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La Victoire de Samothrace, Unknown, 190 BC

The Poor Man's Bible

Notre Dame


Cathedral comes from the Latin catedra, meaning "seat".

It is the seat of the bishop, whose role it is to administer the diocese but also to teach.

As the majority of the medieval population were illiterate, a cathedral's artworks were a great opportunity to illustrate teachings from the Bible.

The facade was an important part of this, and is often referred to as the "Poor Man's Bible".

High above the doors stand a series of stone figures representing the kings of Judah, the 28 descendants of Abraham.

Fun fact : in 1792, French revolutionaries mistook them for French kings and decapitated them. They have since been restored.

Just above the main door is carved the Last Judgement - when God is said to judge all souls, sending some to heaven and others to hell.

At the bottom, souls are being resuscitated by angels with trumpets.

Above, the archangel Michael is weighing souls on a set of scales - as a demon tries to tip the scales to his side!

The "saved souls" are on the left - pious and relaxed.

The "damned souls" are on the right - led off by demons, scared and in chains.

Importantly, a king, bishop and rich man are being crushed by a demon.

This crucially shows that the Last Judgement applies to all, whether rich, poor, royal or cleric.

Hundreds of spectators are also represented - including Abraham, hiding 3 souls in his tunic!

Jesus is at the top, presiding over the scene, flanked by angels holding the holy cross, nails and lance, the Virgin Mary and Saint John, all praying him to show mercy.