Notre Dame Cathedral – The foundation


Notre-Dame Cathedral and square

A masterpiece of Gothic architecture, Notre-Dame Cathedral commands admiration by its size and harmony.

The 130m long and 35m wide cathedral can accommodate 9,000 people.

Notre Dame Cathedral carried through the centuries the spiritual and religious heritage of the people of Paris, these generations of kings, queens, emperors, heroes and ordinary citizens.

Built on the site of the Roman temple, the cathedral became the spiritual heart of the capital.

The Temple of Jupiter built by the Romans 2,000 years ago, was replaced in 375AD by a chapel dedicated to St. Etienne.

In 528AD the Merovingian King Childebert built a chapel dedicated to Notre Dame on the location of the current sacristy.

By the 12th century the two buildings had unfortunately fallen into ruins.

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Notre-Dame Cathedral

In 1163 the Bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, commissioned the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral on their site.

The work lasted from 1165 to 1230 but the altar was consecrated only in 1196.

Many buildings such as the lateral chapels, the transept portal and blow-reliefs were added in the decades that followed.

Notre Dame Cathedral was completed in 1330.

Notre Dame Cathedral’s architecture is a perfect illustration of early Gothic.

The flying buttresses were built during the 14th century to house lateral chapels and the huge rose windows to allow the light into the nave.

Generations of artisans and workers contributed to its construction.

Their names were lost in the mists of time.

What we know about them is that they worked under the direction of the most famous master-builders of the time such as Jean de Chelles, Pierre de Montreuil, Jean Ravy and Jean le Boutellier among others.


Notre-Dame Cathedral in Autumn

Surprisingly, the name of the architect of Notre Dame Cathedral is unknown.

Sadly the cathedral was severely damaged and looted during the French Revolution.

All the bells but one were dismantled and melted!

Notre Dame Cathedral was in a pitiful state when Napoleon I was crowned there in 1804.

Heavy tapestries had to be hung to hide the many holes and cracks in the walls.

Victor Hugo saved Notre Dame Cathedral when he published his novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831.

He launched a series of petitions which resulted in the awareness of public on the state of the cathedral.

The French State voted to allocate necessary funds and commissioned the architect Lassus to restore Notre Dame Cathedral.

Lassus died in 1857 and was replaced by Viollet-le-Duc who devoted 25 years of his career to return the cathedral to its beauty and grandeur of 1330.

Notre Dame Cathedral fortunately escaped the devastation of the Commune of Paris in 1871, the last great revolt of the 19th century, as the torch the revolutionaries used could not be lit.

Le Chemin du Jubilé in Notre Dame Cathedral

The year 2013 marks 850 years of history, art and spirituality of Notre Dame Cathedral.


2013 – Chemin du Jubilé

This important anniversary is celebrated with the Chemin du Jubilé.

This unique event took place from December 12, 2012 to November 24, 2013 under the patronage of the President of the Republic, the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, ministry of culture and communication, the Mayor of Paris and Mr Jacques Chirac.

The cathedral square known as Parvis Notre Dame was transformed to accommodate various cultural and religious festivities, ceremonies, thanksgiving, conferences, exhibitions and extravaganza.

Major redevelopment and restoration works were carried out in 2012 including the production of nine new bells, a new layout for the cathedral’s treasury, the restoration of the Shrine of Ste Geneviève the patron saint of Paris, the restoration of the magnificent Porte Rouge – Red Door, and the renovation of the Grand Organ and the indoor lighting.

The 850th anniversary’s celebrations focused on the concept of pilgrimage, therefore all through the year visitors were offered a free mini pilgrimage.

Le Chemin des 850 ans started under a 13m high portal and lead people to the magnificent facade with its three sculpted gateways, then inside the cathedral to admire the many outstanding work of art.

Notre Dame Cathedral’s facade


Notre-Dame’s majestic facade

The construction of the impressive 41m wide by 63 m high facade began in 1200 under the supervision of the third architect.

It was completed in 1270 when Guillaume d’Auvergne was bishop.

The harmony of the facade comes from the arrangement of the horizontal and vertical planes.

The towers and buttresses appear to be projected towards the sky as if to symbolize the elevation of the human soul towards God.

It is composed of four superimposed levels – portals, Galerie des Rois, rose window and upper gallery – crowned by two 79m high square towers.

The north tower – slightly taller – was completed in 1240, and the south in 1250.

They both offer one of the finest views over Paris.

