I am a long time fan of religious spaces. The act of prayer seems to leave a residue on the structures that house those in worship. While this could be seen as supernatural I believe the "specialness" of these environments comes from the human side of the spiritual equation. One of the greatest human capacities is the ability to create meaning through action and ritual. When a society practices ritual over a long period of time the meaning and devotion associated with these rituals is transfered to the objects surrounding them. As a result of our collective action, objects and their environment take on a karma of their own.
As I walked into the Notre Dame Cathedral last week I was hit with a huge dose of awe. The sight of flickering candles mixed with the eerie sounds of the organ set a quiet but emotional mood. I am not sure if I witnessed the collective karma of millions of worshippers, or if I was just being visually impressed at first sight. Either way the experience left a mark. Surrounded by a mixed procession of the faithful and throngs of tourists I soaked in the hushed atmosphere.
The expansive vaulted ceiling rises more than 120 feet above your head as you walk through the space. Cathedral architects employed massive contrasts in scale between viewer and building to represent the human relationship with an all powerful God. The humility I felt is exactly the feeling they were trying to create. We are supposed to feel small but safe. Structures such as Notre Dame provide a solid example of the power design has to stir our emotions.
One of my favorite aspects of the visit was seeing the treasury. This collection of religious objects is housed in a wing adjacent to the main sanctuary. (To find out more about the treasury click here.) Every object, from robes, to sensors, to communion implements has been used in some aspect of worship since the cathedral started construction in 1163. From a decoration standpoint I was impressed with the level of ornament on the objects. They are covered with symbols of religious devotion, church power and status. The Shrine for the Crown of Thorns pictured above is a great example of mid 19th Century precious metal work.
To see more images of the cathedral you can visit the gallery on my Facebook fan page. You can also see an interactive panoramic view of the cathedral on the Notre Dame website.