Detail at Notre Dame

Confession time: I wasn’t actually home last week, though my blog happily posted along without me. (The joy of postdated blog entries!) Instead, I was making my first visit to Paris. We spent five days in the City of Light and came home with the equivalent of 18 rolls of film. Has anyone else noticed that the advent of digital photography means we take waaaaay more photos than we used to? Sure makes post-vacation photo sorting a lot more work.

Anyway, there is a lot to see in Paris. And it’s not just the big stuff either; there are wonderful little surprises lurking in all sorts of corners.


For instance, this fabulous sculpture sits beneath the feet of the Virgin statue in front of the Porte de la Vierge, on the west face of Notre Dame Cathedral. Amongst all the massive and attention-grabbing art on that wall, it’s easy to overlook such a small bit of carving. But look at the detail!

I was fascinated to see the depiction of the oh-so-tempting Serpent as being female. Come to find out, this was a fairly common depiction back in the days of Medieval Christianity, and in fact this Serpent is often identified as Lilith. Yes, that would be the Lilith of Jewish mythology, who was created at the same time and in the same manner as Adam. Being equal to him in every way (i.e., not created from his rib as in the Eve myth), Lilith was not about to buy into Adam’s insistence that she was supposed to be subservient to him. She said, “I’m outta here,” and left.

Oh, Lilith. This is what happens when women get uppity. They get turned into images of Satan, and folded into identities as various demons. But at least you got to appear in this awesome little bit of sculpture on the face of Notre Dame.

(Click the image for a larger version.)


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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8 Responses to Detail at Notre Dame

  1. Ana_ñ says:

    I have enjoyed very much your first Parisian post (I hope it will be more, and more great photos)
    By the way, I wonder why the word serpent is masculine in French and Italian but feminine in Portuguese and Spanish.

    • oregon expat says:

      I’ve often wondered about the inconsistencies in gender assignments as well. For a person whose native language is gender neutral, it’s hard enough to learn these masculine and feminine nouns as it is — and then they aren’t consistent for different languages?? Argh.

      • Ana_ñ says:

        Well, in truth, I wondered about the gender difference of this particular word (almost identical in these languages: “serpent, serpente, serpiente”) and its association with temptation and sin 😉

  2. Inge says:

    I always wondered about a ‘girl’ being neutral and not feminine (German). However here they do try to explain:

  3. JR says:

    Quelle coincidence. I was reading an article on underground Paris in a back issue of National Geographic last night–one of the photos of the catacombs reminded me of your earlier post on the ossuary in Évora.

    • oregon expat says:

      Oh, dang, I didn’t see it. We didn’t have time. Next time, maybe.

      • JR says:

        Actually, the more interesting part of the article was the map of the abandoned limestone quarries in the the 14th arrondissement, but the author seemed more impressed by the bones and illicit parties in the catacombs. Next time we go to Paris, I think we’ll do one of the sewer tours. I’ve been in the Victorian-era sewers (and catacombs) in London, it was a good way to spend a day.

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