Notre Dame Cathedral – Portal of the Last Judgment

The central portal, the Portal of the Last Judgment is framed by the Portal to the Virgin to the left (when facing Notre Dame Cathderal) and the Portal to Sainte-Anne to the right.


Portal of the Last Judgement

The construction of the Portal of the Last Judgment by St Matthew was completed in the 1220s-1230s, after that of the other two portals.

The tympanum is adorned with an impressive sculpture of Christ seated on His Throne of Majesty.

The low relief located below represents the Dead that are resurrected and the Archangel St Michael weighing their souls.

The lower low relief represent their souls being directed either to Heaven or to Hell.

The arches framing the tympanum are sculpted with angels, prophets, martyrs and virgins and end above the statues of the Twelve Apostles.

The portal was severely damaged during the French Revolution but was restored.

New statues sculpted during the renovation work carried out by Viollet le Duc.

The buttresses placed on each side of the portals are adorned with statues representing St-Etienne, St-Denis, the Synagogue and the Church.

Notre dame Cathedral – Sainte Anne Portal

Sainte Anne Portal is located on the right side of the facade.

It was built at the very beginning of the 13th century before the other two portals.

The tympanum was recovered from St Etienne, the church demolished to free space for the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral.

It is decorated with a sculpture of the Virgin with Child.

Mary is seated on a throne which is guarded by an angel on each side.


Portal of Sainte-Anne

The Bishop of Paris is represented standing to her right and the King of France to her left.

The upper low relief is sculpted with scenes from the wedding of Joachim and that of Mary and Joseph.

The lower lower relief is dedicated to the arrival of Christ on earth from the Annunciation until the Epiphany.

The arches framing the tympanum are carved with statues of prophets, martyrs, angels and Elders of the Apocalypse.

Eight statues representing the Queen of Sheba, Saint Peter, St Paul, King Solomon, King David, two unidentified kings and Bathsheba stand below the arches that frame the portal.

These statues were sculpted during the restoration work of Viollet le Duc as the original statues had been destroyed during the Revolution.

The stunning wooden doors are the original 13th century doors!

They are separated by a column bearing the statue of St Marcel, one of the patron saints of Paris.

Notre dame Cathedral – Portal of the Virgin


Portal of the Virgin

Portal of the Virgin is on the left hand side of the facade.

It was built in the 1210s-1220s.

It is dedicated to the Virgin’s death and ascension to Heaven and her coronation as Queen of Heavens.

She is represented in Heaven sitting next to Jesus who crowns her Queen.

The upper low relief shows Mary on her deathbed.

The lower low relief depicts three prophets and three kings of the Old Testament seated on either side of the Ark of Covenant.

Nine life-size statues representing the Emperor Constantine, two angels, St-Denis and Ste-Geneviève the patron saints of Paris, St John the Baptist, St Etienne and Pope St-Sylvestre stand below the arches that frame the portal.

These statues date from the restoration conducted by Viollet le Duc in the mid 19th century.

Notre Dame Cathedral – Galerie des Rois and Balcon de la Vierge

The Gallery of Kings of Judea is located just above the three portals and traverses the entire width of the facade.

Notre-Dame-Cathedral-Kings-Gallery-Virgin-BalconyThe 28 statues which represent the kings of Judea, the descendants of Jesus, were originally polychrome.

They were sculpted in the early 13th century and became soon mistaken for those of the kings of France, which earned them the terrible fate of being beheaded and looted during the French Revolution in the late 18th century.

The current statues were sculpted in the Geoffroi-Dechaume workshops in 1843, during the restoration work undertaken by Viollet le Duc.

Fragments (143) of the original statues were discovered during construction work conducted in La Chaussée d’Antin district.

These statues are now exhibited in the Cluny Museum.

An impressive rose window marks the center of the facade.

It serves as a halo to the statue of the Virgin Mary with Child which is on the balcony – Balcon de la Vierge.

The rose window has a diameter of 9,60m and is the largest stained-glass created during the 13th century.

Notre Dame Cathedral – Upper gallery and gargoyles

The towers are joined by a gallery consisting of 5m high columns adorn with gargoyles.

These are supposed to protect the cathedral against evil spirits.

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Gargoyles – gargouilles in French – are carved stone figures also known as grotesques which were mostly used in religious medieval architecture.

They act as gutters as they collect the water running down the roof and have an elongated shape to deflect it as far away as possible from the walls in order to protect the masonry.

