Notre-Dame de Paris: She is Rocked by the Waves, but Does Not Sink

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This time last year, I had the pleasure of witnessing the majesty of Notre-Dame Cathedral for myself–unaware at the time of how startlingly ephemeral this experience would be.

There is a Latin verse from the Middle Ages that goes, Niteris incassum navem submergere Petri / Fluctuat at numquam mergitur illa ratis — “In vain you strive to submerge the ship of Peter / this vessel rocks but is never submerged.” Simplified to Fluctuat nec mergiturShe is rocked by the waves, but does not sink — this motto came to be associated with the city of Paris. From coins, to the coat of arms, the official adoption came at a time during the 19th century when much of the old city was destroyed to make way for new, modern renovations.

And seemingly forever at the epicenter of Paris, the beating heart of Ile de la Cite, stands Notre-Dame Cathedral. This small island is likely where the first building blocks of what would become Paris arose–back when the settlers there were but a small Gallic tribe of ‘Parisii’ embattled with Romans. As the story goes, it was here in the 5th century AD that the patron Saint of Paris, Genevieve, led the city in prayer to save themselves from Attila and his Huns. And later, as the invasions and sieges momentarily cooled–there began the construction of a cathedral that would eventually become Notre-Dame, at the point where all roads in France meet, and where–despite the persistent wars and losses over centuries–it has remained.

“The church of Notre-Dame in Paris is doubtless still a majestic and sublime edifice. But, however beautiful it has remained in growing old, it is difficult to suppress a sigh, to restrain a feeling of indignation at the numberless degradations and mutilations which the hand of time and that of man have inflicted upon this venerable monument…” – Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Ch. 14″

Affectionately known as ‘Our Lady’, Paris saw the beginning of Notre-Dame Cathedral’s construction in the Spring of 1163 AD where both King Louis VII and Pope Alexander III were present for the first stone laying. Maurice de Sully, the Bishop of Paris, was eager to oversee the building of a grand church set in the new style of Gothic–but he would not live to see its completion. It would take another 200 years or so for that day to come.

And since then, Notre-Dame Cathedral has looked upon more than 850 years of history–some good and some bad–all while standing resilient, never sinking. Even before construction was finished, France saw the breakout of The Hundred Year’s War where the Plantagenet kings of England saw the kingdom of France as their rightful claim, having been decedents of Norman kings, when Charles IV of France died without heirs. During the course of this 116 years of conflict, France saw many victories and many defeats against the English crown. One of the famous heroes of these events was Joan of Arc, who bolstered French morale after aiding in the siege of Orleans and ultimately helped lead to France’s inevitable victory in the war. After being captured by the English and summarily executed, Joan of Arc was later beatified in 1909 by Pope Pius X at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris where a statue bearing her likeness resides. There was the French Wars of Religion which led to the riots of the Huguenots in the 16th century, a band of Protestants in opposition to the Catholic Church, who committed iconoclasm upon many of the statues of Notre-Dame. The Black Death swept through Paris repeatedly, coming in waves of plague through the ages, a particularly brutal one occurring between the 16th-17th centuries which likely saw many Parisians finding solace and seeking salvation within the church walls. The long and prosperous reigns of both “The Sun King” Louis XIV and his son Louis XV saw the removal of original stained glass windows in favor of white glass which would bring more light within Notre-Dame along with many other internal altercations more congruent with their period’s style. The iconic spire, which many of us watched helpless and aghast fall to yesterday’s flames, was not even the original–this had been previously removed after having been wind damaged.

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Lighting a candle for my dear Joan.

Notre-Dame Cathedral also bore witness to the French Revolution in the late-18th century and saw itself, along with the monarchy, become a target of the new Republic. It became temporarily the house of the Cult of Reason and was plundered of its treasures and had many of its religious iconography destroyed–statues of biblical kings beheaded by the guillotine like French monarchs. It became nothing more than a beautiful, Gothic warehouse for food until Napoleon Bonaparte liberated and restored it as a church–holding his coronation as Emperor of France there in 1804. But by the time of Victor Hugo, the cathedral was largely in disrepair and rapidly decaying–prompting Hugo to feature this relic of Paris in his novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The popularity of this book brought with it renewed love and attention, prompting King Louis Philippe to order Notre-Dame’s immediate restoration with the help of renowned architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. They re-created much of the sculptures and glass that had been previously lost and were responsible for the reconstruction of the spire, which will undoubtedly be remade again after yesterday’s tragedy. Notre-Dame Cathedral was also there for both World Wars, the second which saw France fall to Germany in 1940. It was the liberation of Paris in 1944 where Notre-Dame took a few literal bullets for its people.

