The Hunchback of Notre Dame
1. The Grand Hall
Three hundred and forty-eight years, six months, and nineteen days ago to-day,
the Parisians awoke to the sound of all the bells in the triple circuit of the city, the
university, and the town ringing a full peal.
The sixth of January, 1482, is not, however, a day of which history has preserved
the memory. There was nothing notable in the event which thus set the bells and
the bourgeois of Paris in a ferment from early morning. It was neither an assault
by the Picards nor the Burgundians, nor a hunt led along in procession, nor a
revolt of scholars in the town of Laas, nor an entry of "our much dread lord,
monsieur the king," nor even a pretty hanging of male and female thieves by the
courts of Paris. Neither was it the arrival, so frequent in the fifteenth century, of
some plumed and bedizened embassy. It was barely two days since the last
cavalcade of that nature, that of the Flemish ambassadors charged with
concluding the marriage between the dauphin and Marguerite of Flanders, had
made its entry into Paris, to the great annoyance of M. le Cardinal de Bourbon,
who, for the sake of pleasing the king, had been obliged to assume an amiable
mien towards this whole rustic rabble of Flemish burgomasters, and to regale
them at his Hôtel de Bourbon, with a very "pretty morality, allegorical satire, and
farce," while a driving rain drenched the magnificent tapestries at his door.
What put the "whole population of Paris in commotion," as Jehan de Troyes
expresses it, on the sixth of January, was the double solemnity, united from time
immemorial, of the Epiphany and the Feast of Fools.
On that day, there was to be a bonfire on the Place de Grève, a maypole at the
Chapelle de Braque, and a mystery at the Palais de Justice. It had been cried, to
the sound of the trumpet, the preceding evening at all the cross roads, by the
provost's men, clad in handsome, short, sleeveless coats of violet camelot, with
large white crosses upon their breasts.
So the crowd of citizens, male and female, having closed their houses and
shops, thronged from every direction, at early morn, towards some one of the
three spots designated.
Each had made his choice; one, the bonfire; another, the maypole; another, the
mystery play. It must be stated, in honor of the good sense of the loungers of
Paris, that the greater part of this crowd directed their steps towards the bonfire,
which was quite in season, or towards the mystery play, which was to be
presented in the grand hall of the Palais de Justice (the courts of law), which was
well roofed and walled; and that the curious left the poor, scantily flowered
maypole to shiver all alone beneath the sky of January, in the cemetery of the
Chapel of Braque.
The populace thronged the avenues of the law courts in particular, because they
knew that the Flemish ambassadors, who had arrived two days previously,
intended to be present at the representation of the mystery, and at the election of
the Pope of the Fools, which was also to take place in the grand hall.