Gargoyles are mostly shaped as fantastic animals and mythical creatures such as chimera and can look quite scary.

Some look like monks or combinations of real animals and people and are quite humorous.

Their origin is rooted in the legend of St Romain who was bishop of Rouen during the 7th century, and delivered the region from a dragon named Gargouille.

The terrifying beast was burnt on the city square but his head and neck remained intact as they were protected by the fire it breathed from its mouth.

It was then decided that the dragon’s head would be mounted on Rouen newly built church’s walls to scare off evil spirits and therefore protect the building.

The use of gargoyles as gutters disappeared during the early 18th century when modern drainpipes were ‘invented’.

Portal of Saint Etienne in Notre Dame Cathedral

Pierre de Montreuil added a gabled to the south transept in the late 1250s.

It acts as a counterpoint to the splendid south portal built by Jean de Chelles a decade earlier.


Saint-Etienne Portal

The tympanum of the Portal of St Etienne is adorned with sculptures depicting the life of St Etienne and other saints.

The most significant change in design came in the mid 13th century, when the transepts were remodeled in the latest Rayonnant style.

Jean de Chelles added a gabled portal to the north transept in the 1240s to enhance the spectacular rose window.

In the late 1250s Pierre de Montreuil reproduced a similar architectural feature on the South transept to match that created by Jean de Chelles.

Both transept portals were richly embellished with sculpture.

The south portal features scenes from the lives of St Stephen and of various local saints.

The north portal featured the infancy of Christ and the story of Theophilus in the tympanum, with a highly influential statue of the Virgin and Child in the trumeau.

Bells of Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral had 20 bells before the French Revolution (1789):

8 bells in the North Tower, 2 bourdon bells (Marie and Emmanuel) in the South Tower, 7 bells in the spire, and 3 bells in the north transept.

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The bells were all dismantled and melted in 1791-92.

Only Emmanuel, the 13-ton bourdon bell and centre piece cast in 1686 was spared and replaced in the South Tower in 1802 on the orders of Emperor Napoleon I.

It is said that its unique sound comes from the gold and silver jewellery donated by wealthy parishioners of the time and added to the molten metal.

Emmanuel is listed as an Historical Monument.

The smaller bourdon bell is named Marie, in honor of course the Virgin Mary, but also in remembrance of the first bell of Notre Dame Cathedral cast in 1378.


The spire of Notre-Dame

The four bells installed in the North Tower in 1856 (and considered of poor quality) were replaced for the celebrations of the Chemin du Jubilé celebrations.

The Cornille-Havard foundry in Villedieu-les-Poëles in Normandy was selected for the production of new bells, and the Royal Eijsbouts foundry in the Netherlands for that of the bourdon bell Marie.

The bells were consecrated by Cardinal Vingt-Trois, the Archbishop of Paris, on February 2, 2013.

They were exhibited in the nave during the whole month of February, and rang for the first time on March 23, 2013!

The new eight bells of Notre Dame Cathedral North Tower all bear a name.

Gabriel was of course the name of the archangel who announced the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary, but it was also the name of the North Tower’s largest bell during the 15th century.


Notre-Dame interior – one of the chandeliers

Anne-Geneviève honors Sainte Anne, Mary’s mother, and Sainte-Geneviève the patron saint of Paris.

Denis was named in honor of Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris in 250AD, and the patron saint of the diocese.

Marcel honors Saint Marcel, the 9th bishop of Paris (late 4th century) and other patron saint of Paris.

Etienne was named after Saint-Etienne, the first martyr of the New Testament, but also after the basilica erected in 690AD and later replaced by the current cathedral.

Benoît-Joseph was named in honor of Joseph Ratzinger -Pope Benedict XVI since 2005.

Maurice was named in memory of Maurice de Sully, the 72nd Bishop of Paris (from 1160 to 1196) who initiated the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral in 1163.

Finally Jean-Marie was named after Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, who was the 139th Archbishop of Paris from 1981 to 2005.

Notre Dame cathedral’s Spire

The spire of Notre Dame Cathedral is located at the junction of the transept and nave.

Destroyed during the Revolution, it was completely restored by Viollet-le-Duc.

Rose windows of Notre Dame Cathedral


North rose window

The three rose windows of Notre Dame Cathedral are true masterpieces of religious architecture and art.

King St-Louis commissioned the master builders Jean de Chelles and Pierre de Montreuil with the creation of the south rose window.

Jean de Chelles, the first master builder of Notre Dame Cathedral, laid the first stone of the south transept’s facade in 1258.

