Notre Dame de Paris

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Notre Dame de Paris

Last week, the world was shocked to watch the famous cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris burning before our eyes. Plastered on every news channel were the fiery images of hundreds of years of history falling apart. It was a very sad day for Parisians, historians, scholars of art history, Christians, and everyone who recognized the name of Notre Dame, even if only from the Disney movie. One thing that was continually repeated throughout the week was how significant this cathedral is to everyone, not just for its history, but for its cultural and religious significance as well.

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Notre Dame on fire, Apr. 15, 2019

I do want to focus on the history of the cathedral, however, since cathedrals are one of my favorite things to study. Whenever I’m in Europe, I always drag my family and friends to as many churches and cathedrals as possible every day. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve been to, but I love them all. Unfortunately, I never got to visit Notre Dame de Paris, but I have studied it, among many other iconic cathedrals of the Gothic age.

The Gothic age of cathedrals began in France, close to Paris, with the renovation of the abbey church of St. Denis. In 1135, Abbe Suger initiated the renovation of the abbey church with a different perspective than that of the architects of the Romanesque era- Suger began an initiative that laid the foundation for the characteristics of Gothic that reigned for centuries, and continues to influence design today.

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St. Denis

The main things that Suger focused on during his renovation were light and height. Ever since, the most notable features of Gothic architecture are the tall buildings with big windows that allow for a lot of light to enter the interior spaces. The previous Romanesque style that dominated Europe up to this time is recognized by shorter buildings with thicker walls and less window space; they could be very dark inside, which suited a monastic lifestyle.

A significant step towards this change was in the innovative addition of buttresses during construction. These exterior supports, and later the flying buttresses in particular, provided extra strength to the walls so that they could be taller and thinner, which meant more window space and more light could enter. The goal with using this architectural design was to become closer to God and closer to Heaven through high ceilings and exposure to light. Gothic churches also were designed with the aim of accommodating more people- especially pilgrims, which were growing in numbers at this time.

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Orleans Cathedral

Other significant aspects of Gothic architecture include pointed arches. When we were all in grade school or high school we all learned the difference between rounded Roman arches and pointed Gothic arches. In fact, pointed arches are much better at distributing the weight of taller walls than rounded arches are. Another feature that could also be effective in distributing weight is rib vaulting, which is the sometimes very intricate network of arches that create ribs along the nave, choir and side aisle vaults.

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Plan of a Gothic Church
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Simple Rib Vaulting at Durham Cathedral
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Intricate Rib Vaulting at Gloucester Cathedral

Notre Dame de Paris was begun several decades after St. Denis by Bishop Maurice de Sully in 1160. It took 100 years for the majority of the main structure to be completed. Over the centuries since, it has been renovated and changed according to the times, particularly during the French Revolution. In the last decade of the 18th century, Notre Dame became the Cult of Reason (among other such things as a warehouse) before being restored in 1801.

Following last week’s fire, we are about to witness the next cycle of regeneration of this magnificent building; this building that saw kings and queens and sacraments of parishioners across centuries is about to enter a new phase. While it is sad that such a meaningful building has been broken, it is even more meaningful that we are going to put it back together. It can now continue its own journey and be a witness of all it has seen to the people of the next centuries who will still be able to visit it because of our care.

Photos from Google image searches.

Memorial on Tower Green

Memorial on Tower Green

This picture was taken in the Tower of London on the Tower Green.  It is right in front of the chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula and is on the site where the scaffold was supposedly located.  It was there that two of Henry VIII’s wives were executed- Anne Boleyn in 1536 and Catherine Howard in 1542.  The Lady Jane Grey, sometimes referred to as the Nine Days’ Queen, was also executed there.  When Edward VI, the only son of Henry VIII, was king, he named Jane Grey to be next in line for the crown instead of his sisters.  Edward died young in 1553 and Jane became queen, although it was only for nine days before she was overthrown and imprisoned.  She was eventually executed in 1554.  All three women are buried in the chapel.

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

This photo was taken in the nave of Salisbury Cathedral.  The church, sponsored in part by Henry III, was founded in 1220 and completed around 1266.  It was built in the Early English Gothic style.  The two shades of marble and stone, along with the Gothic arches and ribbed vaulting are characteristics of this style.  The cathedral houses an original copy of the Magna Carta, although the royal seal is no longer attached to it.

The Murder of Thomas A Becket

The Murder of Thomas A Becket

This is a beautiful box enameled with a depiction of Thomas a Becket’s murder in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 and his funeral. It was made in France around 1180 in memorial to him and at one point could have held a relic associated with Thomas. Thomas Becket was Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury for Henry II. The two couldn’t get along after Thomas became Archbishop. Supposedly four of Henry’s knights took it upon themselves to get rid of Thomas- as seen on the box.

From the Victoria and Albert Museum
London, England

“Since distinguished heart and brilliant deeds go together, it is not appropriate for a mean heart to hold the open hands back, No; may the hand follow a bounteous heart in giving.”

