Among which that most terrible church of the most glorious Virgin Mary, mother of God, deservedly shines out, like the sun among stars

Jean de Jandunís Tractatus de laudibus Parisius (Treatise on the Praises of Paris) is one of the earliest and most interesting of Parisian encomia, with detailed evocations of Notre-Dame, the Sainte-Chapelle, and the Palace of Philip the Fair. Jandun was born around 1285, in the town of Jandun, in the diocese of Reims. A member of the Faculty of Arts in Paris by 1307, he became a professor at the College of Navarre in 1315. In 1316, Pope John XXII made him a canon of Senlis. He continued to teach and write in Paris and was closely associated with Marsilius of Padua while Marsilius was preparing his Defensor pacis. After the work was published in 1324, the priority it gave to secular power over religious authority made Marsiliusís position in Paris untenable. Jandun left Paris with him in 1326, when both entered the service of the excommunicated emperor Louis of Bavaria, leading to their own excommunication in 1327. Jandun accompanied Louis to his coronation in Rome in January of 1328; shortly afterwards Louis appointed him bishop of Ferrara. He was travelling to Ferrara when he died in 1328.

Jandunís writings include a large number of commentaries on Aristotleís works, including the Metaphysics, De anima, the Economics, and De caelo et mundo. These reveal him as an Averroist, that is, one who understood Aristotle through the lens of the twelfth-century Islamic philosopher Averroes, who had attempted to purge the Aristotelian tradition of its Neoplatonic trappings. Jandun, in fact, wrote expositions of two works by Averroes, De anima (Book III) and De substantia orbis. His writings engage two of the most important themes in Averroesí thought: the independence of philosophy from theology and the agent intellect, "the faculty of the human mind that enables us to formulate abstract ideas and to understand the causes of things." Both topics invited controversy. Averroes viewed the agent intellect as a non-human force, "a separate intelligence," available to mortals only during their lifetime; this impersonal understanding undermined belief in personal immortality. Averroes was untroubled by the conflict with an essential Islamic doctrine because he believed that philosophy must be free from theological control. His approach implied that religion was not the only path to truth, a notion which critics labeled the "double truth." Jandun, never one to shrink from controversy, engaged in polemic about Averroist ideas. Following his excommunication, he maintained his association with Marsilius of Padua and held onto an Averroist position, leading to his stigmatization as a "heretic and heresiarch" and as a "son of the devil."

For the most part, the controversial content of Jandunís thought left little trace on his Tractatus. Nonetheless, the text is related to his scholastic writings by its origins in competitive polemic and its use of academic rhetoric. These features also help us throw light on the workís intended audience, which Jandun never defines explicitly. There are two obvious possibilities: the Parisian academic community of which Jandun was a member or the court of King Charles IV (1322Ė28), whose capital was Paris. At first the court seems a plausible choice. The College of Navarre, where Jandun taught, had ties to the monarchy, having been founded by Jeanne de Navarre in 1304. Just as Abbot Gilles and the monks of Saint-Denis had used flattering depictions of a prosperous Paris in the Vie de Saint Denis manuscript they presented to Philip V [see the slides on the course website for week 5], Jandun could have flattered Charles IV with his written praise of capital and country. Certainly the monarch would have appreciated Jandunís claim that "the most excellent French kings merit the monarchy of the world."

However, several factors make it much more probable that Jandun wrote the Tractatus, like all the other products of his pen, primarily with his fellow scholastics in mind. First, if Jandun intended the text for a royal audience, he would most likely have said so in the prologue. Second, Jandun wrote the text in Latin at a time when works presented to the king and used by the court were increasingly written in French. Further, the two surviving copies of the text are both found in manuscripts that contain other Latin worksóexegetical, theological, moral, medical, and legalóof exclusively academic interest; moreover, the one manuscript with a known provenance belonged to the Abbey of Saint-Victor in the fourteenth century. Finally, the textís complex origins may be traced not to a royal commission, but to an exchange of academic jests.

These jests are linked to Jandunís canonry in Senlis. While he was resident there in July 1323, a close friend (unus ex specialibus amicis meis) wrote him a letter twitting him on Parisís superiority to all cities, including by implication Senlis. To be in Paris, according to his friend, was "to be" in the fullest sense; to be elsewhere was merely to exist ("esse Parisius est esse simpliciter; esse alibi est esse non nisi secundum quid"). Jandun paraphrased this letter in De utilitatibus laudabilibus Silvanecti, a text he wrote to rebut his friend's assertion and that survives only because he later included it in his Tractatus. He writes that he was at first tempted to refute his friend by citing the seventh book of Aristotleís Metaphysics, which states that no accidental existence can be simple and absolute; since "to be" at Paris was subject to change and thus accidental, being at Paris was not absolute. However, fearing that this metaphysical rebuttal would leave the attack on Senlis unanswered, he decided instead to respond with a treatise outlining the cityís charms.

