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 ne ...
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

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.