The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The church of Notre-Dame de Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime
edifice. But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to
sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations
which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer,
without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or for Philip Augustus,
who laid the last.
On the face of this aged queen of our cathedrals, by the side of a wrinkle, one
always finds a scar. Tempus edax, homo edacior*; which I should be glad to
translate thus: time is blind, man is stupid.
* Time is a devourer; man, more so.
If we had leisure to examine with the reader, one by one, the diverse traces of
destruction imprinted upon the old church, time's share would be the least, the
share of men the most, especially the men of art, since there have been
individuals who assumed the title of architects during the last two centuries.
And, in the first place, to cite only a few leading examples, there certainly are few
finer architectural pages than this façade, where, successively and at once, the
three portals hollowed out in an arch; the broidered and dentated cordon of the
eight and twenty royal niches; the immense central rose window, flanked by its
two lateral windows, like a priest by his deacon and subdeacon; the frail and lofty
gallery of trefoil arcades, which supports a heavy platform above its fine, slender
columns; and lastly, the two black and massive towers with their slate
penthouses, harmonious parts of a magnificent whole, superposed in five
gigantic stories;--develop themselves before the eye, in a mass and without
confusion, with their innumerable details of statuary, carving, and sculpture,
joined powerfully to the tranquil grandeur of the whole; a vast symphony in stone,
so to speak; the colossal work of one man and one people, all together one and
complex, like the Iliads and the Romanceros, whose sister it is; prodigious
product of the grouping together of all the forces of an epoch, where, upon each
stone, one sees the fancy of the workman disciplined by the genius of the artist
start forth in a hundred fashions; a sort of human creation, in a word, powerful
and fecund as the divine creation of which it seems to have stolen the double
And what we here say of the façade must be said of the entire church; and what
we say of the cathedral church of Paris, must be said of all the churches of
Christendom in the Middle Ages. All things are in place in that art, self-created,
logical, and well proportioned. To measure the great toe of the foot is to measure
Let us return to the façade of Notre-Dame, as it still appears to us, when we go
piously to admire the grave and puissant cathedral, which inspires terror, so its
chronicles assert: quoe mole sua terrorem incutit spectantibus.