11 February 2024

As Notre Dame waits
for its reopening, it
is beautiful against
the night sky of Paris

The West Front of Notre Dame seen at night from the Petit Pont and the Quai de Montebello (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

While we were staying in Latin Quarter for two days, we were just a three-minute stroll from the Petit Pont and Quai de Montebello on the Left Bank of the Seine with their magnificent views of Notre Dame Cathedral, which is truly the heart and soul of Paris.

Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe are the three places in Paris that are most visited by tourists. Until the devastating fire on 15 April 2019, Notre Dame was visited by over 13 million people annually. The cathedral is the Gothic masterpiece of French architecture and has stood on the Île de la Cité since the cornerstone was laid in 1163.

Since that fire five years ago, the cathedral has been closed for repairs and restoration, and renovation work began in October 2021.

The west front of Notre Dame seen from the steps of a raised platform (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

In Paris in recent days, I heard of the plans to celebrate the reopening of Notre Dame over a six-month period, beginning with the consecration of the Altar at the first Mass in the restored cathedral on the feast of the Immaculate Conception later this year (8 December 2024), and the final event on Pentecost next year (8 June 2025).

Meanwhile, tourists must content themselves with climbing the steps of a raised platform in front of the cathedral close to the Petit Pont for photographs of the west front, the towers, the Rose Window and the Gallery of Kings.

But some of the best photographs of Notre Dame are taken at night below the cathedral from the Quai de Montebello below the cathedral, on the left bank or south bank of the Seine.

Notre Dame seen from the Quai de Montebello on the Left Bank of the Seine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Quai de Montebello is in the 5th arrondissement and stretches from the Petit Pont to the Pont de l’Archevêché. These evenings, when the new spire, the building works and the cranes are lit up, the Quai de Montebello offers some of the most majestic and spectacular views of Notre Dame against the dark skies.

The Quai de Montebello is one of the most picturesque riverside walks in Paris. It is a continuation of the Quai de la Tournelle to the Petit-Pont, and is 314 metres long and 15 metres wide.

The creation of a riverfront between the Quai de Miramiones, later the Quai de la Tournelle, and the Petit-Pont was first ordered in 1799. Its creation required demolishing the annex to the Hôtel-Dieu.

The Quai de la Bûcherie was renamed Quai de Montebello in 1843 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The project was not realised and on 25 March 1811 a riverside, called Montebello, was planned between the Pont Saint-Michel and the Pont de la Tournelle. Only the part between Pont Saint-Michel and Petit-Pont was built, and this new street was named Quai Saint-Michel.

A parapet wall was built between the Rue des Grands-Degrés and the Pont au Double in 1817, and a ministerial decision in 1818 named the new riverfront Quai de la Bûcherie.

A decree in 1837 provided for extending the Quai de la Bûcherie between the Petit-Pont and the Pont au Double. A new building attached to the Hôtel-Dieu was built by Jean-Jacques-Marie Huvé in 1840 and the old building was demolished. Another decree in 1839 provided for extending the riverside along the Rue des Grands-Degrés, and the Quai de la Bûcherie was renamed Quai de Montebello in 1843.

The elegant Pont au Double, in the middle of the quay and only for use by pedestrians and cyclists, gives access the Île de la Cité. There are a number of restaurants along the quayside closest to the Latin Quarter.

Shakespeare and Company on the Rue de la Bûcherie, facing the Quai de Montebello (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

On the opposite side of the street to the Quai de Montebello, on the Rue de la Bûcherie, the English-language bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, was established in 1951. In 1964 founder George Whitman named it after Sylvia Beach’s former bookshop and publishing house near the Place de l’Odéon.

The original shop first published James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 and was a literary centre for English-speaking writers until it was closed in 1941 when Nazi Germany occupied France.

Beside Shakespeare and Company, the Square René Viviani-Montebello is usually known as the Square René Viviani. It is immediately north of the Church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, a Gothic church built at the same time as Notre-Dame and so one of the oldest churches in Paris. Today, the church serves the community of the Greek Melchite Church in Paris.

