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 around 1345.
During the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV
at the end of the seventeenth century the cathedral underwent
major alterations, destroying many tombs and stained glass
windows. 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
food storage warehouse 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 statues destroyed
during the Revolution. The revolutionaries had believed
those statues to be of French kings instead of biblical
kings, so they decapitated them. Some heads were found
during a 1977 excavation and are now on display at the
Museum of the Middle Ages at Place Paul Painlevé, off the
In 1871, a civil uprising leading to the creation
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 here 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 kindly contributed by Emilie