Assuredly the Cathedral of Notre-Dame at Paris is, to this day, a majestic and sublime edifice. But noble as it has remained while growing old, one cannot but regret, cannot but feel indignant at the innumerable degradations and mutilations inflicted on the venerable pile, both by the action of time and the hand of man, regardless alike of Charlemagne, who laid the first stone, and Philip Augustus, who laid the last.

On the face of this ancient queen of our cathedrals, beside each wrinkle one invariably finds a scar. “Tempus edax, homo edacior,” which I would be inclined to translate: “Time is blind, but man is senseless.”

Had we, with the reader, the leisure to examine, one by one, the traces of the destruction wrought on this ancient church, we should have to impute the smallest share to Time, the largest to men, and more especially to those whom we must perforce call artists, since, during the last two centuries, there have been individuals among them who assumed the title of architect.

And first of all, to cite only a few prominent examples, there are surely few such wonderful pages in the book of Architecture as the façades of the Cathedral. Here unfold themselves to the eye, successively and at one glance, the three deep Gothic doorways; the richly traced and sculptured band of twenty-eight royal niches; the immense central rose-window, flanked by its two lateral windows, like a priest by the deacon and subdeacon; the lofty and fragile gallery of trifoliated arches supporting a heavy platform on its slender columns; finally, the two dark and massive towers with their projecting slate roofs—harmonious parts of one magnificent whole, rising one above another in five gigantic storeys, massed yet unconfused, their innumerable details of statuary, sculpture, and carving boldly allied to the impassive grandeur of the whole. A vast symphony in stone, as it were; the colossal achievement of a man and a nation—one and yet complex—like the Iliades and the Romances to which it is sister—prodigious result of the union of all the resources of an epoch, where on every stone is displayed in a hundred variations the fancy of the craftsman controlled by the genius of the artist; in a word, a sort of human Creation, mighty and prolific, like the divine Creation, of which it seems to have caught the double characteristics—variety and eternity.

And what we say here of the façade applies to the entire church; and what we say of the Cathedral of Paris may be said of all the ministers of Christendom in the Middle Ages.

Everything stands in its proper relation in that self-evolved art, is logical, well-proportioned. By measuring one toe you can estimate the height of the giant.

To return to the façade of Notre-Dame, as we see it to-day, when we stand lost in pious admiration of the mighty and awe-inspiring Cathedral, which, according to the chroniclers, strikes the beholder with terror—quœ mole sua terrorem incutit spectantibus.

Three important things are now missing in that façade: the flight of eleven steps which raised it above the level of the ground; the lower row of statues occupying the niches of the three doorways; and the upper series of twenty-eight, which filled the gallery of the first story and represented the earliest Kings of France, from Childebert to Philip Augustus, each holding in his hand the “imperial orb.”

The disappearance of the steps is due to Time, which by slow and irresistible degrees has raised the level of the soil of the city. But Time, though permitting these eleven steps, which added to the stately elevation of the pile, to be swallowed by the rising tide of the Paris pavement, has given to the Cathedral more perhaps than he took away; for it was the hand of Time that steeped its façade in those rich and sombre tints by which the old age of monuments becomes their period of beauty.

But who has overthrown the two rows of statues? Who has left the niches empty? Who has scooped out, in the very middle of the central door, that new and bastard-pointed arch? Who has dared to hang in it, cheek by jowl with Biscornette’s arabesques, that tasteless and clumsy wooden door with Louis XV carvings? Man—the architects—the artists of our own day!

  By PanEris using Melati.

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