Religious sites in France

Notre Dame de Paris

Construction history The Notre Dame de Paris stands on the site of Paris' first Christian church, Saint Etienne basilica, which was itself built on the site of a Roman temple to Jupiter. The first church was built by Childebert I, the king of the Franks, in 528, and was already the cathedral of the city of Paris in the 10th century. However, in 1160, having become the 'parish church of the kings of Europe,' Bishop Mauric ...
Founded: 1163 | Location: Paris, France

Sacré-Coeur

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica. It is a popular landmark located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Sacré-Cœur is a double monument, political and cultural, both a national penance for the defeat of France in the 1871 Franco-Prussian War and the socialist Paris Commune of 1871 ...
Founded: 1875-1919 | Location: Paris, France

Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle (The Holy Chapel) is a 13th-century Gothic chapel on the Île de la Cité in the heart of Paris, France. Sainte-Chapelle was founded by the ultra-devout King Louis IX of France, who constructed it as a chapel for the royal palace and to house precious relics. The palace itself has otherwise utterly disappeared, leaving the Sainte-Chapelle all but surrounded by the Palais de Justice. Unlike many devout ari ...
Founded: 1241-1248 | Location: Paris, France

Strasbourg Cathedral

Strasbourg Cathedral de Notre-Dame is known as one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals in Europe. The Cathedral stands on the exact site of a roman temple built on a little hill above the muddy ground. The first version of the church was starting to be built during 1015 by proposal of Bishop Werner von Habsburg, but fire destroyed most of the original Romanesque building. By the time that cathedral was being renovated ...
Founded: 1015-1469 | Location: Strasbourg, France

Mont Saint Michel Abbey

The first written text about an abbey dates from the 9th century. When Christianity expanded to this area, around the 4th century, Mont Tombe, the original name of Mont Saint Michel, was part of diocèse d’Avranches. By the middle of the 6th century, christianism had a stronger presence in the bay. By this time, Mont Tombe was populated by religious devots, hermits (probably some Celtic monks) resupplied by th ...
Founded: 709 AD | Location: Le Mont-Saint-Michel, France

Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre Church

Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre is a Melkite Greek Catholic parish church in Paris, France, and one of the city's oldest religious buildings. It replaced a Merovingian refuge for pilgrims, or an older church dating back to the 6th century. The earliest mention of such a site was found in texts authored by Gregory, bishop of Tours, who resided there during the rule of Chilperic I, king of Neustria. A synagogue serving the Jewish re ...
Founded: 1210-1220 | Location: Paris, France

Avignon Cathedral

Avignon Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop. The cathedral is a Romanesque building, built primarily in the second half of the 12th century. The bell tower collapsed in 1405 and was rebuilt in 1425. In 1670-1672 the apse was rebuilt and extended. The building was abandoned and allowed to deteriorate during the Revolution, but it was reconsecrated in 1822 and restored by the archbishop Célestin Dupont in 1835-1 ...
Founded: 1670-1672 | Location: Avignon, France

Chartres Cathedral

Partly built starting in 1145, and then reconstructed over a 26-year period after the fire of 1194, Chartres Cathedral marks the high point of French Gothic art. The vast nave, in pure ogival style, the porches adorned with fine sculptures from the middle of the 12th century, and the magnificent 12th and 13th century stained-glass windows, all in remarkable condition, combine to make it a masterpiece. The construction pr ...
Founded: 1145-1260 | Location: Chartres, France

Saint-Jacques Tower

Saint-Jacques Flamboyant Gothic tower is all that remains of the former 16th-century Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, which was demolished in 1797, during the French Revolution, leaving only the tower. What remains of the destroyed church of St. Jacques La Boucherie is now considered a national historic landmark. The tower's rich decoration reflects the wealth of its patrons, the wholesale butchers of the nearby ...
Founded: 1509-1523 | Location: Paris, France

St. Trophime Church

The Church of St. Trophime (Trophimus) is former cathedral built between the 12th century and the 15th century in the city centre of Arles. According to legend, Trophimus of Arles becomes the first bishop of Arles around 250 AD. The church was built upon the site of the 5th century basilica of Arles, named for St. Stephen. The apse and the transept were probably built first, in the late 11th century, and the nave and bel ...
Founded: c. 1100 | Location: Arles, France

