Monday, April 5, 2010

Winged Victory and the Crown of Thorns

If you have read the DaVinci Code or if you have been to Paris, then you know about the Louvre and The Mona Lisa. Although I am absolutely intrigued by Leonardo DaVinci and his profound genius, I have to say that The Mona Lisa is by far the most overrated piece of art in any museum in the World. If I am going to enjoy the works of a man who was born well before his time, then I would rather take a look at the sketches of helicopters and other futuristic inventions that DaVinci designed far in advance of their actual construction. Regardless, hundreds of thousands of people flock to the Louvre every year only to rush directly to wing of the museum which plays host to The Mona Lisa and stand in an extensive hoard of tourists essentially taking photos of other people blocking their view of the infamous painting. “Not I, said the Ry!” Nope, for me, my favorite piece in the Louvre (if I can even say that about a museum that requires someone like Pocahontas and a compass to navigate) is the statue known as “Winged Victory”. I would love to say that I am some intelligent art critic who has a favorite that is unpopular to the masses and misunderstood by novice tourists, but “Winged Victory” is only slightly less popular than The Mona Lisa. Nonetheless, it is for lack of a better word, incredible. I found myself just as much in awe of its towering presence at the top of a majestic staircase as I did when I first saw it at the age of 15. It served as the proverbial “icing on the cake” for my second and hopefully not last inspiring visit to perhaps the most famous labyrinth of a museum in the World.

That was how my Friday morning began, but I had no idea what unique opportunity the Catholic Church had in store for me in the afternoon. I am not sure if the Vatican planned especially for my visit, or if I was simply in the right place at the right time, but my trip to Paris was about to get extremely interesting.

Mariana and I exited the great glass pyramid that marks the entrance to the Louvre and began to head up the sidewalks of the Seine River towards my favorite landmark in all of Paris, the cathedral of Notre Dame. I was particularly excited to light a candle in honor of my grandparents in the very cathedral that honored perhaps the most revered Saint in all of the Catholic Church. I stood in awe of the sheer size of the church upon entering it, and proceeded directly to an area of solemn prayer under one of the buildings many stained glass windows depicting the Mother Mary herself. After having some time to ourselves, Mariana and I joined back up flanked by her cousin and began to venture around the massive cathedral. We were admiring one of the older paintings located near the rear of Notre Dame when I noticed a camera crew setting up in front of two massive wooden doors leading to an area that I translated as the room used to prepare for Mass. I beckoned to Mariana and Hillary to join me just as the doors began to swing open and an eerie amount of incense and light filled the hallway. Behind the doors stood a procession of priests, nuns, and bishops that even I knew was larger than usual. Church security herded everyone to the two sides of a great red walkway and the procession began to walk by. Mass was beginning, but this was no regular ceremony. The reason for the long procession of church leaders lied on satin pillow, gilded with gold, and protected by some form of plastic tubing. I realized at once that I was standing a mere 3 feet away from one of the Church’s most prized relics: The Crown of Thorns.

I knew that the likelihood that this religious relic was in fact the true Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus of Nazareth was highly unlikely, but being a lover of history I cherished the moment. After all, Saint Louis the King of France purchased the crown to be housed in Notre Dame in 1239 from a Venetian bank who had taken it as payment for a financial default by the Byzantines. Before that the crown dates back to Christian pilgrims who reported the existence of relics from the Passion held in Jerusalem and later transferred to Constantinople. Incredible!

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