NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL
Notre-Dame dominates the Seine River and the Ile-de-la-Cité (small
island) as well as the history of Paris. On the spot where this majestic
cathedral now stands, the Romans had built a temple to Jupiter, which
was followed by a Christian basilica and then a Romanesque church.
Maurice de Sully, bishop of Paris, decided
to build a new cathedral for the expanding population, dedicated to the
Virgin Mary. Although construction started in 1163, it was not completed
until roughly 180 years later in about 1345. Built in an age of
illiteracy, the cathedral retells the stories of the Bible in its
portals, paintings, and stained glass.
Notre Dame has had an eventful history over the centuries. Crusaders
prayed here before leaving on their holy wars, and polyphonic music
developed in the cathedral. Notre-Dame was pillaged during the French
revolution, as were a number of other cathedrals throughout France
Many of the cathedral's other treasures were either destroyed or
plundered — only the great bells avoided being melted down.
Revolutionaries dedicated the cathedral first to the cult of Reason, and
then to the cult of the Supreme being. The church interior was used as a
warehouse for the storage of food.
During the 19th century, writer Victor Hugo and artists such as Ingres
called attention to the dangerous state of disrepair into which the
Cathedral had fallen, thus raising a new awareness of its artistic
value. Whereas 18th-century neoclassicists had virtually ignored the
creations of the Middle Ages — and had even replaced the stained glass
at Notre-Dame with normal glass — the 19th-century romantics saw that
remote period with new eyes and greater appreciation.
In his restoration of the cathedral (begun in 1844 and lasting 23
years), Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc reinstated the triforium and
small clerestory windows in the eastern bay of the nave. The sculpture
on the west facade, badly damaged during the French Revolution, was also
restored during this period.
Yet it is the art of Notre-Dame, rather
than its history, that still awes. The west front contains 28 statues
representing the monarchs of Judea and Israel. The three portals depict,
from left to right, the Last Judgment; the Madonna and Child; St. Anne,
the Virgin's mother; and Mary's youth until the birth of Jesus. The
interior, with its slender, graceful columns, is impressive — there is
room for as many as 6,000 worshipers. The three rose windows — to the
west, north, and south — are masterful, their colors a glory to behold
on a sunny day.
Events at Notre Dame Cathedral
Crown of Thorns placed in the Cathedral by St. Louis during the
construction of Sainte-Chapelle.
the Fair opens the first States General.
VI of England is crowned. Mary Stuart becomes Queen of France after her
marriage to François II, and is crowned.
Marguerite de Valois is married to the Huguenot Henri de Navarre.
December 2, 1804
the anointing by Pius VII, Napoléon seizes the crown from the pontiff
and crowns first himself, then Josephine.
August 26, 1944
The Te Deum Mass celebrates the liberation
November 12, 1970
Requiem Mass of General de Gaulle is held.
May 31, 1980
After the Magnificat of this day, Pope John Paul II celebrates Mass on
the parvis in front of the Cathedral.
: Métro: Cité or St-Michel. RER: Châtelet-Les-Halles or St-Michel.
Buses: 21, 24, 27, 38, 47, 85, 96
Cathedral open daily 7:45 a.m. - 6:45 p.m. (closed Sat. 12:30 - 2 p.m.);
Crypt, Apr.-Sept. daily 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Oct.-Mar. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.;
Museum, Wed. and Sat.-Sun. 2:30 - 6 p.m.; Treasury, Mon.-Sat. 9:30 a.m.