Saint-Eustache

The Church of St Eustace was built between 1532-1632. St Eustace"s is considered a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture. The church’s reputation was strong enough of the time for it to be chosen as the location for a young Louis XIV to receive communion. Mozart also chose the sanctuary as the location for his mother’s funeral. Among those baptised here as children were Richelieu, Jeanne-Antoinette Pois ...
Founded: 1532-1632 | Location: Paris, France

Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois

The Church of Saint-Germain-l"Auxerrois was originally founded in the 7th century, but it has been rebuilt many times over several centuries. It now has construction in Roman, Gothic and Renaissance styles. The most striking exterior feature is the porch, with a rose window and a balustrade above which encircles the whole church, a work of Jean Gaussel (1435–39). Among the treasures preserved inside are a 15th- ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Paris, France

Reims Cathedral

Notre-Dame de Reims (Our Lady of Reims) is the seat of the Archdiocese of Reims, where the kings of France were crowned. The cathedral replaced an older church, destroyed by fire in 1211, that was built on the site of the basilica where Clovis was baptized by Saint Remi, bishop of Reims, in AD 496. That original structure had itself been erected on the site of some Roman baths. A major tourism destination, the cathedral r ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Reims, France

Lyon Cathedral

Lyon Cathedral was founded by Saint Pothinus and Saint Irenaeus, the first two bishops of Lyon. The cathedral is also known as a Primatiale because in 1079 the Pope granted to the archbishop of Lyon the title of Primate of All the Gauls with the legal supremacy over the principal archbishops of the kingdom. It is located in the heart of the old town, less than five minutes away from the banks of the Saône river, with a l ...
Founded: 1180 | Location: Lyon, France

Amiens Cathedral

Amiens Cathedral is one of the largest classic 13th century Gothic churches. It is notable for the coherence of its plan, the beauty of its three-tier interior elevation, and the particularly fine display of sculptures on the principal facade and in the south transept. Amiens Cathedral was originally built in 1152 in Romanesque style and destroyed by fire in 1218. Reconstruction was started around 1220 and the nave was c ...
Founded: c. 1220 | Location: Amiens, France

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviére

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière was built with private funds between 1872 and 1884 in a dominant position overlooking the city of Lyon. The basilica, which offers guided tours and contains a Museum of Sacred Art, receives 2 million visitors annually. At certain times, members of the public may access the basilica"s north tower for a spectacular 180-degree view of Lyon and its suburbs. On a clear day, M ...
Founded: 1872-1884 | Location: Lyon, France

Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés

The Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was the burial place of Merovingian kings of Neustria. The Abbey was founded in the 6th century by Childebert I, the son of Clovis I (ruled 511–558). Under royal patronage the Abbey became one of the richest in France; it housed an important scriptorium in the 11th century and remained a center of intellectual life in the French Catholic church until it was disb ...
Founded: 1014 | Location: Paris, France

La Madeleine

Curiously resembling the Parthenon in Greece, the Eglise de la Madeleine (named after Mary Magdalene) was originally slated to be a government hall, a library, and a National Bank. It was originally built in the 18th century to the site of ancient Jewish synagogue. The Madeleine Church was designed in its present form as a temple to the glory of Napoleon's army in 1806. The latter eventually got his way, and in 1842 ...
Founded: 18th century | Location: Paris, France

Rouen Cathedral

Rouen Cathedral is an imposing sample of Gothic architecture. The first cathedral was built in 396 by Bishop Victricius. This was destroyed by the invading Normans, who replaced it with a larger cathedral with a wooden vault. Consecrated in 1063 in the presence of William the Conqueror, all that remains of this building is the crypt beneath the choir. Rouen Cathedral was rebuilt in 1145 by Bishop Hugues d"Amiens base ...
Founded: 1202 | Location: Rouen, France

Saint-Sulpice Church

Saint-Sulpice is a huge Late Baroque parish church. It recently became even more popular with tourists than usual thanks to its prominent role in the novel The Da Vinci Code. Saint Sulpicius, the patron of the church, was a 7th-century bishop of Bourges noted for his piety and his resistance to the tyranny of the Merovingian kings. The Church of St-Sulpice was founded by the Society of St-Sulpice to replace a small Gothi ...
Founded: 1646 | Location: Paris, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Quimper Cathedral

From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.

The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.

Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).

The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».

The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.