Visitors at Notre-Dame de Paris // Des visiteuses à Notre-Dame de Paris © Chant Wagner 2018
When I paid visit to Notre-Dame de Paris the other day, it felt like I was seeing it for the first time. Its aspect was more variegated than in my memory imprint of it based on episodic visits. All those chapels radiating around the central axis appeared like well-delineated small, new worlds. It was daytime and cold as frozen hell outside - at least by Paris standards. Hadn't I gone there during daytime before? Reflecting back, I realized that actually a number of material changes had taken place...
For one thing, incense sticks are now available alongside candles to burn; transparent, contemporary glass confessionals are new too. The monumental stone stoup is gone, for now. A taste for multicolored patterns is also apparent. One of the chapels has been dedicated to Saint Paul Chen, which attracts the particular attention of Chinese tourists, who might explain in part the new fondness for incense-based worshipping - and the riot of reds. A contemporary painting hangs, which looks from a distance like a child drawing.
It's how, it seems, a medieval construction manages to evolve, from within, to correspond better to changing times.
But it is also, it seems to me, a throwback to the fairly recent discovery that cathedrals in the Middle Ages were colorful, painted architectures. People won't repaint the outer appearance of a cathedral today, except with light shows, but somehow, this knowledge seems to have seeped inside, into the decoration of Notre-Dame de Paris to make it reconnect with an ancient element of didactic playfulness and love of vivid colors, which had been preserved to eyes able to wonder and remember principally in its art of the stained glass.
When was the point in time when it was not banal anymore to see a painted cathedral, then one with decrepit paint, before all the paint faded away and no one could remember - or care to remember - how it once was? The fact is that, incredibly enough, those colors had faded from human memory. But now, colors are in again.