In Praise of Paris: a description of the city in 1323

by Jean de Jandun


I have thought to endeavor...after having invoked the assistance of God and for the greatest glory of the kingdom of France where the illustrious city of Paris holds the first place, occupying approximately the center of the country, to gather together some of the traits that make the merits of men of study shine, whose works nourish the keen intellects in the University of Paris. And to enrich this little book, I will introduce as well as God permits, other things by which Paris, that fecund parent, surpasses all other cities.

Part 1 Chapter 1: Elegy of the University of Paris and, firstly, of the Faculty of Philosophy or the Arts

In beginning with the thing that is first in honor and dignity, I say that in the city of cities, at Paris, in the rue de Fouarre, not only are the Seven Liberal Arts taught, but, in addition, the most agreeable clarity of all philosophical light, spreading afar its beams of pure truth, illuminates those souls able to receive it. There also the gentle odor of philosophical nectar delights that sense of smell which receives such a delicate scent. The marvels of divine principles, the secrets of nature, astrology, mathematics, and the salutary resources that win moral virtues are unveiled to the beholder. There, gather a crowd of learned masters who teach not only logic but all knowledge that prepares for the most elevated sciences...Finally, is it not in this street that the certain results of an infallible philosophy and an incontestable mathematical science are demonstrated by the marvellous meeting of numbers and figures, either considered by themselves or applied to celestial phenomena, to harmonic sounds, and to visual rays...

Chapter II: Elegy of the Theologians

In the peaceful street named be Sorbonne, as also in numerous religious houses, one can admire the venerable fathers, lords, and celestial and divine satraps who have attained the summit of human perfection...and who solemnly elucidate the sacred texts of the Old and New Testament by the frequent exercises of reading and discussion and who by their eloquent lectures strive to plant in the heart the salutary truths of divine laws that they embody themselves in their holy works...How many learned readers of The Sentences, seeking to examine invisible things in the light of those made visible, exhaust themselves by their labors, grow thin through their wakefulness, and are consumed by continual cares! At times they redress the deviations of pagan philosophers; at others they exterminate their errors; sometimes for the defense of the catholic faith they claim, as it suits them, the truths discovered by the pagans...However, although all of these men, whose life work is consecrated to seeking the truth, strive for a unique and supreme goal, to understand the wisdom and love of the sovereign Trinity, it often happens that they defend the same conclusions with opposing opinions...

It is on these and similar questions that reflective men whose vision is not obscured by the cloud of earthly passions wage intellectual combat for the discovery of the truth. One objects, the other refutes. In short, in the discussion of problems, all that one strives to animate and strengthen with a powerful hand, the other with upraised arm studies to overturn, all the while confessing his sincere and unshakeable adherence to the article of faith. What utility, what advantage does the catholic religion derive from this exercise? God knows and these men will eagerly explain the reason for this type of procedure at a convenient time and place to those who ask.

Chapter III: Of the Faculty of Decrees and Decretals

On the street named Clos Bruneau, the useful readers of decrees and decretals set forth their doctrines before a multitude of listeners. The importance and relevance of this study for the administration of churches can be appreciated by those who handle and discuss the business of chapters and curates. Human greed, root of all evils...often leads the judgment of reason to injustice such that one pretends to seize, by fraudulent, perverse, and violent means, that which does not belong to one and that which belongs to another. This is the origin of human discord, the source of verbal argument, the cause of bodily injury. To this spectacle, magistrates, restraining natural law within reasonable limits, established legal rights, that is to say laws...

Chapter IV: Elegy of the Doctors

Within the bosom of this tender mother (the University) which provides consolation for their spirit and remedies for the body, the masters of medicine, who work to preserve our health and to care for our illnesses...are found in such great number, walking the streets dressed in costly habits, their heads covered by a doctoral bonnet as they perform their duties, that it is easy to meet one in time of need. What thanks does one not owe to these princes of medicine who study the principles of their art according to rules of philosophy combining them with the profound resources of physics to preserve the health, the beauty, and the vigor of the body...and who by their wisdom or the length of their study, diagnosing in advance the principles of illnesses through symptoms that they recognize, gather, and compare, eradicate the sickness through effective, proven, and appropriate remedies...The apothecaries, who prepare the medicines and who manufacture an infinite variety of aromatic spices, live on the celebrated Petit-Pont or nearby, as well as in most other busy places, and they display with satisfaction the lovely vases containing the most sought-after remedies.

