A historic Roman Catholic cathedral, the Notre-Dame de Paris graces the
eastern half of the Île de la Cité and contains the official chair of the
Archbishop of Paris. One of the world’s largest, most well-known and
most-visited churches, it is also one of the finest examples of French Gothic
architecture. It is also said to house the crown of thorns, a piece of the True
Cross, and one of the Holy Nails—all first-class relics.
In the 1100s, the church of Paris had become the „Parisian church of the
kings of Europe“ and the 4th century Paris cathedral (Saint-Étienne) was
apparently deemed unworthy of the role by Bishop Maurice de Sully. It is said
that he had a vision of a magnificent new cathedral and drew it on the ground
outside the old one. Bishop de Sully devoted most of his life and money to the
construction of the Notre Dame, until his death in 1196.
It is obvious by the differing heights and styles in some parts that numerous
architects worked on the site. The construction was collaborative; the Church,
notable Parisian residents, and the whole population of Paris offered money,
know-how, and labor.
Completed in 1345—some 100 years after construction began—the cathedral
was originally covered in vivid colors, as were the famous chimeras and
gargoyles. It was among the first buildings in the world to use flying
buttresses and had narrow spiral staircases leading up to the top. You can still
climb these today and look out over a spectacular view of Paris.
Notre Dame has played host to many great events, like the crowning of Henry
VI as King of France, the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots to the Dauphin
Francis II of France, and the beatification and canonization of Joan of Arc.
And, of course, it is the site of the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, written
by Victor Hugo in 1831.
The cathedral has endured much through history, including damage to features,
statues, tombs, and stained glass windows. During the French Revolution of the
1790s, many of its treasures were destroyed or stolen, and statues on the
façade were beheaded (the heads being found in 1977 and now displayed in the
Musée de Cluny). Some depictions of the Virgin Mary were even replaced by Lady
Liberty for a time, and the cathedral was used for storing food! Restoration of
the cathedral was initiated in 1845 and took 25 years. It was damaged again
during the Second World War and some of the stained glass windows were remade
but with a more geometric pattern.
The organ was rebuilt during the 19th century and has 7,800 pipes, 900 of
which are classified as historical. The Towers at Notre Dame hold 5 bells, the
largest of which, Emmanuel, was made in 1681 and hangs in the South Tower. The
four in the North Tower are currently being melted down and recast into
8 bells, to be rehung in 2013. The Marie, a 9th bell, will hang with Emmanuel
and they are all designed to sound like the originals.
The exterior is still stunning, despite the color having worn off, and hides
many treasures inside, too. The stained glass windows are a sight to behold, and
they depict stories of saints, including that of Saint Genevieve, the patroness
of Paris. The three
beautiful rosettes (the South, West and North Roses) refract multicolored light
along the cathedral walls—just wonderful! The 14th century Virgin with Child
statue is renowned, as are The Mays of Notre Dame (large paintings accompanied
by poems) of which there are over 70.
The crypt was built as recently as 1965 to protect historical ruins and, as
well as holding the remains of saints, contain a large exhibit, it’s main
feature being the under-floor heating installed by the Romans.
You can easily get to the site of Notre Dame as there are several Métro
stations nearby; Cité, Saint-Michel (line 4), Cluny-La Sorbonne,
Maubert-Mutualité (line 10) Chatelet (lines 7, 11 and 14) and Hôtel de Ville
(lines 1 and 11). Train RER (lines B and C) also stop nearby at
Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame, as do several bus lines (21, 38, 47, 85, 96, 24,
Weekdays: 8 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Sat, Sun: 8 a.m. to 7:15 p.m.
Phone: +33 1 4234 5610