As I have been spending more time reading devotionals and my Bible during the season of Lent, I have been feeling the strength of my faith. Thoughts of many of the great churches I have had the opportunity to visit have been filling my mind. Notre Dame in Paris, France has to be one of the most memorable. Huge as it is, symbols fill nearly every square inch of the place.
The facade includes The Gallery of Kings, a horizontal frieze of twenty-eight statues representing the ancestors of Christ. Above the left entrance there is a gathering of prophets. As your eyes travel down the line you realize Sainte Denis is holding his head. It is believed he was decapitated for his successful ministry converting Parisians to Catholicism around the year 258. Despite losing his head, he continued preaching and walked six miles before collapsing. I love the angel next to him who seems a little disconcerted by Denis's version of holding his head in his hands.
Inside there are so many beautiful areas for private prayer. It is quiet and peaceful in the Cathedral despite a constant stream of visitors. I was so caught up in the scale and loveliness of the place that I was hardly aware of the other people moving along with me as I toured.
So much of the light inside the sanctuary comes through the huge stained glass windows that fill the place. The colors remind me of a kaleidoscope, and I was like a kid at Christmas when I noticed the rainbow reflections dancing on the stone interior wall.
I can't look through my photos of the old churches without remembering the smell. It is a mixture of age, burning candles, and incense. The scents blend together into a wonderful smell that feels safe and permanent. It is a reminder of how long people have gathered to celebrate their faith or find comfort in their loss. It evoked in me a very primal understanding of why a place like this is called sanctuary...and helps to explain what drew us three times during an eleven day stay in Paris.