Parisians are not known for  being welcoming to tourists. We, who live here in this capital of France, think there are too many of them: contrary to those in charge of the State’s coffers who love the tourists, and never fail to point out that France is the country which receives the highest number of […]

Notre Dame Cathedral from the back (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Parisians are not known for  being welcoming to tourists.

We, who live here in this capital of France, think there are too many of them: contrary to those in charge of the State’s coffers who love the tourists, and never fail to point out that France is the country which receives the highest number of tourists – year after year!

In fact, tourists say that there is just one thing wrong with Paris – the French live there.

We, Parisians, say something rather similar. We say there is just one thing wrong with Paris – the tourists.  

I say so too. I note the school vacations and national holidays and Easter down in my diary to know when I can go to a  museum or a chateau and there will not be too many tourist there.

One place being spoilt because of its popularity with tourists is — Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral.

I pass by the cathedral almost every day by bus or on foot.

And, every time I am appalled at the mass of tourists standing about in front of the cathedral. Not a couple, or a dozen, but dozens and dozens.

Just like any other tourist spot entrance times are given outside. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Of these tourists 99% are taking photos. Photos of themselves, smiling, some waving at the camera, the cathedral, large and silent like an old auntie who should not be in the photo.

Some of these people snapping themselves then immediately tap away on an i-phone.

They must be sending the photos to family, friends and colleagues at home.

I can imagine the messages being tapped: “Me at the Notre Dame. Having a wonderful time. Ate snails last night”; “Tom and me here today. Miss you all. Food great. Wine even greater.” Etc. Etc.

Thanks to the Islamist terrorists one can no longer just walk into the cathedral but must be searched at the door. This adds to the crowds outside (yes – crowds!) because where until three years ago when the first terrorist attack had taken place in Paris, there was no lining up outside to step inside. These days the queue stretches right across the square outside (Parvis de Notre Dame) and down along Rue de la Cité to the Hotel Dieu Hospital.

I have therefore not gone into the Notre Dame for three years, but this past week, I decided that I want to go back into the cathedral. Not to take photos, but for a few quiet moments of contemplation. I hoped that that would still be possible.

Fortunately, many of the Christmas and New Year tourists have gone home, so just about twenty people were queuing at the door, and within ten minutes I was inside the cathedral.  After of course a brief stop at the security man’s table.

Inside a service was under way: two priests in white in prayer seemingly unaware of people wandering by and the clicking of cameras and the flash of a camera light. (It is forbidden to use a flash inside the cathedral, yet some still do so.)

There are several small closed-off chapels under the cathedral’s rose windows and these, as notices inform, are for either confession or for when seeking guidance from a priest, but there was no activity in them. 

I lit a candle and I went into the treasury (Le Trésor) again wanting to see the morsel of Jesus’s Crown of Thorns, the relic being the treasury’s main attraction, and I looked at what there was being sold in the cathedral’s shop and all excruciatingly expensive, I bought nothing and then I left. (I had wished to buy an icon.)  Going into the treasury had cost 5 Euros, and the candles cost either 2 or 5 Euros.

Outside on the square it was yet again a throng of people, cameras and i-phones busy, and the queue to go into the cathedral was a little longer than when I had to fall in line earlier.

You will be reading this probably because you will be visiting Paris and plan to go into Notre Dame Cathedral.

You will think the cathedral is beautiful.

Yes, it is beautiful, but as what?

A place of worship, a cathedral, a holy place? Or another tourist spot, and one, so fortunately without an entrance fee?

No, its meaning has become lost among the hundreds who visit it each day.

Yes, the Notre Dame Cathedral has become just another tourist spot. Another place for a selfie. 

The Notre Dame Cathedral has become victim of its success. Of its beauty.

What a pity!

Notre Dame de Paris (cc MarilynZ. Tomlins)

Above is a photo of Notre Dame as it used to be before terrorism and before the influx of tourists: doors were open and few people were about.

Who does Notre Dame Cathedral belong to? 

Under a law passed in 1905 all Christian churches/cathedrals are owned by the French State. However, the different dioceses have the right to use the primises for religious purposes, and to do so until the end of time. The diocese is however responsible for all of the expense like paying the employees, for the cleaning and for heating of the premises. The diocese was also responsible for security of the premises, but due to terrorism and a priest having been decapida, the State has now taken over this responsibility.

Notre Dame Cathedral (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)


















Marilyn Z. Tomlins


  1. 2
    Marilyn Z Tomlins Says:

    Monsieur Burke, Thank you for your interesing post. I so wish more of our tourists are like you.Marilyn

  2. 1
    Anthony Burke Says:

    Dear Ms. Tomlins,

    Your article is most heart-felt. I agree to a point. But please let me share my view as an American tourist. My first overseas adventure was to Paris to visit my family when I was 17. I am now 56 and have had the chance to visit Paris several times. I am in love with this city. I love the French people and the hospitality of the people who I have met.

    I enjoy doing non-touristy activities in Paris (and in every place I visit). Regarding Notre Dame, unfortunately it is not only your beautiful Cathedral that commands attention as well as long lines and security. The terrorists have ruined it for everyone around the world. I am an organist in Ansonia, Connecticut. That is my profession. When I visit Notre Dame, I am inspired by its nearly 900-year beauty. I am privileged to attend Mass there and listen to the music of Olivier Latrie.

    Yes, I had my picture taken in front of the Cathedral. And yes, I ate escargot. (I eat it in the United States, too) But I promise you, I did not post any pictures on Facebook because I hate it when people do that. I did not take a selfie. A friend took my picture.

    I know tourists can be difficult – as are the ones in New York City. I believe that each person, resident and non-resident, has a small part in defining a city. I would like to believe that I have been a good ambassador to France representing the United States positively in some small way. Please know that I leave all expectations behind me when I travel and am truly open to local customs. That is precisely the reason why I believe local people are always nice to me – I am never demanding as a tourist. Ever.

    Please do not lose faith in tourists.


    Anthony Burke

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