Tuesday, February 3, 2009

St. Jacques Tower, haunted or not?

Navigating from one end of a large metro station to the other, I follow signs left, right, up, and down. I rarely think about the possible historical and stunning sights I might be missing above. However, as I was finding my way out of the Châtelet metro station I was already thinking about the possibilities above. Kai and I had planned to exit the metro station and write about whatever sight struck our fancy. Almost immediately after reaching the sidewalk from the depths below we saw a small park where the Tour Saint-Jacques stands alone, framed by the park. We knew we had found exactly what we had wanted.

The tower stands alone in the middle of a small park, which was unfortunately closed the night of our visit, but from the sidewalk it was still impressive. The bottom of the tower was intensely lit at the bottom, while the top was framed against the purplish-grey, Parisian night sky. This style of lighting and the different effects it produced grabbed my attention quickly and held it.

The lower stone façade was bathed heavily in bright lighting such that one could make out the lines between each block, however the only distinguishable difference between each stone was the difference in the intensity of the lighting. Noticing the difference over each stone my eye was drawn away from the bottom of the tower toward the much more ornate design decorating the middle and top sections, where my roving eye stopped. In contrast to the homogeneity of the bottom, the upper and middle both were garnished with statues and strong, vertical lines in a typically Gothic style. The combination of the irregular forms of the statues, the Gothic lines of the tower, and the intense lighting at the bottom created hundreds of shadows. From every angle and at each place I looked, these shadows created hundreds of different fleeting shapes; which gave it a haunted feel.

Before I got too tied-up with the idea of the tower being haunted, I attempted to appreciate the structure of the building itself. Starting at the base of the tower I took in the elegant stone arches supporting the structure. Then my eyes fell on the statue of Blaise Pascal located directly under the tower’s arches where they created an open space large enough for the twenty-foot figure that was lit in the same fashion as the tower, with bright lighting shining upward from below. The effect was the same, but even more pronounced than it had been on the tower. In the light, Pascal’s head resembled a skull with hair rather than an ordinary head. I visited the tower last night and today, and found that in the daytime the head does, indeed, resemble a head. So, it was purely by the grace of the lighting that his head appeared so skull-like. That said, had I not gone back to look at Pascal’s statue in the daylight, I would have believed it could only appear ghostly both in night and daylight. The way the shadow of the cheekbones fell over the eyes made it appear that they were recessed into the face, rather then the opposite as I found in the daylight. Additionally, the cheekbones were gaunt and the shadows accentuated them such that they seemed like naked bone.

If one ever has the chance to see the tower of Saint-Jacques I recommend they make the most of their time by going at night, where the gothic style of the tower really has a haunting effect. If the lighting on the gothic style design isn’t enough, then I suggest the viewer look at the statue of Pascal, where the head will surely bring to mind a skull or ghost. If one does not have the good fortune of visiting the tower at night or chooses not to visit the tower at night, all is not lost. I thought the gothic style, nineteen statues, and recent restoration were all very impressive and worth a walk around the block to see every side, even in daylight.

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