It’s the holiest address in France and the undisputed pride of Paris. A beacon that welcomes pilgrims from the corners of the world, embracing the weak, the weary and the weathered.
But how many visitors know that to get inside Notre Dame they’re perhaps being ushered in by Satan himself?
A dark and demonic tale swirls around those lovely cathedral doors, and at its epicenter lies a medieval character named Biscornet. His name is an intriguing one indeed…but we’ll get to that later.
As a result of construction always starting at the back of a church (to get the altar up and running asap), facades and entrances were added last. When it came to Notre Dame’s doors Mr. Biscornet – a young metal smith keen to prove himself on the grand stage – convinced the Church he was their man.
The task proved to be a herculean one, requiring months of slaving away amid the fiery furnaces of his workshop. The finished work was unveiled and attached to the doors as the very last detail of the cathedral.
It was a masterpiece, and it blew Parisians’ minds.
Artistry of this level had never been achieved with iron. It was elegant. It was intricate. It was the perfect finishing touch to a beautiful Christian monument.
But maybe the doors were too good. This was the 1300s, when magic and myth were as real as limestone itself, and a rumor filled Paris that the work couldn’t possibly have been done by mortal hands. Biscornet had clearly sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for this masterwork.
Stories emerged of citizens having visited the artist’s studio during the creation, finding Biscornet unconscious on the floor with the project mysteriously completed in record time. The priests of Notre Dame only fanned the flames by claiming the doors’ locks refused to work…until they were sprinkled with holy water.
Despite insisting that he alone was the artist, the young metal smith couldn’t shake the unholy accusation. The story claims he died soon after (because of the stress?), which only confirmed in people’s minds that in order to fulfill the contract the Devil had returned for Biscornet’s soul.
Is the legend true? Well even modern day metal experts can’t explain how the ironwork could have been done with the limited tools of the Middle Ages. And it should be noted that breaking down the name Biscornet leads to a curious fact: in French bis means “two” or “twice”, and cornet means “horn”. The two-horned one…
So next time you traverse the threshold of Notre Dame you may wish to pay your respects to this fine piece of art, or you may wish to flash a crucifix at it. Or you might simply enjoy the delicious paradox of what could be the cathedral’s darkest secret -that its entrances are adorned with the work of Lucifer himself.
For more of my stories about Notre Dame click here and here.
Want to explore Notre Dame in person? Contact me for a guided tour by clicking “Tour Paris With the French Frye” at the top of the page.
An amusing legend, but what is wondrous to me is that the ironwork is actually from the 14th century! I had always assumed it was done much later as a decoration, perhaps during the 19th century restoration initiated by Victor Hugo. One of the best things about Paris is sifting through the layers of history that combine in just one spot. You can time travel while standing still.
Wow – what a great story! Thank you for this. As always your writing is inspiring.
Thanks so much, I appreciate that. For me Paris is a city of stories and I love to share my favorite ones! Hope you have a great day.
Those intricate, beautiful doors have always enchanted me; I’d spend my time there returning to them again and again. This history is fascinating; and I am planning to return to look at them with new eyes. Thank you again for inspiring me!
Intriguing as a bargain with Beelzebub may be, I suspect some jealous competitor started the rumor and let superstition take care of the rest. What a pity that Biscornet didn’t live long enough to vindicate himself by passing on his methods to an apprentice! But at least YOU have passed on the name of the master craftsman who made these doors. The next time I pass them I will pat the main doorknocker beastie on the nose and say, <>
DOH! And say, “beau travail, Biscornet. Très beau travail.” (Sorry about that; apparently WordPress mistook my Frenchie quotation marks for code. Ha ha.)
These are exactly the types of articles I love to read- and so well written too!
Amazing article and photos, thank you so much. Find it difficult to believe though, but then it’s a CHURCH and what are non-believers doing there, lol.
No actually I AM a believer and I too often stood there and marvelled as to how on earth anybody could do such a intricate artwork…. Didn’t know what you told us though, it’s a great one, and so well presented too. BRAVO
A French Frye Tour in Paris — the best! What a treat to see your Norte Dame post! It reminds me of our 2015 summer trip to introduce our 3 teenaged grands to Paris. Not sure of how long they would last on a tour, we engaged Monsieur Frye for 3 hours, but apologized ahead if the kids might not stay interested for the full time. After hearing and seeing Corey’s fascinating stories and sights throughout the 6th arrondissement, we ended up at Norte Dame. After hearing about the frieze as we waited in line, followed by exploring “secrets” inside Norte Dame, we returned to the plaza where Corey bid us farewell. “What? Are you leaving already?” — our teens were surprised and disappointed to say good-bye…after 3 full hours! Wow! And they still talk about things they saw…the optical illusion in a fountain of the Luxembourg Gardens, bullet holes left from the French Revolution, the site of the original guillotine, discovering American history in the oldest cafe in Paris, wonderful stories in the Shakespeare & Company bookstore by the Seine…and many more. It makes their World History classes come alive too. Merci beaucoup, Corey! We can’t wait for our next tour!
Oops! Looks like my spell-checker needs to learn it’s Notre Dame! (But you knew that, right? :-)
Great pics and a wonderful tale!
Thanks Ann, I’m glad you stopped by!
Superb content you’ve got going here. http://Indyarocks.com/blog/2437599/Why-Laptop-Insurance-Is-A-Must-Have-Today
Sounds liked Satan was behind the story itself always throwing confusion at the church to discourage people. If all of the designs were studied It would be things from the Bible that it represented..
To see how the iron work was done, check Walfred Huber and his team of Austrian blacksmiths who have recently rediscovered the techniques used by Biscornet.
Hi it’s Corey, thanks for that info! I’m glad to see there are people who are keeping these skills alive.
I am descended from blacksmiths of Paris with the name Calle dit Biscornet. Calle means quail. The dit infers military service and the Biscornet was a second name taken during military service to identify from other Calle families. I believe Biscornet made his own tools to create what he imagined. It goes to show that you can bust your ass doing your best work and people will be so jealous they’ll ostracize you.
the Biscornet family immigrated to New Quebec in the 1600’s, and were blacksmiths for three generations there.
That’s incredible info, thanks so much!