Synthesis done by Rosa Castillo and extracted from “Alchemy and the symbolism of the cathedrals” (1990). Editorial NA, Valencia.60pp.
All the cathedrals in France were dedicated to Nôtre Dame. The Virgin was introduced due to the the devotion that it was prosecuted for the people in the XII century: she evokes the sovereignty, the victory but also the idea of incarnation. She symbolizes the Nature and towards her not only the devotion of the crowd but also the mystical effusions of the monks is naturally turned to her.
The theologians that create the Gothic Art didn´t represent Christ as a child but a world sovereign king that, ascended to his throne, not only crowns the Virgin, his mother, but also his wife, the church.
The gothic man represented in the iconography of the cathedrals was born grown up, as Christ´s image, from the divine mind.
The Cathedral perpetuates a tradition in the sacred architecture and art.
Due to its location in the Île de la Citè and in the junction of the two great axes North-South, East-West, Nôtre Dame appears as a central point of the sacred geography of the capital. Its construction was made by less than two centuries. For giving an idea of the proportions of the work, let´s take as an example the measures of its basic structure: 130 metres long, 48 metres wide, 35 metres long in the nave and 69 metres tall in the towers. The laying of the first stone was decided by Mauricio de Sully, the king Louis VII and the Pope Alexander III in 1163; the work was completely finished in 1351.
1163 The works of the Choir and the apse were carried out.
1165 The portraits of the founders were placed on the Porch of Saint Ann.
1182 The choir is finished. The transept and the nave start to be erected.
1196 The nave, except for the roof, is finished.
1200 The works of the west front start.
1207 The porches are ornamented with statues.
1220 The front is erected until the Kings´s Gallery.
1224 The west rose window is finished.
1230 The reconstruction of the nave starts. The flying buttresses are erected. The chapels are inserted between the exterior buttresses of the nave.
1240 The south tower is finished. The superior gallery of the north tower is finished at about 1244.
1250 The Work Master Juan de Chelles starts the new fronts of the transept that will last till 1258.The nave is entirely reconstructed.
1265 Pedro de Montreuil, the new Work Master, starts the construction of the Red Porch.
1270 The fronts of the transept are finished. New chapels and flying buttresses of the choir are built.
1300 Under the episcopasy of Matiffas de Bucy the three chapels of the axis are built.
1318 Pedro de Montreuil succeeds Juan de Chelles and finishes the decoration of the outside of the apse.
1320 John Ravi builds the flying buttresses of the presbytery (a wingspan of 15 metres). He works in the enclosure of the choir started by Pedro de Chelles and continued by Pedro Le Bouteillier.
1351 Nôtre Dame is completely finished.
It is interesting to know that the flying buttresses were invented in order to haul up higher the nave of Nôtre Dame in Paris in 1180.
Starting from 1699, the destructions and mutilations of the Cathedral begin: from the gallery of the gargoyles to the suppression of paving replaced by another one of marble and the massacre of the glass windows in the XVIII century, made by the canons that complained about the lack of light. In 1771, Soufflot makes disappear the central pillar that divided the great west door into two parts. Finally, the Council of the Commune decides that the religious statues are vestiges of the monarchy that is necessary to be destroyed. The statues of the saints are mutilated, the spire of the tower is demolished in order to be changed into riffle bullets.
The spire was made of alchemical metal, surely an alloy of copper, gold and silver, like the main bell, placed during the reign of Louis XIV, made in copper, gold, silver and bronze. This kind of alloy was made with precious metals, not only in order to improve its sonority but also because the nobility of the metal brought to mind to the alchemical metal called “oricalco” that according to the hermetic traditions (Plato), it was found in its natural statue in the Atlantida and the alchemists are the ones who reconstitute it, making an alloy.
In 1871, Nôtre Dame is nearly saved from the fire by the interns of the hospital that extinguished the fire lit in the nave by the “comuneros”.
At that time, Nôtre Dame has the appearance of a venerable ruin. And it´s then when Violet-le-Duc and her team, following “The Science of the Colleagues”, decide to return to give it the designs of the Middle Ages. We admire this spring of the gothic art, this”forest-armour”, this flora of the Island of France now, from the chimeras of the istowers to the Porch of the Judgment. As a whole, 15.000 people can meet in the cathedral of Paris.
Strength and majesty are the feelings that unavoidably pierced all those that contemplate it, but the medieval language, the meaning of the iconography, the same function of the building, its relationships with the traditional art, the Sacred Geometry, the Alchemy offer a new stage of comprehension to every man of good will.
