Cathedrals like Notre Dame have always welcomed people, even when their own communities have rejected them, when they are outcasts in spirit as well as body – in need of sanctuary. That, after all, is what Victor Hugo’s novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, is all about. They are places of both belonging and anonymity, big enough to hold a world of difference.
The great Gothic cathedrals of northern France – “those grand and beautiful people’s churches of the 13th century”, as someone once called them – were built by the people for the people, the products of great communities rather than great kings.
The community of Paris in the middle ages, which contributed to the construction of Notre Dame, was a truly international one, with scholars, craftsmen and merchants from Italy, England, Scotland, Flanders and Germany all living, working and worshipping together. Notre Dame was the product of that brilliant mix.
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