This is the second of the series on the great gothic
cathédrales de France.
is the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages and is distinguished for its size, antiquity, and architectural interest. Nôtre-Dame-de-Paris
was built almost simultaneously with la cathédrale Nôtre-Dame-de-Chartres
, and like Chartres, was one of the first to employ flying buttresses to support the walls.
lies at the eastern end of l'île de la Cité
and was built on the ruins of two earlier churches, one of which was Paris' first Christian church, la Basilique de Saint-Étienne
, which was itself built on the site of a Gallo-Roman temple to Jupiter. Nôtre-Dame's first version was a "magnificent church" built by Childebert I, the king of the Franks in 528, and was already the cathedral of the city of Paris in the X ème siecle
. The present cathedral was initiated by Maurice de Sully, bishop, évêque de Paris
, who about 1160 conceived the idea of converting into a single building, on a larger scale, the ruins of the two earlier basilicas. According to legend, de Sully had a vision of a glorious new cathédrale
for Paris, and sketched it in the dirt outside of the original church. The foundation stone was laid by Pope Alexander III in 1163. The high altar was consecrated in 1189. The choir, the western façade, and the nave were completed by 1250. The porches, chapels, and other embellishments were added over the next 100 years.
La cathédrale de Nôtre-Dame
consists of a choir and apse, a short transept, and a nave flanked by double aisles and square chapels. Its central spire was added during restoration in the XIX ème siecle
. The interior of the cathedral is 427 by 157 feet (130 by 48 metres) in plan, and the roof is 115 feet (35 metres) high. Two massive Early Gothic towers (1210–50) crown the western facade, which is divided into three stories and has its doors adorned with fine Early Gothic carvings and surmounted by a row of figures of Old Testament kings. The two towers are 223 feet (68 metres) high; the spires with which they were to be crowned were never added. At the cathedral's east end, the apse has large clerestory windows (added 1235–70) and is supported by single-arch flying buttresses of the more daring Rayonnant Gothic style, especially notable for their boldness and grace. The cathedral's three great rose windows, 32 feet (10 metres) in diameter, alone retain their 13th-century glass.
The south rose window, Nôtre-Dame-de-Paris
suffered damage and deterioration through the centuries. In 1793 during the French Revolution, the cathedral was turned into a "Temple to Reason" and many of its treasures were destroyed or stolen. For a time Lady Liberty replaced the Virgin Mary on several altars. Many sculptures were smashed and destroyed. A series of sculptures, The Kings of Judea, were beheaded and removed from the church. A school teacher rescued the heads and buried them in his yard. The twenty-one heads were discovered in a 1977 excavation near Nôtre-Dame. You can see them next to the headless robed figures that they once were attached too at the Musée National du Moyen Age
only a short distance from la cathédrale
across la Seine
on the rive gauche
Adam and Eve, Nôtre-Dame-de-Paris
The cathedral's great bells managed to avoid being melted down, but la cathédrale
was used as a warehouse for the storage of food. For a time, prostitutes were turning tricks in the great choir. After the French Revolution la cathédrale
was rescued from possible destruction by Napoléon
, who crowned himself emperor of the French in the cathedral in 1804.
The organ and west rose window, Nôtre-Dame-de-Paris
In the the early XIX ème siecle, la cathedrale
was in a state of disrepair, and city planners began to contemplate tearing it down. French novelist Victor Hugo
, an admirer of la cathédrale
, wrote his novel of 1831, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (titled in French Nôtre-Dame-de-Paris
), in part to raise awareness of the cathedral's heritage, which sparked renewed interest in the cathedral's fate. A campaign to collect funds to save la cathédrale
followed, culminating in the 1845 restoration. The restoration program was overseen by architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and lasted 23 years.
Two of the chapels, Nôtre-Dame-de-Paris
In 1991, another major program of maintenance and restoration was initiated, which was intended to last 10 years but is still in progress as of 2005, the cleaning and restoration of old sculptures being an exceedingly delicate matter.
On the parvis
, square, in front of la cathédrale
is France's "kilometre zero", the reference point for distances along the highways starting in Paris.
La cathédrale Nôtre-Dame-de-Paris
is as much a symbol of Paris as is la tour Eiffel
. She is still a functioning parish church with daily masses, and is still the seat for the archévêque de Paris
- • -
Significant Events at Nôtre-Dame-de-Paris
• Heraclius of Caesarea called for the Third Crusade from the still-incomplete cathedral in 1185.
• Henry VI of England was crowned King of France in 1431.
• Mary I of Scotland was married to the Dauphin Francois (later Francois II of France), son of Henri II
of France, on le 24 avril 1558
• Henry of Navarre (later Henri IV
of France) married Marguerite de Valois on le 18 août 1572
• Napoléon Bonaparte, who had declared the Empire on le 28 mai 1804
, crowned himself Emperor here on le décembre 1804
• Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909.
Sainte Jeanne d'Arc
• The Te Deum Mass took place in the cathedral to celebrate the liberation
of Paris on le 26 août 1944
• The Requiem Mass of General Charles de Gaulle
took place in the cathedral on le 12 novembre 1970.
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The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)
Great Medieval Churches and Cathedrals of Europe