The rose window was created in 1260 as a counterpoint to the north rose window which was built in 1250.

Both rose windows have a diameter of 12.90m and are 19m high including their bay.

The south rosette depicts the New Testament, with Christ triumphant and ruling in Paradise.

The base is adorned with the prophets.

It is composed of 84 panels distributed in 4 circles.

The first circle has 12 medallions, and the 2nd 24.

The 3rd circle is composed of quatrefoil-shaped patterns, and the 4th circle of 24 medallions with quatrefoils.

The number of circles, patterns and medallions are all multiples of 4.


South rose window

The rosette was rebuilt in 1543 to correct the sagging of the stonework due to the lack of maintenance of the precedent two centuries.

It was restored in 1723 and 1727.

It was damaged by fire during the Revolution of 1830 and was rebuilt during the restoration work of the cathedral led by Viollet le Duc in the mid 19th century.

A section was rebuilt as the stonework had collapsed and the rose window was turned 15 degrees in order to re-balance it.

Some motifs and medallions damaged or missing along with those depicting the prophets at the base had to be recreated.

The western rose window occupies the center of the main facade.

It measures 9,60m in diameter and is the largest stained-glass created during the 13th century.

Notre Dame Cathedral – Sacristy

Viollet le Duc entirely rebuilt the sacristy in Neo-Gothic  in order to integrate it into the existing architecture.

The sacristy is organized around a small cloister decorated with 18 stained-glass windows created by the glass-maker Gérente and depicting the legend of Ste-Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris.

The main bay’s medallion represents the Coronation of the Virgin.

Half of these windows are open to the public during the visit of Notre Dame Cathedral’s treasure.

Notre dame Cathedral – Organ

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The great organ of Notre-Dame

The Great Organ was created in the 15th century and fifty organists have since played on its keyboards.

The organ was restored a first time in the 18th century when it took its present proportions, and in 1868 by the famous organ builder Aristide Caviallé-Coll during the restoration of Notre Dame by Viollet-le-Duc.

The electronic transmission was improved in 2012 in preparation for the Chemin du Jubilé celebrations.

The Grand Orgue of Notre Dame Cathedral, however, will be completely disassembled in 2014 to replace various mechanisms and restore the facade pipes.

Those who enjoy Sacred Music can attend free organ concerts every Sunday in the cathedral during opening hours.

Notre Dame Cathedral – Porte Rouge – Red Door

The Porte Rouge – Red Door – was named after the colour of its leaves.

It is located on the northern wall of the chancel and led to the former cloisters.


Porte Rouge – Red Door

It was built by Pierre de Montreuil in 1250s as suggested by the sculpted garland of hawthorn (his sculptural signature).

This splendid door was restored in 2012 in preparation of the Chemin du Jubilé.

The door’ s single arch is sculpted with scenes from the life of St-Marcel, one of the patron saints of Paris.

The tympanum is carved with a scene representing the Coronation of the Virgin Mary.

Two sculptures representing King St. Louis and his wife Marguerite of Provence, the two sponsors of this work, once were at the base of the door.

A very clear Eastern influence, probably introduced by the Crusaders on their return from the Holy Land, is reflected in the style of the lower low relief which resembles a tapestry.

Notre Dame Cathedral – Porte du Cloître – Cloisters Door


Porte du Cloitre – Cloisters Door

Jean de Chelles remodelled the transepts in Gothic Rayonnant style.

He built the magnificent Cloisters Portal in the 1240s and topped it with the equally magnificent north rose window.

The Cloisters Door is located a few steps away from the Porte Rouge.

This portal connected Notre Dame Cathedral to the Canons’ lodgings.

The outside of the wall, where the Rue Massillon joins the Rue du Cloître Notre-Dame, is decorated with 13th century low reliefs which most likely had been carved at this location for teaching purposes.

Directions: 4th district
Metro station: Ile de la Cité on Line 4

Coordinates and map Notre Dame Cathedral: Lat 48.853250 – Long 2.348886


Sites of interest near Notre Dame Cathedral?  Ile de la Cité, Archaeological Crypt Notre-Dame, Ile Saint-Louis,  Fontaine St-Michel, Latin Quarter, St-Séverin Church, St-Julien-le-Pauvre Church

Source photos Wikimedia Commons: Emmanuel Bourdon Bell Attribution Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license Gargoyle Chimera Attribution Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licenseGreat Organ of Notre-Dame Attribution Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license