Jandunís praise of Senlis drew a sarcastic response from a third person, who accused him of claiming the city outshone Paris. This now-anonymous author, almost certainly a Parisian scholastic (Jandun refers to him only as the dictator), was responsible for a Recommentatio civitatis Parisiensis, which survives only as an appendix to one copy of Jandunís Tractatus. The Recommentatioís bland prose spurred him to a new sally, the Tractatus de laudibus Parisius finished, Jandun says, on November 4, 1323. Jandun begins with a prologue disparaging his opponentís work as conventional and generic. He writes that he was motivated to celebrate Paris because his opponent "in narrating the grace of Paris, for the description of which all languages would be insufficient, constituted his work only from generalities which move [the reader] but little or not at all, and from other similes and metaphors that, although they interest the soul somewhat, give the intellect neither certitude nor satisfaction, and further from not a few commonplaces collected elsewhere." This criticism leads the reader to expect a very specific and original discussion of Paris, and Jandun delivers on his promise. He concludes his prologue by announcing that his treatise will have four parts: the first, "de laudibus studii Parisiensis," praises the university; the second, "de quibusdam ceteris Parisiensis eminentiis," lauds other excellent features of Paris; the third, "de inconvenientibus predicti dictatoris," continues the prologueís attack on his opponent; the fourth, de utilitatibus Silvanecti, is Jandunís celebration of Senlis, included here, he says, to refute the dictatorís claim that he valued Senlis more highly than Paris.

Discussing the university, Jandun writes first of the Faculty of Arts to which he belonged, vaunting the professorsí learning in astrology, logic, mathematics, and optics. Moving on to the theologians, he praises their great erudition while noting their frequent lack of agreement. He cites in particular the debate between the realists and the nominalists: the former maintain that different members of the same species share a common essence which has real existence, while the latter deny this. It is significant that Jandun starts his Tractatus with a celebration of the city as a seat of learning. Like the citations of Aristotle and Cicero in his treatise on Senlis, and the academic one-upmanship animating the entire exchange, the universityís primacy in the Tractatus goes to confirm that Jandunís main audience was other professors in Paris.

Jandunís architectural observations appear in the second part of the Tractatus, where he treats others of Parisís most admirable features. Topics include the rich merchandise available in the city, its craftsmen, and its pleasing and practical situation on the Seine. But before touching on these topics, Jandun describes the cityís architecture. The first two chapters of the second part single out for praise three buildings: Notre-Dame, the Sainte-Chapelle, and the recently completed palace of Philip the Fair.

The first two of these buildings are among the most important extant examples of Gothic architecture. The cathedral of Notre-Dame, part of the episcopal complex on the eastern end of the Île-de-la-Cité, was begun in the mid-twelfth century; its interior was largely complete by about 1220. The construction of its western facade was finished around 1245, at which point the northern and then southern transept façades were added, while work on the ring of chapels surrounding the church continued into the fourteenth century. (images of Notre-Dame are available on the course website).

Occupying the grounds of the royal palace at the opposite end of the Île-de-la-Cité, the Sainte-Chapelle was built to house the relics of Christís passion which Louis IX brought to Paris in 1239. It was consecrated nine years later, in 1248. Lavishly endowed from the beginning, the chapel was also regularly enriched with new liturgical fittings and relics (including the head of Louis IX, already a saint, in 1306). The chapel has two levels, each with its own altar. The ground floor is comparatively low and has small windows, while the upper level, accessible by a gallery from the palace and by stairs from below, soars upwards and is enclosed in its upper reaches not with wall but with windows. The building served as a model for French royal and princely chapels into the sixteenth century. (images of the Sainte-Chapelle are available on the course website).

Compared to these two monuments, Philip the Fairís palace is little known, much of it having been destroyed, chiefly in the fires of 1618 and 1776; its few extant parts were swallowed up in later rebuildings, particularly in construction of the massive nineteenth-century Palais de Justice. Of the three buildings Jandun describes, the palace was the only one whose principal construction he might have witnessed. The palace he describes was largely the product of a building campaign that lasted from the 1290s to 1324, mostly during the reign of Philip the Fair. Building around the Sainte-Chapelle, Philip vastly increased the size of the earlier palace. His additions included new royal apartments and, most importantly, new chambers for official functions, including the Grand-Chambre used by Parlement. By far the most impressive of his additions was the Grand-Salle, which measured 70 by 27 meters. A central colonnade divided the hall into two halves, each of which was covered by a lofty wooden roof. The Grand-Salle also housed a set of statues depicting all the kings of France, which were placed against individual columns, with spaces left for future additions. Another famous fixture of the hall was an enormous black table, made of marble slabs brought from Germany and used as the table of honor during important diplomatic feasts.

