de Paris (the Notre Dame Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris) lies on
the Île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine, and is the heart of
Catholicism in France. It also forms one of France's most popular
monuments, beating even the Eiffel Tower for the number of visitors
who pass through its doors. It stands on the site of Paris' first
Christian church, Saint Etienne Basilica, which was itself built on
the site of a Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter.
That first church, St Etienne Basilica,
was a 'magnificent church' which was built by the Merovingian
Frankish king of Paris, Childebert I, in 528. By the tenth century
it was already acknowledged as the city's cathedral. However, in
1160, having become the 'parish church of the kings of Europe,'
Bishop Maurice de Sully deemed the building unworthy of its lofty
role, and had it demolished, an act that would today have earned him
almost universal condemnation.
An important example of French Gothic
architecture, sculpture and stained glass, work on the current
cathedral began in 1163, during the reign of the Capetian king,
Louis VII, and opinion differs as to whether Bishop Maurice de Sully
or Pope Alexander III laid the cathedral's foundation stone.
Construction of the west front, with its distinctive two towers
which reach up to a total of sixty-nine metres (228 feet), began in
around 1200 before the nave had been completed.
The three west portals are magnificent
examples of early Gothic art. Sculpted in 1200-1240, many of the
statues, especially the larger ones, were destroyed in the
Revolution and remade in the nineteenth century. The south tower was
built to house the cathedral's famous bell, 'Emmanuel'. The bell
weighs thirteen metric tons (over 28,000 pounds), and its clapper
alone weighs 500 kilograms. The bell is Notre-Dame's oldest, having
been recast in 1631.
During the period of construction,
numerous architects worked on the site, and this is shown in the
differing styles at different heights of the west front and towers.
Between 1210 and 1220, the fourth architect to work on the project
oversaw the construction of the level which contains the rose window and the
great halls beneath the towers. The towers were finished around 1245
and the cathedral was finally completed in around 1345.
During the reigns of Louis XIV and
Louis XV at the end of the seventeenth century the cathedral
underwent major alterations, during which many tombs and stained
glass windows were destroyed. In 1793, the cathedral fell victim to
the French Revolution. Many sculptures and treasures were destroyed
or plundered. The cathedral was rededicated to the Cult of Reason
and later to the Cult of the Supreme Being. Lady Liberty replaced
the Virgin Mary on several altars.
The cathedral also came to be used as a
warehouse for the storage of food during the Revolution, a fate that
befell many churches in France (and similarly Estonian churches
during the Soviet period), but a restoration program was initiated
in 1845, overseen by architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and
Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. The restoration work lasted twenty-three
years, and included the construction of a spire and the addition of
the Gothic gargoyles (chimères).
The King's Gallery is a line of statues
of the twenty-eight kings of Judah and Israel. These were designed
by Viollet-le-Duc to replace the statues destroyed during the
Revolution. The revolutionaries mistakenly believed the statues to
be French kings instead of biblical kings, so they decapitated them.
Some of the heads were found during a 1977 excavation nearby and are
now on display at the Museum of the Middle Ages at Place Paul
Painlevé, off the Boulevard Saint-Germain.
In 1871, a civil uprising leading to
the establishment of the short-lived Paris Commune nearly set fire
to the cathedral. In 1905, the law of separation of Church and State
was passed, and as with all cathedrals, Notre-Dame remains state
property with its use granted to the Roman Catholic Church. A Te
Deum Mass was held to celebrate the liberation of
Paris on 26 August 1944, and a Requiem Mass for General Charles de
Gaulle took place in the cathedral on 12 November 1970.
In 1991, a major restoration program was
undertaken. It was expected to last for ten years but continued well
into the following century. The cleaning and restoration of the old
sculptures was an exceedingly delicate job, but the scaffolding
eventually came down leaving the cathedral looking as clean and
brilliant as when it was first built, without any of the signs of
black industrial stains that covered it in the previous decade.
One photo on this page contributed by Emilie