City of Le Mans.  The first and most in-depth visit was to the Cathedral at St. Julien, and the second being at Eglise de la Couture.  Being written after a tremendous class discussion on the return to Paris this evening, this blog seeks to identify key themes in that were captured by the group.  These site visits marked the first of many for the class, therefore the excitement and intellectual romanticism of freshly observed sites flowed freely in the discussion.  Importantly, the ideas presented at this evening’s discussion and within this blog offer insight into the large questions about architecture, religion, and political power that will guide us through visits to other cathedrals in the week.

LightWhat does light and darkness have to do with the individual’s perception of oneself in relation to God?  No – not good and evil, but quite literally lightness and darkness within the cathedral.  How do the natural elements (or lack thereof) of the exterior of the cathedral engage the senses as to what role the individual has, and what role those above the individuals have?  Finally, how does order make individuals feel, and how does architecture – the cathedrals support it?  These questions illuminated our group conversation at a café during sunset in the heart of Paris.  Ultimately, these questions will aid us in forming a more solid connection between politics and architecture in medieval and gothic churches.

In the role of discussion leader, I took note of these questions and more.  Upon examining the interior and exterior of the Cathedral of St. Julien, I found the cathedral to be living and in harmony with nature.  Sitting atop the highest point in Le Mans, the cathedral is visible by many places in the city, and sits in bright harmony with its built environment.  Some scholars have suggested the cathedral to be robust and lively – a joyful celebration.  I couldn’t agree more.  The light wind sweeps through the elegant structure.  The sun amplifies the elaborate stained glass, and provides reflection off the lightly colored walls inside.  The green exterior surroundings enhance the feeling that this cathedral is alive.

But on to the question of power – does a cathedral that feels alive, both inside and out, give some agency to the individual?  Does the individual feel closer to God if the church is more inviting?  Is the plain style inside the structure (made quite visible through the contrasting high gothic and Romanesque styles fused together) inhibiting of order?  I dare to suggest that the Cathedral at St. Julien provides a closer connection to the individual and God through its architecture.  Yet, because it does this, there are considerations to be made.  If the individual is somewhat empowered – even a presumably illiterate individual from the times – how much power does the church have over that individual?  When examining the question of political power, we see numerous relationships from the individual: an individual/God relationship, an individual/intermediary relationship (the church as an institution and church leadership, both as “intermediary”), and an individual/intermediary/God relationship.  We found that architecture of a cathedral directly affects our perceptions and/or the realities of each of these relationships.

Consider the Eglise de la Couture, whose darkness provides a sense of mystery.  The darkness of the cathedral, through fewer windows and its presence in a neighborhood built environment, is striking in comparison to the Cathedral of St. Julien.  While the group had differing interpretations of the darkness, it was clear that in all interpretations was the notion that the eeriness of darkness was powerful.  I suggest that darkness reinforces the power the intermediary has.  In other words, the darker the cathedral, the more one feels small and distant to God.  Thus, the necessity for a priest and church leadership provides a sense of security for the individual in the quest to feel or search for God.  My personal opinion (thus far) is that a successful cathedral incorporates a healthy individual/intermediary/God relationship.  This means that the individual does not feel too close or too far from God.  There is the presence of a priest – and institution that seeks to promote duty and accountability, but does not suppress the role of God.  This model, in my opinion, relates healthily to notions of reason and searching that we see in writers of metaphysics.  As a result, political power is not dominated by one source: the individual, God, or the intermediary.  Instead, while perhaps imbalanced, there is not a monopoly on power, but instead a distribution of it.

Our conversations were fruitful.  Our thoughts were even more so.  The organic nature of the intellectual flourishing that occurred here today is a sure reflection of the power and necessity of immersion learning at Wabash College.  Our uncertainty and bold unabashed idealism will be certainly refined over the course of the week.  Yet, there is a beauty to the excitement of the first full day – an excitement that comes only from a step outside the classroom at Wabash.

Jackson ’16 on Saint Julien, Trump Tower

churchMichael Jackson ’16 - One cannot truly comprehend the complexity of a cathedral and then relate that dynamically didactic relic to the modern world unless the person physically takes their person to that space.  Having just returned to the hotel from Saint Julien with the experience fresh in my mind, the connections between this strikingly grandiose structure and similar structures within the modern world imitated in this shadow, skyscrapers, creates a stark juxtaposition between human and divine that reflects a restructuring of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ hierarchy depicted in La Somme Théologique
 
As I reflected upon the excursion to Saint Julien on the train back to Paris, a recent trip I had taken to Chicago immediately surfaced within my mind, more specifically the service I attended at the local church that Sunday morning and Trump Tower I had seen later that afternoon.  I did not think anything of it at the time, but having just seen the immense structure that is Saint Julien, I cannot help but think that the modern era is trying to ‘Trump’ God by ascending to a sphere above him, or in other words, we are attempting to assert our dominance and independence by literally Towering God’s institutions with the structures we build; granted, some of this phenomena is nothing more than humanity testing its prowess in engineering, but a heavy sensation from within feels as if modern humanity might purposely, or accidentally, be striving for this new hierarchy because we believe we have become greater than God.  
 
imageThis sensation, I believe, comes from the certainty of God’s grandiose existence embodied and personified by the cathedral(s), coupled with the lack of certainty or desire to discern a possible truth in Him by much of the modern world.Moreover, modernity rejects God and tries to ascend beyond His realm of existence, be it fictitious or not, through its use of technology, both in creating almost unfathomable structures in terms of height and complexity and in ameliorating and deducing physiological problems.  For this latter claim, I draw on my time shadowing a heart surgeon: for the first time in a man’s 67 years of living, a machine was keeping him alive by reoxygenating his blood with a machine so the surgeon could perform a double bypass on a now still and empty heart.  Basically we are adopting the role of God as both creator and healer and eliminating the need for Him.  
In summation, I’m claiming the modern man has lost his faith in God and lost the desire to even wrestle with the idea of discerning the truth surrounding Him.  Food for thought: man will inevitably die, so can you afford to not win favor with a Being who can give you eternal life or damnation? And, in the event that He does not exist and to nothingness we go after death, is it that horrible to sacrifice some secular pleasures in life so to improve the quality of life for another?

Biehl ’16 Observes French Lifestyle

Chris Biehl ’16 - As a first time international traveler, I was extremely nervous for our journey from Indianapolis to Newark International to Paris, France. I’m happy to say that my experiences in both airports were nothing but pleasant and after a layover in New Jersey and an eight-hour flight across the Atlantic, we arrived in Paris at 7 am Central European time zone.

When we arrived in France it was a breeze to find our luggage and we began heading to our hotel, Moulin Vert. As we were waiting on a bus our group witnessed what was believed to be a vendor getting arrested by the French police. I thought this was interesting because I’ve never seen anyone get arrested in the United States and it was funny to me that this was the first thing I see.

After witnessing the possible vendor get arrested we rode from the bus into the city. My initial reactions to the city were surprising. My assumed image was wrong. All the people I saw did not dress radically different, they drove on the same side that we do, and a good amount of French citizens are bilingual.

My biggest fear was not being able to communicate or find my way around due to the language barrier. With help from my French 101 & 102 class and the amount of French people who speak English I have had no problem communicating or finding my way around.

Nutella is everywhere. I’ve been to two super markets looking for an outlet converter and they’re entire shelves of Nutella. That being said, the lack of peanut butter is saddening. I knew that peanut butter was scarce in France but I am unable to find any yet.

Other cultural differences I have noticed are transportation. While people do drive, the majority of people get around by foot, scooter, or roller blades. I honestly haven’t seen someone in the United States on roller blades since I was a child.