The complex was accorded immense significance in its time. In the Grandes Chroniques de France, it was listed first among Philipís accomplishments in the eulogy which ends the account of his life: "Philip the Fair reigned eighteen years, and had made in Paris, by Enguerrand de Marigny, his coadjutant and governor of his realm, a new palace of marvelous and costly construction, the very most beautiful, as we believe, that has ever been seen." To get some idea of the symbolic importance of the palace, we may note that it sheltered institutions analogous to those housed in the Capitol, the White House, and the Supreme Court. Given its significance, the complex is arguably the most grievous loss in French architectural history, making Jandunís testimony all the more valuable.

Jandunís Descriptions

Jandun gives a general praise of Paris's churches, and then celebrates Notre-Dame above all of them. His text starts here:

That most terrible church of the most glorious Virgin Mary, mother of God, deservedly shines out, like the sun among stars. And although some speakers, by their own free judgment, because [they are] able to see only a few things easily, may say that some other is more beautiful, I believe however, respectfully, that, if they attend more diligently to the whole and the parts, they will quickly retract this opinion. Where indeed, I ask, would they find two towers of such magnificence and perfection, so high, so large, so strong, clothed round about with such a multiple variety of ornaments? Where, I ask, would they find such a multipartite arrangement of so many lateral vaults, above and below? Where, I ask, would they find such light-filled amenities as the many surrounding chapels? Furthermore, let them tell me in what church I may see such a large cross, of which one arm separates the choir from the nave. Finally, I would willingly learn where [there are] two such circles, situated opposite each other in a straight line, which on account of their appearance are given the name of the fourth vowel [O]; among which smaller orbs and circlets, with wondrous artifice, so that some arranged circularly, others angularly, surround windows ruddy with precious colors and beautiful with the most subtle figures of the pictures. In fact I believe that this church offers the carefully discerning such cause for admiration that its inspection can scarcely sate the soul.

But also that most beautiful of chapels, the chapel of the king, most decently situated within the walls of the king's house, enjoys a complete and indissoluble structure of the most solid stone. The most excellent colors of the pictures, the precious gilding of the images, the beautiful transparence of the ruddy windows on all sides, the most beautiful cloths of the altars, the wondrous merits of the sanctuary, the figures of the reliquaries externally adorned with dazzling gems, bestow such a hyperbolic beauty on that house of prayer, that, in going into it below, one understandably believes oneself, as if rapt to heaven, to enter one of the best chambers of Paradise.

O how salutary prayers to the all-powerful God pour out in these oratories, when the internal and spiritual purities of those praying correspond proportionally with the external and physical elegance of the oratory!

O how peacefully to the most holy God the praises are sung in these tabernacles, when the hearts of those singers are by the pleasing pictures of the tabernacle analogically beautified with the virtues!

O how acceptable to the most glorious God appear the offerings on these altars, when the life of those sacrificing shines in correspondence with the gilded light of the altars!

In that most illustrious seat of the French monarchy, excellent sign of a royal magnificence, a most glorious palace is built. Whose unbreachable walls have so much space between them that they could contain an infinite populace. In truth, for the glorious honor of remembrance, there are idols of the kings of France, who preceded this time, formed with such perfectly appropriate representations, that on first inspection one would almost judge that they were as if alive. But also the marble table, sparkling by means of its uniformly polished surface, placed under the light of the western windows, so that the guests look to the east, is assuredly of such magnitude, that if I presented its measure without offering proof, I fear no one would believe me.

Since indeed, that royal hall is not decorated on account of the obscene idleness of bestial luxury; nor is it made for the vain glory of the false and fictitious boasts; nor is it strengthened for destructive assemblies of tyrannical pride; but most appropriately adapted to the industrious, effective, and totally-solicitudinous prudent monarchy, commanding always increases of the public good. Truly in the broad and beautiful chamber, to which a door, built in the northern wall of the palace, gives entrance, which, on account of the greatly arduous business, demands a tranquil retreat, sit on the tribunal men of expert eyes, called the masters of Parlement.