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And yet, Notre-Dame Cathedral has remained through all of these events, housing treasures such as the Crown of Thorns, a piece of the True Cross, and a nail from the crucifixion. Relics from St. Denis, St. Genevieve, and the tunic of St. Louis. All irreplaceable and at least the Crown of Thorns and St. Louis’ tunic confirmed to be saved from yesterday’s fire. The Rose Windows, breathtaking feats of stained glass from the 13th century are remarkably said to have been saved from complete destruction along with the Great Pipe Organ. Though the catastrophe of the fire has yet to be fully assessed, there is some solace to be found in that Notre-Dame Cathedral is still standing and the people of Paris and the world with it.

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I, too, watched in anguish yesterday as the fire ate away at the cathedral–scared of what could have possibly been the complete destruction of a monument of world heritage and history, and dismayed at how helpless I felt in those moments. I’m not naive enough to think that anything lasts forever and it can certainly not be the case with history–but I am relieved that the greatest tragedy has been averted and that is in forgetting Notre-Dame Cathedral existed at all. So many things in history have been inexplicably lost to us forever, both in physical wonder like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the Colossus of Rhodes, or in lack of memory such as to the contents of the Library of Alexandria–but Notre-Dame will not be forgotten and certainly not after today. Watching the world stand up and cherish what this cathedral means to the arresting spirit of humanity and our desire to build on beauty, or the solidarity of Parisians as they came together to sing hours worth of hymns and to aid in the saving of artworks and relics from inside, the motto of Paris chimes particularly loud today while the bells of Notre-Dame Cathedral take their momentary rest:

 

She is rocked by the waves, but she does not sink.

 

 

 

To donate to the reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, follow this link: https://don.fondation-patrimoine.org/SauvonsNotreDame/~mon-don?_cv=1

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Illuminating the Dark Ages

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Depiction of King Valdemar IV of Denmark in 1361. Painting by Carl Gustaf Hellqvist 1851-1890.

There are two ways people generally look upon the past, either with fondness and nostalgia or with scrutiny and disdain. That’s why we can never all quite agree on whether or not high school is the worst or best years of your life or if the 90’s really were all that and a bag of chips. Historically, it’s no different–was the Classical era a time of heightened scholarship and monuments or was it a barbaric time lacking of spiritual sense and with an inclination towards bloodshed? Many scholars during the Renaissance would certainly argue that point. So it was then, during The Enlightenment era of the 18th century in particular, that it seemed only fitting to look upon the time between history bookended by the fall of the Western Roman Empire to Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas as a period of considerable dimness. Both metaphorically and intellectually. A time in between two eras commonly thought of as periods of prosperity and culture. We know it as The Dark Ages and I’m calling bullshit on that conception.

What do you think of when your brain mulls over The Dark Ages? I’m sure squalor and peasantry comes immediately to mind, probably with a healthy dose of Bubonic plague coupled with high infant mortality rates for the helluva it. Not to mention self-flagellation, the burning of suspected practitioners of devil worship and witchcraft, and The Crusades. You’re probably picturing monks with tube-ring hairdos, Norsemen with burly beards and a fondness for pillaging monasteries, and a whole lot of chainmail. It’s easy to imagine this time being one of darkness since all of that does sound pretty bleak, I know, but is it a fair assessment to have? Is it not incorrect to view history through the lens of progress? After all, what will future civilizations think of us when they look back at our historical era?

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To Be or Not To Be Hanged, Drawn, & Quartered

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Er, do I have to?

Warning in advance, it’s about to get all morbid up in here! I’ve been reading The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones, a narrative romp in British History imploding into a shower of blood and political upheaval only to settle into a charred semblance of stability that George R.R. Martin saw and was like, you know, this would be a fun inspiration for a thing where I slaughter all of my characters for sheer entertainment.