Part II Chapter II: On the Churches and Principally on Notre-Dame and the Sainte-Chapelle

In Paris, privileged sanctuary of the Christian religion, beautiful edifices consecrated to God are founded in such great number that there are not many cities among the most powerful in Christianity, that can boast of counting so many houses of God. Among these palaces, the imposing church of the most glorious Virgin Mary, mother of God, justly shines at the summit as the sun amid the other stars. And although certain peoples, by the choice of their taste, maintain that the beauty of some other churches surpasses this one, I think, with all due respect, that if they examine Notre-Dame attentively as a whole and in its details, they will soon abandon such an opinion. Where can one find, I ask you, two towers of such magnificence, as perfect, as high, as wide, as strong, enriched with such variety, with such multiplicity of ornaments? Where does one encounter, I pray you, such a complicated grouping of lateral vaults both below and above? Where can one find, I repeat, the dazzling splendor of such a belt of chapels? This is not all: tell me, in what church will I see a cross of like size in which one arm separates the choir from the nave? Finally, I would very much like to hear where I would be able to see two similar roses facing one another, roses whose form gives the name to the fourth vowel. Below, small roses, rosettes, arranged with marvellous art, some in circles, others in lozenges, surround the sparkling windows which are embellished with precious colors and figures painted with the most exquisite delicacy. In truth, I think that this church offers such a subject of admiration to those who regard it attentively that the soul will never tire in its contemplation.

But the most beautiful of the chapels, the chapel of the King, conveniently located within the walls of the royal residence, is admirable through its strong structure and the indestructible solidity of the materials of which it is made. The carefully chosen colors of its paintings, the precious gilding of its images (statues), the transparence of the windows which shine from all sides, the rich cloths of its altars, the marvellous virtues of its sanctuaries, the exotic ornaments of its reliquaries decorated with sparkling jewels, give to this house of prayer such a degree of beauty that upon entering, one feels transported to heaven and one imagines that one has been ushered into one of the most beautiful chambers of Paradise.

Oh! how salutary are the prayers that ascend from these sanctuaries towards all-powerful God when the inner purity of the faithful corresponds exactly to the outer corporal ornaments of the oratory!

Oh! how gentle are the praises of God the most-merciful sung in these tabernacles when the hearts of those who sing are embellished by virtues iin harmony with the lovely paintings of the tabernacles.

Oh! how agreeable to God most glorious are the sacrifices prepared on these altars when the life of the priest shines with a brilliance equal to that of the gold of the altars!

Chapter II: On the Palace of the King in Which Are the Masters of Parlement, the Masters of Requests, and the Royal Notaries

In this illustrious seat of the French monarchy a splendid palace has been built, a superb testimony to royal magnificence. Its impregnable walls enclose an area vast enough to contain innumerable people. In honor of their glorious memory, statues of all the kings of France who have occupied the throne until this day are reunited in this place; they have such an expressive demeanor that at first glance one would think they are alive. The table of marble, whose uniform surface presents the highest sheen, is placed in the west under the reflected light of the windows in such a way that the banqueters are turned toward the east; it is of such grandeur that if I cited its dimensions without furnishing proof for my statement, I fear that one would not believe me.

The palace of the king was not decorated for indolence and the crude pleasures of the senses, nor raised to flatter the false vanity of vainglory, nor fortified to shelter the perfidious plots of proud tyranny; but it was marvellously adapted to the active, effective, and complete care of our wise monarchs who seek continually to increase the public well-being by their ordinances. In fact, nearly every day, one sees on the raised seats which are placed on the two sides of the room, the men of state, called according to their functions either Masters of Requests or Notaries of the King. All, according to their rank and obeying the orders of the king, work for the prosperity of the republic; it is from them that the generous and honorable favors of grace flow incessantly; it is by them that appeals, weighed with the scales of sincerity, are presented.

