Statues of apostles, saints and kings take pride of place on the west facade of Notre Dame cathedral.  Around the arches of the three great portals angels greatly outnumber the devils but the last judgement sees the damned dragged off to hell.


Narrative panels show Mary taken up to heaven and the fall of Adam and Eve.  The smaller details bring the stories closer to the daily life and preoccupations of the cathedral’s builders.


Below the feet of the apostles, either side of the central portal (top), small roundels illustrate the seven vices and corresponding virtues identified by medieval philosophers, guidelines for a life well lived.

To left and right of the north portal (above), a series of panels show the signs of the zodiac and seasonal activities through the year.  Pruning vines and picking grapes, sowing seed and harvesting wheat, the tasks of the farming year are clearly set out.   But the year isn’t all work; winter is recognised as a time for eating well and for keeping warm by the fire.

Some aspects of the medieval world view, represented by these carvings, look strange and distant today, but there are glimpses of human experience, not that different from ours.  Each successive generation has to try to make sense of the world and to learn how to live with others in community.   That has never been easy.


This post is linked to Thursday Doors.  Follow the links to discover other ordinary and extraordinary doorways around the world.