One thing that struck me more than how often power changed hands like the casting of the doctor in Doctor Who was how frequently someone wound up Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered throughout this mess. Leading me to ask, DEAR GOD WHY? When I was young, this phrase came up often when associated with Ye Olde Medieval Times (“Ye Olde” is nonsense by the way, we here at Histastrophe use it ironically because we’re shallow and pedantic like that, ya dig?) and I never quite knew what it meant. The “hanged” part is pretty transparent, so I went on my merry little life assuming it was just a spiffy alternative take on the usual ritual execution on the scaffold. It wasn’t until I was old enough to watch R-rated Mel Gibson films did the horrific reality become a bit more clear.

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{Insert Mel Gibson joke about still being given a job and critical acclaim somehow here}

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Joan of Arc: Drunk on the Divine

 

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Comedy Central dropped a hilarious clip yesterday from Drunk History on Joan of Arc, which for the un-initiated, is a show where comedians get completely smashed and re-tell something that happened in History. Then their drunken stupor of history facts is dubbed over and re-enacted by other comedians. Basically, the perfect show for me.

Aaaand that’s pretty much the gist of what happened! Knowing me though, I felt like offering a bit more context for those who were smitten to know more about the raging Maiden of Arc.

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History is Incessantly Incesty (Part Uno)

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A Song of Fire & Ice or shameless familial “bonding”

I, like 16.5 million viewers last Sunday, watched the Game of Thrones season 7 finale with bated breath. With only 6 episodes left of the entire show, a series which was born from books that are taking about as quickly to write as The York Minister Cathedral was to build, the story is furiously spiraling to its inevitable conclusions. One of which happens to be the fate of a couple I’ve personally been rooting for since Book 1 when it made little sense geographically or personally, nor does it seem likely ideal in light of recent revelations…

But what do I care? In defense of myself, I’m here to point out a few instances in history where things got a bit too close for comfort, if you know what I mean. And perhaps by contrast, make the Dragon and Wolf look guiltlessly desirable in comparison. Lord of Light, have mercy on my internet search history…

1. Lucrezia & Cesare Borgia (And maybe Pope Alexander VI)

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Unlike Showtime and Victor Hugo, I personally don’t ascribe to the belief that this Renaissance Brother & Sister Power Duo were secretly boning. But, alas, contemporaries of their time assumed they might be. After-all, the family of Pope Alexander VI stood accused of liberal poisonings and murders, thievery, buying and selling church offices, adultery and rampant orgies among the papacy, fratricide, and general douche-baggery aimed toward the Papal States–was there no limit to bounds The House of Borgia knew? [6]

Late in the 15th century, when Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI in no small part to bribery (presumably) and the assistance of rival Cardinal Sforza who was said to have personally taken a large payoff himself, Lucrezia Borgia suddenly became the most eligible, illegitimate 12-year old daughter in Italy. As a reward for his support, Cardinal Sforza saw Lucrezia married off to his nephew, Giovanni Sforza the then Duke of Milan, to solidify the alliance between the two families. This went about as well as a dinner date between the Hatfields & McCoys, and soon Pope Alexander VI was calling for an annulment while Cardinal Sforza’s other ally –just the King of France, Charles VIII, no big deal — appeared parading through Italy with the door held wide open for him to invade the papal territories. Giovanni was accused of having neglected to consummate the marriage, which incensed, caused him to lob the nefarious accusation at the Borgia family that the true reason the papacy was asking for the divorce was because Lucrezia was busy fornicating with her father and brother, a somewhat less humiliating prospect for the Duke to stomach apparently. With the promise of keeping the dowry intact for Giovanni, the marriage was soon dissolved but not so for the rumors. [1]

“It is said that Mr. Giovanni Sforza did this because the Duke used with his sister, his wife, the puppet of the pope, but of another mother” – Malipiero Letter 1497 [5

The Borgias had not yet given up on Lucrezia’s worth as a bargaining chip, and so paired her off with Alfonso of Aragon, a bastard of Naples, in the hopes of laying the ground work for Cesare Borgia to marry the daughter of the King of Naples and inherit the throne as well as another ally against Charles VIII who was still busy trouncing through doors a bit willy-nilly around Italy. Still a teenager, Lucrezia managed a hot second of a peaceful marriage before, again, her scheming brother and father (who were totally plausible lovers…of her misfortune, clearly) decided, you know what, Charles VIII just loves walking through doors and things, really good at it actually, the best–we might as well be friends and marry Cesare off to his daughter instead. Naturally, the Kingdom of Naples was a bit pissy about this new frenemy and The Borgias added another noble house of Italy to their shitlist. [2]

