Any major western European city worth its salt is going to have a beautiful massive cathedral at the heart of its historic center. And if that city is in a historically Catholic country, odds are the church will be named after “Our Lady” (in the language of their choice), i.e., after the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, the person at the heart of Christianity. Well, check both those boxes when it comes to Strasbourg. All things considered, I couldn’t help but feel that the smartest thing to do was to make their Cathedral the first stop on our exploration of Strasbourg.
The first thing that impressed me about this cathedral was the relative murkiness of the interior – the stone used in building it has a rather brownish tint, and whether it needs a good cleaning or not, it felt to me to be a little on the dark side.
The second thing was that the powers that be have decided that the visitors have to be told what direction to go in to explore the church – they literally have guide-ropes and signs telling you where to start, etc. Never a smart thing to do, in my opinion. The natural thing to do is to just wander and take it all in, and this way, if (as we did) your natural inclination is to NOT go the way they suggest, you feel like you’re doing it wrong.
Anyway… murkiness and guide-ropes aside, one of the features that is bound to impress is the huge amount of glorious stained glass. Now, some of it is very very dirty, but there is enough that has been cleaned (I gather they are in the middle of the cleaning process) to get an idea of how marvelous their stained glass is (for a close up look at some of the stained glass, check out the Musee de l’Ouevre Notre Dame de Strasbourg next door, where they have saved some of the most incredible pieces from war and destruction).
There is so much stained glass that it can easily be overwhelming. Luckily, on-line there is a guide – and I was impressed, by the way, by how good the cell phone reception was inside the cathedral. Using that guide, I was able to locate some of the more interesting sections, like Adam and Eve being expelled from paradise, and the Flight into Egypt.
The cathedral is famous for its Astronomical Clock, which is in a chapel on the right side all the way at the far end. It chimes and figures move and such at principal times, but we didn’t hang around for that. The scrum of people wanting to catch those moments was pretty intense – I found that taking a photo from an angle on the side was better, but that’s just me.
All around, I have to say that I enjoyed the exterior of this cathedral most of all. Maybe it was the murkiness inside. But – for example – the three doors on the west side of the cathedral (i.e., the entrance) all had exceedingly interesting tympanums (or if you prefer, “tympani”).
Like the cathedral in Rouen, this cathedral has a smallish open square in front of it, and thus, it is very hard to get a photo of the whole building (unless you have some crazy cool wide angle lens, which I don’t). The best I could do was to walk about half a block away and get most of it in a shot. And may I say it’s a shame they never added the southwest tower/spire!
Just to give you an idea of how cozy/compact the square is, here is a photo of it – and no, at the time I took it, I didn’t realize that I had three policemen/soldiers with huge automatic rifles right in front of me.
One other point – at the Strasbourg Cathedral, they have an example of a growing trend (it seems) with European cathedrals – projecting colorful videos onto them after dark. The previous summer, we saw the Lumieres de Cathedrale put on in Rouen, and it was just tons of fun. I am sure that Strasbourg’s “Ballet des Ombres Heureuses” (Ballet of the Happy Shades/Ghosts) is also really really cool. Unfortunately, we were never downtown at night, so we didn’t get a chance to see it!
But even if, like us, you don’t find yourself in front of the Strasbourg Cathedral at night, you should make it a point to check it out. The stained glass and the exterior stone sculptures (some of the latter of which is also in the museum next door, by the way) are well worth experiencing!