The Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Madeleine Church in Paris

The Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Madeleine Church in Paris.

Today I am comparing the architectural features of the Notre-Dame Cathedral with the Church of the Saint Mary Magdalene, generally known as the Madeline Church, in Paris. 

This is what James Joyce was doing when he was in Paris. His Irish friend Arthur Power visited Joyce in Paris and as they were walking along the river Seine, they were discussing the city’s architecture. Joyce tells Power: 

“Compare a Gothic building with a Greek or Roman one: Notre-Dame, for instance, with the Madeleine. I remember once standing in the gardens beside Notre-Dame and looking up at its roofs, at their amazing complication—plane overlapping plane, angle countering angle, the numerous traversing gutters and runnels, flying buttresses and erupting gargoyles. In comparison, classical buildings always seem to be over-simple and lacking in mystery.” – Arthur Power, Conversations with James Joyce, 1978.

James Joyce clearly prefers the Gothic style of religious buildings—the magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral—over the classical lines of the Madeleine Church.

Bishop Maurice de Sully wanted to give the newly forming city of Paris a grand cathedral. He commenced oversight of the construction of the Notre-Dame Cathedral from its planning in 1160 to 1196. 

After the Bishop’s death, Eudes de Sully continued supervising the work until 1208, resulting in the construction of the gates and the cathedral’s facade. 

Jean de Chelles was in charge from 1250 to 1258 and provided oversight of the building of the transept until his death. Jacques-Germain Soufflot was the most well-known architect of the Notre-Dame. His period of supervision was from 1713 to 1780. 

Eugène Viollet-le-Duc carried out renovations from 1844 to 1854 to improve the upper parts of the western façade. 

The Notre-Dame Cathedral in the 4th arrondissement is centrally located on the island of the City, and looms large next to the river Seine. Because of its long history of construction from 1163 to 1345, followed by ongoing renovations, with many supervising architects, the architectural style varies from primitive Gothic to radiant Gothic. Gothic nonetheless. The latest renovations are ongoing now, due to a fire on 15 April 2019, which damaged the roof and toppled the spire. Water from the fire fighters’ hoses damaged the interior, in addition to the fire and smoke damage, but the blackened facades are still standing. 

The butt arches of the nave are visible, as are the gargoyles and the round windows with their stained glass. The fragile stained glass windows were not damaged during the fire, but they are boarded up to mitigate any incidental damage. The cathedral is closed indefinitely for repair.

James Joyce compared the impressive facades of the Notre-Dame Cathedral with the Madeleine Church designed in 1806, centuries after the cathedral’s construction.

In the 8th arrondissement of Paris, the construction of the Madeleine building began in the 1760s, but was interruped by the French Revolution. 

Napoleon Bonaparte changed the blueprints in 1806 during his Empire tor reflect the current phase of the Neo-Classical architectural movement. 

He instructed architect Pierre-Alexandre Vignon to design the building as a commemorative temple to the Grand Army in the form of a Roman temple with 52 Corinthian columns, each twenty metres high. However, it wasn’t used as a temple to the army. The nearby Arc de Triomphe now takes the role of the memorial to soldiers. 

From 1816, the Bourbon regime continued construction of the building, and King Louis XVIII completed it in 1842 as the English church that it is today, which was consecrated in 1845. The same architectural style can also be seen in the Palais Bourbon across the river in the 6th arrondissement.

Architect Jean-Jacques Huvé supervised the renovation of the interior from 1828 to 1842, modelled on the Roman baths. The bronze front doors of the Madeleine Church include representations of the Ten Commandments. 

Because it was never originally designed as a church, its Neo-Classical architecture makes it appear as if it were transported from ancient Greece. With its steps, entrance portico, and three domes, it is quite a sight. 

In comparison with the Gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral, does the Classical Madeleine Church, as James Joyce says, “seem to be over-simple and lacking in mystery?” I rather think so.

Published by MaNi

Martina Nicolls is an Australian author and international human rights-based consultant in education, healing and wellbeing, peace and stabilisation, and foreign aid audits and evaluations. She has written eight books and continues writing articles and thoughts through her various websites. She loves photography, reading, and nature. She currently lives in Paris, France.

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