In a vast and splendid chamber, entered through a special door in the northern wall of the palace because the difficult negotiations that take place there demand the utmost tranquillity and privacy, the skillful, far-sighted men, called the Masters of Parlement, sit on the tribunals. Their infallible knowledge of law and customs permits them to discuss cases with complete maturity and clemency and to hurl the thunder of their final sentences which give joy to the innocent and to the just because they are rendered without regard to persons or presents and in the contemplation of God alone and law. But the criminal and the impious, according to the measure of their evil, are overwhelmed by bitterness and misfortune.

Chapter III: On Les Halles de Champeaux and Other Houses of Paris

This joyous visit of the most agreeable pastimes offers in the large showcases filled with inestimable treasure the most diverse riches in the place called the Halles de Champeaux. There, if you have the wish and the means, you can buy every type of ornament made by clever industry and invention to fulfill your desires. To try to describe in detail all the specialties within these types would be to lengthen this work and to give it such a length as to bore the reader..All the same, I do not want to neglect completely to say that in several places in the lower parts of this market and, as it were, under the heaps and piles of other merchandise, drapes, one more beautiful than the other, are found; in others, superb furs, some made from the skins of animals, other from silk, others assembled from delicate and foreign materials whose names I do not know. In the upper part of the building which forms a street of astonishing length everything that serves to adorn the human body is exhibited: for the head, crowns, tresses, bonnets; combs of ivory for the hair, morrors to look at oneself, belts for the waist, purses to hang at one's side, gloves for the hands, collars for the chest and other things of this type that I cannot cite because of the poverty of latin words...But, in order that the innumerable splendors of those shining objects, whose variety and infinite number prevents a complete and detailed description, can be manifested in a superficial ensemble, let me speak to you thusly: in these places of exposition, the gazes of the strollers fall upon so many decoration for the celebration of weddings and grand festivals taht after having travsersed half of an aisle an impetuous urge carries them towards another and after walking the entire length an insatiable desire overcomes them to renew this pleasure not once nor twice, but indefinitely. And they recommence their excursion.

Chapter IV: On the Manual Artisans

It seems good, if this is not considered out of place, to add here several remarks about the manual artisans. Let us say that the manual artisans, without whom the integrity of the political fabric is not complete, in the middle of this ensemble so abundant with all the necessary elements, are concentrated in a neighborhood so dense and in such number that the eye in traversing the street cannot find two contiguous houses that are not more or less filled with them...In Paris, one finds the most skillful image-makers, either in sculpture or in painting or in relief; there you will see ingenious builders of instruments or war and even all of the objects needed by knights: saddles and reins, swords and shields, lances and javelins, bows and crossbows, mallets and arrows, cuirasses and sheets or metal, headgear of iron and helmets; finally, for brevity's sake, all the arms for attack and defense are found in such number in this tranquil place of security that they frighten the ferocious enemy and banish all fear in the hearts of the faithful residents...

As for the bakers, it is not out of place to say here that they are endowed with an astonishing superiority in thier art over all other workers of this type or that the materials that they employ, that is grain and water, are so preferable to others that for this reason the breads they make acquire an unbelievable degree of goodness and delicacy...In addition, the excellent makers of metal vases, principally of gold and silver, tin and copper, are found on the Grand Pont and in many other places...There are also parchment makers, writers, illuminators, and book binders who work with such ardor to decorate the works of science of which they are the servants that they see the laughing fountains of human knowledge flowing with more abundance from this inexhaustible source of all things. As to other types of manual artisans, either because they are well enough known or because I fear prolixity, I will say nothing of them.

Chapter VI: On the River of Paris, Called the Seine

In this fertile basin of Paris, which seems to have received from the Most-High the role of the earthly Paradise, flows a justly celebrated river named the Seine. The ample size of its bed, the moderate speed of its current which is not impetuous, but tranquil, furnishes an abundance of riches from all parts of the world necessary for the needs of man. The Seine brings in great quantity the wines of Greece, Grenache, la Rochelle, Gascony, Burgundy; it ships quantities of wheat, rye, peas, beans, hay, oats salt, coal, and wood.







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