Tall and grand and in every way the heart of Strasbourg is the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg. I soon learnt to navigate my way around the city with glimpses of its Spire for guidance.
But before it’s super aid as a navigating device, a bit more about the building itself.
The present building was completed in 1284 with the spire (the North Tower) finished in 1439. The stone was quarried in the Vosges Mountains near Mont Sainte-Odile. Saint Odile, the patron saint of all Alsace, specially Strasbourg.
The present visitor entrance to the Cathedral is from the West front. A gorgeous waterfall of sculptures. Each level narrating biblical stories and offering material for many minutes of quiet study.
That is if you can bear the strong cold wind that rushes around the building seemingly without stopping. Locals believe the wind is the devil looking for a way inside.
And it’s surely gave me many shivers!
The wealth of sculptures on the exterior walls of the Cathedral reminded me of the intricately carved temples back home in India. In the temples each level of sculpture follows laid down religious principles carefully detailed out in the shastras. In churches I think it’s more open to the desires of the individual church designers.
Inside the Cathedral are huge stained glass windows. Breathtaking in their magnificence. So beautiful in fact that during World War II, the Germans packed them away in cases and stored them in salt mines near Heilbronn, Germany. Saving them from the destructions of war. When peace returned the American Army returned the windows back to Strasbourg and they were restored to their original place.
Inspite of all our differences, this love for beauty, for fine art is an inherent human trait. It seemed very natural then that Udaipur in Rajasthan and Strasbourg in France, two such different cities are united in their desire to preserve their living heritage. So much so that they are now twin cities through a Joint Co-operation Programme (JCP) signed recently.
These windows were for me, the most attractive feature of the Cathedral. Over my days in town, I kept returning. Hoping for a bit of sunshine outside to make their colours glow even more. Sadly that was not to be but I got instead a crown of light from the shining candelabra. And I was happy 🙂
Also inside is a very grand suspended organ. Built by Andrew Silbermann, in 1704, it was pierced by a shell during the bombardment of Strasbourg in 1870 during The Siege of Strasbourg. It has ofcourse since then been repaired and today houses mechanism and registers by Alfred Kern.
The most talked about feature at the Cathedral is the Astronomical Clock. All visitors have to vacate the building at noon in preparation for a special show because daily at 12:30 the clock displays a procession of 18 inch high figures of Christ and the Apostles while the life-size cock crows thrice. It’s a ticketed show for which people collect in large numbers.
Outside again I bought a ticket to climb up the tower. At 466 ft, it made the Cathedral the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874 AD. Since I was blessed with a cold grey day and lugging a heavy camera bag and tripod, each step was a small mountain to climb but reached to the top I did!
Finally when looking down at the city spread around. Dotted lavishly with spires of churches. It’s definitely worth every foot of the climb.
And for navigating through the city? Here’s how the Spire stands like a compass from almost all the Alt Stad!
The Strasbourg Saga I : International Photo-exhibition: Seeking the Sacred in Strasbourg and Udaipur
Want more photographs? Swing by here
Why was I in Strasbourg? read on here
Is reading your thing? For more of the history of the city and the cathedral here’s a good read Historical Sketch of the Cathedral of Strasburg
(The Strasbourg saga to be continued)