The Church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, beside the Square René Viviani-Montebello (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Quai de Montebello was named after Jean Lannes (1769-1809), Duke of Montebello and Napoleon’s Marshall, who died in battle at Essling on 22 May 1809.

Jean Lannes was one of Napoleon’s most daring and talented generals. In his exile on Saint Helena, Napoleon said of Lannes: ‘I found him a pygmy and left him a giant.’ Marshall Lannes was born in the small town of Lectoure, the son of a Gascon farmer. He had little education and was first apprenticed to a dyer. After enlisting in the army, he quickly rose through the ranks and is regarded as one the most able of all of Napoleon’s marshals.

Napoleon sent him to Portugal in 1801 as ambassador. Lannes bought the 17th century Château de Maisons, near Paris, in 1804 and had one of its state apartments redecorated for a visit by Napoleon.

He was named a Marshal of France in 1804, and he commanded the advanced guard of a great French army in the campaign of Austerlitz. Napoleon took him to Spain in 1808, and gave him a detached wing of the army. As a reward for his victory over Castaños at Tudela in 1808, Napoleon gave him the title of Duc de Montebello. He was sent to capture Saragossa in 1809.

After his last campaign in Spain, Montebello said: ‘This damned Bonaparte is going to get us all killed.’ He commanded the advanced guard for the last time in 1809. He took part in the engagements around Eckmühl and the advance on Vienna. With his corps he led the French army across the Danube, and bore the brunt, with Masséna, of the Battle of Aspern-Essling. He was mortally wounded on 22 May and died on 31 May 1809.

Notre Dame lit up against the night sky, seen from the Quai de Montebello (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Montebello and his second wife, Louise Antoinette, Comtesse de Guéhéneuc (1782-1856), were the parents of five children, including Jean Ernest Lannes, Baron de Montebello (1803-1882), who married a descendant of the Comerford family of Cork and Wexford, Mary Theresa Boddington (1806-1898), elder daughter of Thomas Boddington and the Cork-born writer Mary (Comerford) Boddington (1766-1840). They were married in the British embassy in Paris on 27 April 1831.

Mary Theresa and Jean Ernest Lannes de Montebello were the parents of six children. Their eldest daughter Marie (1832-1917) married Henri O’Shea, a descendant of a Cork family of wine merchants who had once been in partnership with the Comerford family.

Their fifth child, René Lannes de Montbello (1845-1925), inherited some of the family fame and titles. In Paris in 1875, he married Princess Marie Lubmirska (1847-1930), the daughter of a celebrated Polish composer, Prince Kazimierz Anastazy Karol Lubomirski, whose family lived near Lviv in what is now Ukraine.

René was an army major and was known as Baron de Montebello. But, when his son Henry was born in Paris in 1876, he assumed the title of count. Henry died in childhood, but René and his Polish princess were the parents of four other children. He died in 1925 and Princess Marie died in 1930. One of their sons, Count André Roger Lannes de Montebello (1908-1986), was involved in the French resistance during World War II, and was the father of Count Guy Philippe Henri Lannes de Montebello, who, as Philippe de Montebello, was the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York until 2008.

The fate of André’s elder sister is distressing. Hedwige Marie Renée Lannes de Montebello (1881-1944) was born in Pau on 10 Mar 1881, and in 1910 she married in Biarritz Louis d’Ax de Vaudricourt (1879-1945), of the Château Vaudricourt.

Like her brother, Hedwige was involved in the French resistance. She was captured, and on 7 April 1944, named simply as Hedwig Ax, she was sent on a train from Gare de l’Est in Paris to the transit camp at Neue Bremm in Saarbrücken, Germany. She was moved to the women’s concentration camp in Ravensbrück, where her unique number was 47135. She died in Ravensbrück on 19 November 1944. Her husband, named simply in his deportation papers as Louis Ax, died in the concentration camp in Dachau in January 1945.

The Rose Window and the Gallery of the Kings on the West Front of Notre Dame (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

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