December 25, 2010
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It’s un-exotically touristy of me to say it, but I love Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I love that it’s Ground Zero for the snail grid of Parisian neighborhoods. I love that it rests on its own tiny island, which allows for magnificent views over the water. I remember the first time I approached the church from the narrow streets behind it, turning a corner to gasp at the flying buttresses lit up in the night. I’ve climbed Quasimodo’s tower to greet the gargoyles, and I’ve marveled at the fact that a semi-truck could fit inside one of the aisles. I even showed up for class on the morning after my 21st birthday, knowing that our lesson that day would take place in front of Notre Dame.
It wasn’t until my last visit to Paris, in 2008, that I finally glimpsed the façade sans scaffolding. But it was a cold day in December, so I didn’t spend much time marveling at the outside, and instead sought the warmth of the interior.
The usual crowds were there, snapping pictures and thumbing through guidebooks. A faithful few worshiped in the center — roped off to signify that the cathedral’s purpose is greater than to look pretty.
I’ve always felt torn when admiring beautiful churches. Is it right to snap photos while others are praying? Is it unholy to relish praise on the design of the structure, rather than feel compelled to use it as a house of worship to God? I once witnessed a very old local woman kindly ask a tourist to stop taking photos during mass. I felt pity for her, realizing her desire to keep the house of God sacred, but knowing there were likely 100 other tourists taking photos at that same moment.
And of course I’ve taken interior photos too. But only probably half as many as I would have liked. I hesitate greatly.
Isn’t it wonderful, though, that places of worship can attract such crowds? I hope the faithful find solace in the hope that perhaps some of the snappy tourists also leave with a seed in their hearts for the knowledge of Christ.