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The Basilique Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart
Basilica) is a Roman Catholic church which sits at the very summit
of Montmartre, the highest point in Paris. The basilica's dome is
the second-highest viewpoint after the Eiffel Tower. France's
catastrophic defeat by the Prussians in the Franco-Prussian War,
which ended in 1870, and its aftermath, the Paris Commune of 1871,
the basilica was planned as a guilt offering and a vote of confidence
to cure France's misfortunes.
The site on which the basilica is built is traditionally
associated with the beheading of the city's patron, Saint Denis, in the
third century. According to legend, after he was martyred, Bishop Denis
picked up his severed head and carried it several miles to the north,
where the suburb of Saint-Denis stands today. The basilica was designed
by Paul Abadie in a Romanesque-Byzantine architectural style, inspired
by St Front in Perigueux (in the Dordogne).
The foundation stone was laid in 1875, and work was
paid for by national subscription. The church was built of Château-Landon
stone, a frost-resistant travertine that bleaches with age to a gleaming
white. It was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a cult that gained
popularity after the first pilgrimage was organised to Paray-le-Monial in
Burgundy in 1873, where revelations encouraging prayer to Christ's sacred
heart had been reported in the seventeenth century.
The basilica was consecrated in 1891, although the work
was not fully completed until 1914. It was elevated to the status of a
basilica in 1919, after the end of the First World War. It has much in
common, both historically and architecturally, with the Basilica Notre-Dame
de Fourviere in Lyon. The triple-arched portico is surmounted by two bronze
equestrian statues of France's national saints, Joan of Arc and King Saint
Louis IX, designed by Hippolyte Lefebvre.
The basilica is filled with nationalistic references.
Even the great bell, the Savoyarde, has nationalist references because
Savoy was annexed to France in 1860. Cast in Annecy in 1895, the bell is
one of the world's heaviest at a weight of nineteen tons.
The apse mosaic, designed by Luc-Olivier Merson in 1922, is the
largest in the world. It depicts Christ in Majesty and The Sacred
Heart worshiped by the Virgin Mary, Joan of Arc and St Michael the
The main portal has grand bronze doors with foliage
designs. Inside, the Sacré-Coeur is dim and rather gloomy except for the
golden mosaics glowing from the apse. The floor plan is an equal-armed Greek
cross, with a large dome of eighty-three metres high over the crossing. In
the huge choir, eleven tall round arches support a barrel vault.
The crypt contains statues of saints and a relic that some believe
to be the very Sacred Heart (Sacré-Coeur) of Christ.