Nôtre Dame, an image of the world
Which is the difference between a series of stones piled up ones over the others, marked by more or less comprehensible signals and a cathedral like Nôtre Dame of Paris? Where comes that resonance, that quiet music, that illuminated atmosphere, that inner harmony from?
The Cathedral shows a world view, a verticality that resounds through each low relief, each inscription, each glass window. Just as a seat that perfectly corresponds to the symbolism of the mountain or the island. It is built as a sacred mountain that establishes the alliance of the high and the low, the sky and the earth, the divine and the humane.
The nave and the choir in Nôtre Dame of Paris, as in many of the medieval churches, form an angle. The exam of this choir let appear a second symbolic orientation because its inclination of twenty three and a half degrees over the parallel (of the same value than the inclination of the axis of the terrestrial poles in the perpendicular to the ecliptic), correspond to the points where the sun rises around the first of November and where it is occulted around the first of May and fifteenth of August. The Christian temple enters for the Universe of which is the synthesis and expression at the same time.
Each part of the cathedral has got qualities comparable to the parts of the human body. The apsidal circle represents the head; the junction of the nave and the transept, the heart, the life that beat in the building; the west front, the feet of the cosmic man. According to the acupuncture, the sole of the feet give a reduced image of the functions and principles of the human body. In the Cathedral, the west front reproduces the functions and principles of all the construction. The feet of the cosmic man also remind of those ones of the pilgrim. Every spiritual doctrine opposes the manipulations and the neophyte must know the journey that he should make before coming into the “Route”. In the reading of the west front, the uninitiated is reported on the spiritual content about the initiated journey that he should do in the Cathedral. In the same way, in the west front of Nôtre Dame of Paris can be seen reflected the three worlds: the one of the Spirit or Heaven (vaults), the one of the Soul or Earth and atmosphere (floor and columns) and the one of the Body or Underground (crypt).
The Cathedral takes its elements from the vegetal symbolism: it is the magic forest where the trees are the columns; the choir, the clearing or the open space, the place where the people dance around the fire symbolized by the stone of the altar. Its floor is a draughtboard, the path that leads to the centre, after having defeated the trials, the world of battle. The shape of its vault draws a reversed boat, the boat that sails in the celestial space full of stars like the cloak of the Virgin.
This celestial boat is located in a privileged place because it is on an island, the “Île de la Cité”, that interprets the role of a boat. Like an of Noe´s ark, Nôtre Dame is situated on an island. This idea, this symbol of a boat is found in the emblem chosen by the Mariners of Paris in the XIII century: Fluctuat nec mergitur. Excavations undertaken under the reign of Louis XIII brought to light blocks of an old votive monument representing to the Mariners of Paris – equipped with a gallic shield-, ancestors of water sellers that reappear in the Middle Ages. Nowadays, the blocks are in the Museum of Cluny.
Don´t forget that the symbol of Paris is a ship. All the building is conceived as a celestial ship where the Virgin Mary is crowned. Representations of the Virgin sitting down on a throne, like the goddess Isis, Egyptian goddess of the navigation, carrying a child who has “the genie of the world” between his hands are found. These virgins symbolize the first expression of the universe, they have in themselves, in the same way as the Holy Grail, at the same time, the spirit, the life and the order, principles contained in the child grown up. This trinity or triple characteristic is in the Cathedral like the ternary rhythm of the creative spirit. The crypt, the floor and the roof correspond to the three spheres or worlds, underground, terrestrial and celestial. This rhythm is repeated in the three fronts and the three naves over the horizontal plan and in the three vertical divisions of the front and the interior colonnade.
In this way; Nôtre Dame is the resonance glass of the Verb, the image of the world where the creative powers are combined: one of them carrying the water and the substance and the other one carrying the Order and the “Logos”. The nuptials of the sound and the light will let the transformation of the substance in the inside of the Cathedral that plays the role of the Alchemist´s Grail.
The rose windows are transformers of light that polarize, filter and transmit the spectrum of colours. The stones are like nerves in which the points of tension, the keys (keystones) of the vaults or cornerstones, transpose the sound. In these two notions of tension and resonance is the state of vibration of the matter.
The Cathedral seems to be built as an Universe in miniature. Its diagram of base is a cube that comes before a dome. The symbolism of the circle and the square, many times used in the temples of ancient civilizations, started to be found again in the arch equivalent to the semicircle and in the cross equivalent to the covered cube.
