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?
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.
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.
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.