-From Book 5 of the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, translated by Helen J. Nicholson in The Chronicle of the Third Crusade, describing the generosity of King Richard I

The Hide and Seek King

Hello!  So a while back I found a pin on Pinterest which showed a picture of Richard III and said on it “Hide and Seek World Record Holder 1485-2013”.  Haha, clever! :)  I thought this was super funny and when I tried to describe why it was so accurate to my friends I had to explain to them all about the “car-park king” and his discovery.
This  is my purpose in writing here – to share historical things that I think are really cool.  I love reading about history, watching historical films and shows, and visiting historical places.  And then I babble incessantly to my family who has no idea what I’m going on about.  So I will write about it here for any of you who are interested and want to know more.
So then, back to Richard III.  He was born in 1452, the fourth son of Richard, Duke of York, part of the Yorkist family which was involved in the Wars of the Roses against the Lancastrian faction (supporting King Henry VI).  By the end of the first phase of the war in 1461, Richard’s brother Edward had became King Edward IV.  At the end of the second phase of the war in 1471, Edward had finally and completely defeated Henry VI and his son and heir the Prince of Wales and was now secure on the throne.
Upon his death in 1483, Edward IV had two sons.  The elder son, also named Edward, was about 12 years old when he became King Edward V, and his brother Richard, Duke of York, was about 10 years old.  These two boys are referred to as the “Princes in the Tower” because they were put away in the Tower of London by their uncle, Richard III, who usurped the throne and became king in the summer of 1483.  The boys were never seen after that summer and nobody really knows exactly what happened to them.
Henry VII (Henry Tudor) was then the only surviving male of the Lancastrian family (after the death of Henry VI and his son) and had only a very shaky claim to the throne through his mother, Margaret Beaufort.  Basically every nobleman at the time who had been loyal to Edward IV turned on Richard III (because he took the crown from Edward’s sons and possibly had them murdered, which isn’t something that helps you make friends) in favor of Henry Tudor.  The two fought at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485.  Henry Tudor won, and then married Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York, thus uniting their two dynasties of York and Lancaster and creating the Tudor dynasty.
So why was Richard III seen as so bad that nobody bothered to remember where he, a king of England, was buried?  Well to start, his nephews disappeared after he usurped the throne from them – looks a little suspicious, does it not?  He would have good cause for them to be dead of course – the peace and stability of the country and all would be more easily accomplished if there was an adult in charge, not a child, but he never discussed their death – whether it be by murder or through natural causes, which is also a possibility.  In fact, there has never been any definitive explanation; blame is thrown around but there is no clear answer, only a mystery.
Henry VII also had good cause for the princes to be dead, because they would have been a great threat to the security of his reign.  Some even believe that Henry had the boys killed – not Richard III, so then why take the blame for murder when you can blame it on someone who’s dead?  Henry may have just placed the blame on Richard to save his own reputation.  Whether he did commit the murder or not, Henry portrayed Richard badly so that he himself would look better.  After all, history is written by the victor.
After Henry’s victory in the battle, Richard’s body was taken to Greyfriars Priory near the battlefield and buried in a manner fit for a dishonored, murderous king – which he has certainly been seen as in the centuries since;  Shakespeare especially portrays him as a villain, and this image has contributed to the public’s image of Richard since.  Although Richard will always be remembered – as good or as bad – the location of his burial was quietly left alone and forgotten for centuries.
The skeleton of Richard the Third being excavated.
The skeleton of Richard the Third being excavated.
It was not until 2012 that Richard’s body was found under a parking lot in Leicester (hence the aforementioned pin :).  The excavation was initiated by Philippa Langley of the Richard the Third Society and conducted by the University of Leicester.
The skeleton was studied in numerous ways, my favorite being the DNA testing conducted.  A family tree beginning with one of Richard’s sisters was constructed up to the present in order to find a modern descendant of the family with whom to compare mtDNA (DNA located in the mitochondria, the part of the cell which produces energy) from the remains and determine if there is a familial relationship or not – and there is!
The skeleton itself shows several major wounds from weapons, possibly swords and a halberd, one of which was perhaps cause of death.  It is also clear from his skeleton (even in the picture above) that he did have scoliosis which formed during adolescence and contributed to his reputation as a hunchback, although he may not have been as severely hunchbacked as he has been portrayed.
Now there is a huge debate over where Richard should be reburied – the main choices being York and Leicester.  Before the excavation, it was agreed between the University of Leicester and the city of Leicester that if Richard was found during the excavation in the car park that he would be reburied in Leicester.  But York also wants Richard buried in its city because he had many lands and support in the area during his life.
There has already been a design chosen for Richard’s burial in Leicester Cathedral, which has now been delayed because of the controversy.
Here are some of the sources where I read the news of Richard’s discovery:
Richard III dig: ‘Strong evidence’ bones are lost king
Bones Under Parking Lot Belonged to Richard III
The Discovery of Richard III
The Smithsonian also did an excellent documentary about the entire research process:
The King’s Skeleton: Richard III Revealed

Other sources:

De Lisle, Leanda. “Burying the Princes in the Tower.” BBC History Magazine Oct. 2013: 20-26. Print.

Richard III.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 22 Dec. 2013. <>.

Royle, Trevor. The Wars of the Roses. London: Abacus, 2009. Print.

“Wars of the Roses.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 22 Dec. 2013. <>.

Weir, Alison. The Princes in the Tower. New York: Ballantine, 1992. Print.