“Thus, Lucretia, Sextus always wants to make love to you? O fate with a horrible name! This Sextus is your father.” Epigram by Jacopo Sannazaro Italian poet (1457 – 1530) [4]

On the wrong-side of another family dispute, 18-year old Lucrezia tried to navigate her way through another marriage doomed to fail when her Neapolitan hubby was ambushed on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica by henchmen wielding a few knives, no doubt causing her to cry out “Et Tu, Pater?”. Alfonso managed to survive for the time being, held up under the “reliable” care of the papacy while propaganda papered the streets of Naples supposing that Cesare had made the idle threat “What didn’t happen at lunch may still happen at dinner.” like this was some pilot season episode of The Sopranos. Unsurprisingly, Alfonso turned up in bed strangled one morning. Perhaps by a jealous lover brother reasoned the gossip. Lucrezia, having really no energy left to deal with the mess her life had become at the hands of her family, went into mourning. [1]

Unfortunately, if there was one thing a noble Renaissance woman was good for other than posing for paintings, it was getting hitched– and that’s precisely what the Borgia brood were plotting to do again. This time their ambitions were with the duchy of Ferrara (And no, not for Lemonheads, that candy company is an American one) and Lucrezia was soon married off to Alfonso D’Este, another alliance Charles VIII would surely adore. Ultimately, this one worked out for Lucrezia and she was able to spend the rest of her days in Northern Italy cherished by her subjects. Not a year later, her father Pope Alexander VI collapsed of illness (or poisoning, eh it was the Renaissance after-all), sending the papacy into the awaiting hands of Borgia enemies and her brother Cesare, infamous as a subject of Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, aesthetic model for portraiture of Jesus Christ, and number one suspect in the Tiber river murder of his brother Giovanni or “Juan” [7], died only a few years later.

It seemed almost as if Lucrezia would be fortunate enough to finally escape the sins and rumored exploits of her family, but after her death in 1519 after a troubled childbirth, the gossip again rose to a feverish pitch with little to no one left to denounce them.

“Here rests Lucrezia by name, who in reality was a Thais, the daughter, wife & daughter-in-law of Alexander.” – Epitaph written by Jaccopo Sannazaro, who wasn’t yet done slandering Lucrezia. [1]

Why did the rumors persist? Alexander’s papacy wasn’t exactly the first of its kind to churn out questionable practices nor a squeaky clean image, but perhaps the answer lies with the sheer amount of enemies The Borgia managed to collect over their years clamoring for power. Among the families already listed, they also managed to incite the animosity of the legendary House of Medici who ran Florence, the Orsini family, the Colonna house which churned out a libelous diary from Stefano Infessura who gleefully chronicled Lucrezia’s rumored licentiousness, and Pope Julius II. Before becoming pope, Julius II spent his time hating Alexander VI and worked to undermine and, if possible, unseat him. When he wasn’t trolling Michelangelo, Julius II used his papacy to try and mop up remaining Borgia territory all while torturing a Cesare Borgia loyalist for any amusing gossip he could gleefully spread about his enemies. [2]

“For the thing was known far and wide, and because my informants were not Romans merely, but were the Italian people, therefore have I mentioned it.”

-Matarazzo of Perugia, who relates the accusation of papal orgies by Pope Alexander VI with the inclusion of his daughter Lucrezia as well-known fact because it was ‘common’ gossip. [5]

As for the fate of King Charles VIII of France who featured so prevalently in the torrid politics of Lucrezia’s numerous marriages? Killed by a door. I’m not even kidding. [3]

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(To be Continued…Part 2)

Fact check it, yo!

[1] Hibbert, C. (2009). The Borgias and their enemies. London: Constable.

[2] Meyer, G. J. (2014). The Borgias: The Hidden History. Random House Inc.

[3] Markatos K., Karamanou M., Arkoudi K., Konstantinidi A., Androutsos G., A Cranial Trauma was the Cause of Death of Charles VIII of France (1470–1498), World Neurosurgery, Volume 105, 2017, Pages 745-748

[4] Fantazzi, C. (2011). Susanna de Beer, Karl A. E. Enenkel, and David Rijser, eds.The Neo-Latin Epigram: A Learned and Witty Genre. Supplementa Humanistica Lovaniensia 25. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009

[5] Gregorovius F., Lucretia Borgia: According to Original Documents & Correspondence of Her Day.

