Sunday, August 14, 2011

Feast of Mary’s Assumption: August 15

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Following 1,300 years of church teaching, in 1950 it was officially pronounced as dogma by Pope Pius XII that Mary, body and soul, was taken (assumed) directly into heaven at the end of her earthly life. The Catholic Church honors her every August 15, the Feast of Mary’s Assumption, which is a national holiday in France.

On August 14 the Cathedral of Notre-Dame dedicates a full day to the Anticipation of Mary’s Assumption with a Mass held at 6:30 pm, led by the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, followed by a Marian Procession (7:30 pm) from the cathedral to the boat landing platform of the quay Saint-Bernard, on the Left Bank of the Seine. The life-size silver statue of Mary holding the Infant Jesus used in this procession was given to Notre-Dame Cathedral by French King Charles X in the 1820s.

At 8:00 pm the statue and thousands of pilgrims are loaded onto nine boats to begin a floating procession that departs the quay at 8:30. The boats follow a course around the two islands of the Seine, the Île de la Cité (on which the Cathedral of Notre-Dame is located) and the neighboring Île Saint-Louis. Observers line the bridges and quays in the immediate area to witness this “Procession Fluvial,” during which time the pilgrims sing and pray. After the statue is returned to the cathedral, there is an hour long Nocturne, a projection of Marian art images onto scrims set up in the nave of the cathedral, beginning at 10:00 pm (open to the public).

The following day, August 15, the Feast of Mary’s Assumption begins in the cathedral with a Gregorian Mass at 10:00 am, followed by Solemn Vespers at 3:45 pm. At 4:30 pm a two-hour Solemn Procession of the Assumption takes place on foot through the Île de la Cité and the neighboring Île Saint-Louis, followed by a Mass at 6:30. At 9:30 pm the Nocturne projection of Marian images in the nave is repeated (open to the public).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Versailles: Royal Golden Gate

The original design of the royal golden gate of the Palace of Versailles has finally been restored, after being demolished during the French Revolution in 1789. It took over two years to replicate the original 260-ft. long gilded wrought iron fence and gate. This royal gate, which stands at the entrance to the cour d’honneur, provides an essential element of Versailles’ historical identity. It returns to this area in front of the château all its impressive, symbolic force.

100,000 sheets of gold leaf were crafted onto fleur-de-lys designs, crowns, masks of Apollo, cornucopias and the crossed capital Ls representing the Sun King, Louis XIV. Private donors contributed $8 million to rebuild the 15-ton structure, and an army of historians and top craftsmen were enlisted to ensure an exact replica of the well-documented original, designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart in the 1680s. This new replica of the original, dedicated on July 8, 2008, stands atop a stone knee wall, as originally designed.

Experts studied 17th and 18th century archives and information from archaeological digs before deciding on the final installation. The gate is the centerpiece of a secure double enclosure separating the cour d'honneur from the royal courtyard, at the very heart of the palace. Versailles was the king's residence, and the whole layout aimed to demonstrate that one was approaching “his sacred person.” In fact, when the court worshiped in the Versailles chapel, only the king faced the altar. Everyone else turned around and faced the king, lest they forget who was the most important person in the room. At banquets, members of the court had to bow and curtsy to the platters of food that were intended for consumption by the king. Thus, this imposing gilded fence and gate were but a foretaste of what one could expect once on the other side of it.