The cross represented in the floor by the nave and the transept is dynamic due to its orientation to the four cardinal points. It is marked with the round of the seasons: the alternation of solstices and equinoxes.
This terrestrial cardinal point connects with the polar, vertical and celestial cross. But these two crosses really form only one: The cross of three dimensions and six branches summed up in the ascendant dynamic of the arrow, situated in the intersection of transept.
It is in this point of intersection where it is the germen of the world, the centre, Christ´s heart, the God incarnated. Christ´s head is the apse; his arms, the transept and his body, the nave. The apse that closes the Cathedral has a semicircular form like the cranium. In the centre, above the altar is enthroned the Virgin that shows the child, personifying the movement of ascension that must elevate the terrestrial church towards Heaven. As long as the prime Virgin “Virgo”, the one that gives birth without losing her own nature, that is to say, without alteration or corruption, is the raw material, she is the great point of emanation; it is the Virgin whose fingers become spikes or stars in order to give birth to things.
The cardinal points
The churches are generally built following the direction East –West, starting by the choir towards the front, but the case of Nôtre Dame is unique because its construction has followed the opposite direction and one part of the West front (the porch of Saint Ann) was built at first.
In the Cathedral the four cardinal points and the three vertical plans mix. The construction follows the course of the Sun, the birth and the death. People come into the Cathedral by the West, point of incarnation of the light in the matter; the Sun is gulp down by the Earth to which it makes fertile. The man comes into the place where the light, the Spirit, fertilize him in order to transform his inertia into activity; a clearness comes out from his impure matter.
To the North, world of the origins, of the universal dissolvent, the living forces of the Nature will let the man being definitively purified. A spark comes up at midnight. It is the Work in Black.
To the East, the radiant heart, the starting point of the differentiated world, the star or the spark that becomes a point of conscience, controlled light. It is the step, the transition between the visible world and the invisible one, the specified reflection of the West.
To the South, the expansion is fulfilled: it is midday, the victory upon the time; the spark is a true flame. It is the Work in White focused in the Nature. A moment of stabilization. It is the establishment of Christ-King.
A new conscience is developed in that who has covered these stages. Provided with this flame that has transmuted the matter, the Man-Sun arrives to the West, the last point of the cycle, where he will unite with the Cosmos in the starry sky. It is the Work in Red.
The cardinal points give dynamism to the Cathedral in the axis East-West, axis of the incarnation and in the axis North-South, axis of the origin and development.
Through the worlds of life and death, the incarnation, invisible in the West, will become objective in the East, where the emanated light can be perceived. The original point is the north, the chaotic state, the genesis world that will blow up to the South, the hot point, the flourishing and ordered creation. The East, point of transition between the night and day and between the hidden duality and the apparent duality, is the dawn and the dissociation between the chaotic order and the cosmic one. It is the curved world that is opened in seven rays like the sole of the goose.
The west front summarizes the alternation of the principles that let the harmony by opposition appears, the triple porch: the one of the Final Judgment in the centre, the one of Saint Ann to the left and the one of the Virgin to the right.
The two lateral porches to the one of the Final Judgment are the respective projections of the cardinal points North-South; the Porch of Saint Ann is the mirror of the North while the Porch of the Virgin is the mirror of the South. In fact, if the Virgin is the prime matter, the pre-substance and the underground world, Saint Ann is the pre-Nature, the stone without cutting, the matter without organizing. The developed matter has as symbol to the Virgin with the child, that who carries an open rose on a cross/the rose-cross) is the incarnated beauty, the blossoming of the Nature. The Porch of the Virgin represents “The Virgin´s dream”. In a same image have been joined death and coronation, the control of the matter by the Spirit. The Porch of the Virgin symbolizes the works in contact with the twelve months of the Zodiac. The Porch of Saint Ann shows in the central pillar, Saint Marcelo´s statue surrounded by life scenes of Saint Ann and the Virgin as well as Christ´s birth.
The porch of the Virgin shows the twelve months of the Zodiac in a vertical disposal. The order is changed. Leo goes after Gemini, usurping the place of Cancer tha has been banished to the opposite pillar. With this skillful change the sculptor shows the alchemic conjunction of the philosophic ferment, symbolized by the lion, with the mercurial compound. This union would take place under the sign of Gemini, if the work was started the first month of the year.