Primaries;

[6] Diario della citta di RomaStefano Infessura (Notoriously biased & unreliable, as are the rumors)

[7] “But I understood, as the Duke of Candia died for the death of his brother, Cardinal.” Pigna dispatch Ercole, Venice Feb 22nd, 1498

Gaul and Britain

(History Notes!)

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Guess where I’m half Quinotaur…

5th and 8th c. AD

The Merovingian Kingdoms (481-751)

-Founder = Clovis!

  • When he dies, he divides the territory into 3 equal parts among his sons.
  • Follow horizontal line of succession

-Equally legtimate male family succession. (This won’t end badly at all…)

-LONG HAIRED KINGS IN FASHION!

7th century *Merovech* Pops up in geneology like whoa

  • -Founding story. Quinotaur mated with a chick. Oh baby.
  • -Like, literally. Baby. They had Merovech.  He was….wait for it…half Quinotaur.

-Was Merovech step-father descendant of Priam of Troy? Sounds legit.

What: Mythical Founder of the Merovingians. Half Quinotaur. Half Trojan. All badass.

Why?

-Idea of Rome

  • Essentially claiming to be more Roman than the Romans! (More pure from Priam than line of Aeneas)
  • True heir of Rome ya’lls.

 

Neustra (North-West France), Austrasia (Northeast), Burgundy (South)

  • Son gets training at Austrasia by Mayor of the palace.
  • Mayor chosen by powerful aristocrats.

Rural (Frankish)

Urban (Gallo-Roman)

 

Merovingian Women: (Could move up the social hierarchy)

-Fredegund and Balthild (started as slave)

  • Both Queens, authority as mothers as well.
  • Both started at low status.
  • Effective at exercising political authority

 

Episcopal Authority and The Frankish Church

  • Bishop= Administrators
  • Saints = Spiritual
  • Bishops found a problem. They felt that they were spiritual leaders.

-“Anyone who was a true saint would always obey his bishop and is always humble”

-Hide relationship with God.

  • How do we know who is a saint?

-Miracles associated after death. No longer living, active authority.

  • In Frankish Church, Bishops figure out how to be both spiritual and administrators.

 

 

 

Spain and Italy (5th-8th c. AD)

(History Notes!)

Visigothic Spain (418-711 AD)

A) Foederati (Barbarians who are given territory to rule and defend)

  • Given Territory
  • Given tax revenue
  • Responsible for defense
  • AKA ‘JUST TAKE IT’

B) Came from Scythia, Romans confused with Scadea/Thule too.

C) First Barbarian Kingdom

  • Request to settle around Adrianople. Given permission, settled in refugee camps though.
  • Major revolt. Eep. Romans lost, Emperor killed.

Alaric the Visigoth

  • Negotiated a better deal for his people. Give him Roman title or else.
  • 410- Rome is sacked because Honorius would not give him a title. Pillaged and stole shit.

-Kay fine. Take some territory. GAWD. (Spain/France)

Christianities

A) Visigoths converted to Arian Christians. (So Heretics. So keep making themselves even more undesirable)

  • Nicene/Chalcedonian councils created a hate/borderline tolerant relationship with Arian heretics.

Roman Law              vs.     Barbarian Law

Court/Layers              vs.     King/oath helpers (iz)

Jury                               vs.     Legally defined fine (wergeld)

Judge imposes fire      vs.      “Evidence loses significance” and “Let god decide!” (Eventual ‘Ordeal’)

B) Authority vs. Nature (West vs. East)

  • Pricillianist (Heresay); Form of Christianity, Dualistic.

-Strong impact on West. Influences Catholicism.

  • Good- God (Spirit) versus Evil- Satan (Flesh)

-Fasting, making body uncomfortable, embracing chastity. Other super fun things.

  • For West = Arians and Pricillian problem (Caaaaaaatholics)

From…

*Third Council of Toledo (589)* Visigothic Spain

  • Meeting with Visigothic Bishops in kingdom summoned by king to declare all people living in Visigoth Kingdom as Chalcedonian.

WHY: Creed test bitches! In church service. “And the Son” procession of the holy spirit becomes a thing.

  • Different practice exclusive to the West.
  • Represents strong top-down approach of Christianity and it’s spread in the West. Precursor to a forming hierarchy.