Sunday, 13 January 2013

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios: "Snake Eyes Watching You"

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
by Sab Will,  wannabe offbeat Paris street guru

The title says it all: quirks and curiosities. And as luck would have it, Paris is packed with them; you just have to know where to look!

In this on-going series I offer you some hand picked, photographed and commented oddities which particularly interested me, and I hope will do the same for you.

I'm an avid collector of such items so any comments and suggestions you may have would be very welcome. So, without further ado, let's get straight onto...

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
4th Arrondissement: Quirk 1 ~ "Snake Eyes Watching You"

A bit of a grey post, this one folks, but then statues are, aren't they?
But we're talking an intriguing statue here, and I wonder how many of you have noticed it, really seen it, although it may well have been in front of your eyeballs hundreds of times...

We're at one of the most popular tourist destinations in Paris, indeed the world, looking at a decidedly unsubtle reminder of some of the nastiness religion has thrown at the French over the last few hundred years.

The main facade of Notre-Dame de Paris, the one with the two square towers that looks onto the crowded plaza on Ile de la Cité, has three big arched doorways. On either side of the main, middle one, is a statue. On the right is the one shown here.

A woman bows her head as a snake covers her eyes like a bandage and arrogantly hisses at us from the top of her head. A fallen crown lies at her feet, some stone tablets seem to be slipping from her right hand, and he is despondently clutching a broken lance. A sinister image indeed.

On the left of the middle doorway the statue is decidedly more cheerful. With chest out and an almost disrespectful thrust of the hips, this lady is fully crowned, no-doubt overflowing chalace in hand, confidently holding a cross-capped standard to her breast. What can it all mean?

The names of the statues will start to give us some idea. The snake-endowed personage above is called the Synagogue. And the latter is called the Church. The Synagogue, turning her back to the Church, has symbolically lost her power, defeated and dethroned, the tablets of Moses' ancient law slipping from her hand.

The Church proudly holds Christ's cross high, and the chalice symbolises the Holy Communion, the Last Supper, and such things as interest the Synagogue not a jot. There for all to see, slap-bang in the middle of one of the world's most famous and prominent buildings. The Christians have defeated the Jews and they want everyone to know it.

Amazing, isn't it? Especially considering the horrors that have taken place over the centuries and recent decades which we have done our best to omit or amend. A few metres behind Notre Dame is an intensely moving memorial to the deportations of the Second World War, which of course included a large number of Jews.

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The French have always been very enthusiastic about damaging or destroying architectural symbols which glorify the just-overthrown regime, whichever it may be. I wonder if anyone has done any handwringing over the Church and the Synagogue dames on the front of Our Lady of Paris. Or maybe no-one's noticed.

Have a look next time you're passing by and see if you spot anyone who seems to be suffering sudden unexplained bouts of indignation. What do you think? Is it too blatantly disrespectful or simply a curious anachronism and a good reminder of past excesses? Only you can say.

* Sab Will runs Photo and Curios Tours in Paris, and also manages a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. He writes an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, runs a Meetup group for Paris lovers, interviews Paris personalities and reviews Paris books (on this blog), and even contributes to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what he gets up to out there...

© 2012 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and offers always welcome!

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