Thursday, October 31, 2013

Strasbourg at night in late September

Any European city has its charm during day light hours, and a very different character during the quite of the evening and into the night.  By then, most shops are closed, the locals have gone home for the evening, the cathedral's final service has concluded, and only the restaurants are open.  The occasional tram may go by, but they come less often.

By night fall, most visitors will have gravitated toward the city's magnificent Gothic cathedral, which is nicely illuminated evenings in ways which emphasize the busy Renaissance stone cutting on the facade, while lights give a hint of the interior of the stories under the massive tower.  The tower can be seen from a distance from many points within Strasbourg, both day and night.

Even though we were there in the third week of September, it was still possible to eat outside most evenings.  Night life was very active on pedestrian streets having outside tables for dining, but other streets were very quiet indeed..

We enjoyed eating on this plaza along the river after night descended.  Good use of a plaza, and I always find that Alsatian food and wine tastes even better outside.

This is the same restaurant-plaza, but seen from a bridge crossing the water.

You quickly discern that some restaurants are favoured by students, others by recent immigrants, some by tourists, and still others by members of the establishment.

This particular evening was a bit chilly, so we ate inside.

Walking along the branches of the river is always interesting, but never more so than at night.  We felt safe at all times.

Wending our way back to Ibis (our hotel), we enjoyed the quiet streets at about 10 p.m.

Some streets are designed to be photographed and enjoyed, other back streets are real, meant for working, for trucks to have access to back doors of stores.  I feel that these streets are also part of the real Strasbourg.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg (Alsace)

Alsatians are justly proud of their magnificent Cathédrale Notre Dame.  Following an ancient European tradition, the cathedral stands on the high ground, a site which one featured a roman temple.  Like so many other cathedrals, this one has needed to be rebuilt.  The original Romanesque structure, begun in 1015, succumbed to fire.  Renovations at the end of the 1100s were undertaken by stonemasons already familiar with the new Gothic style from their work on the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres.  The rich red stone came from the Vosges mountains.

For about 400 years, the soaring tower (142 meters) was the tallest structure in Europe.  The waning light at the end of the day enhances the redness of the stonework.  Unlike most Gothic churches, this has only a single tower.  The French Revolution, inflamed by fervent anti-religious fervour, nearly succeeded in causing the tower to be dismantled, but an enterprising locksmith cleverly saved the tower by designed an enormous Phrygian metal cap (one of the symbols of the new citizens of the Revolution) to sit on the tower, proclaiming the Revolution in a new way.  I wish I could find a drawing of that hat perched up above the city.

Strasbourg was a free imperial city, a place of refuge for religious reformers of various stripes during the early and mid 1500s.  During that time, the cathedral became a Protestant church, but by 1681 Louis XIV brought Strasbourg back under stern French control, Catholicism was restored to its cathedral, which was now dedicated to Our Lady, Mary.

The cathedral suffered limited damage during the brief Franco-Prussian War (1870).  Alsace reverted to German rule and the cathedral was refurbished.  Allied bombing in 1944 then caused further damage, but everything has now been wonderfully restored.


We now enter Notre Dame de Strasbourg from the west door and pause to look toward the distant apse and its altar.  A tour group also just entered, reminding me that although people come and go, the cathedral outlasts us all.  This also reminds me that very few people take the time to be in the cathedral's atmosphere for hours on end, absorbing, learning, seeing new details, taking another 15 steps forward before pausing to look all around, yet again.  One should not 'do' a cathedral this wonderful in 20 minutes.

Although the presence of an organ was mentioned in 1260, the oldest bits of the present organ case were likely built after 1385.  The only way the organ case can be seen these days is by shining spotlights on it, but it is magnificently restored, its reds and blues imitating the colours of the medieval and Renaissance stained glass windows.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Strasbourg, Notre-Dame Cathedral's stained glass windows

Most of the stained glass windows in Strasbourg's cathedral date from the 12th through 14th centuries.  Some have been beautifully cleaned and restored.  I am assuming, for instance, that when a figure is entirely white (like Eve in the first photo, left panel), some glass needed to be replaced, but that is only my assumption.  (Adam, by comparison, is coloured to be more three-dimensional.)  As a photographer, I will say that I needed to underexpose by two full stops in order to have the rich colours appear as they did to my eye.

This rose window uses medieval tracery (the seemingly delicate stone structure which holds the various panes of glass) but the glazing itself is modern.  I had to wonder is this is what other stained glass windows looked like to medieval adults requiring, yet lacking, spectacles--brilliant blurred colours.

This offer a closer view of Adam and Eve realizing their lack of clothing (left panel), being expelled from the Garden of Eden (middle panel), and then toiling for the remainder of their lives (right panel).

The geometric designs surrounding the windows can be as fascinating as similar designs which adorn contemporary illuminated manuscripts.  Here, I like the way the toes of the person's right food are slightly curved downward.  The slippers are very royal indeed.

The dove (representing God's spirit) coming into the awareness of the disciples and Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Some of the disciples seem to be tonsured, having the tops of their heads be shaven in imitation of medieval monks, who in turn imitated Roman slaves, thereby announcing that they had given up their freedom when becoming monks.

There are two interesting scenes below.  In the bottom scene, Jesus has his 'triumphant' ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (celebrated on Palm Sunday) and in the top, Jesus is being betrayed by the kiss of Judas while (Saint) Peter is cutting off the servant's ear (apparently Peter was not very skillful with his sword).

Footwashing is the sole activity 'commanded' by Jesus.  From the Latin for 'command', the English came to call Holy Thursday "Maundy Thursday", the Thursday on which we follow this special command of Jesus, that we wash each others feet (i.e., serve each other, putting others first).

Unless I use HDR (high definition resolution) techniques (which greatly alter colours), I do not know how to photograph both brilliant windows and darker interior spaces.  This time, the windows won.

In medieval times, light was provided solely by the dark windows and hundreds of candles, the soot of which darkened interiors over the decades. Electric lights are so much better.  However, it is interesting that nearly all cathedrals find it necessary to use electric lights during the middle of the day so that certain treasures can be appreciated inside the sanctuaries.

Some rose windows celebrate geometry.  Numbers were symbolic to many medieval minds.  One wonders what symbols these designs suggested centuries ago:  5 (the center of the window; the 5 wounds of Christ), the series of 2's (the two natures of Christ--human and divine), 16 (16 prophets in the Old Testament, 16 apostles and evangelists in the New Testament), 32 (in St. Matthew's gospel, "the kingdom of heaven" is used 32 times).  Designs were not merely abstractions, they held significant meaning to the discerning mind.

The Annunciation (March 25th).

Feast of the Nativity of Christ, the Christ Mass (Christmas).

The Presentation at the Temple, when Jesus was circumcised.

"Harod the king, in his raging
charged he hath this night,
in his own sight
all young children to slay."
The killing of the Innocents (related in St. Luke), Feast Day December 26th.

The Flight into Egypt, when Mary and Joseph take the infant Jesus to Egypt (Alexandria?) for safety.

Jesus in the Temple (age 12), discussing Torah with the elders.

This Baroque organ benefits from spotlights, otherwise it was be difficult to see at all.