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 Maurice de Sully deemed the building unworthy of its lofty role, and had it demolished.
The Construction on the current cathedral began in 1163, during the reign of Louis VII, and opinion differs as to whether Bishop Maurice de Sully or Pope Alexander III laid the foundation stone of the cathedral. Construction of the west front, with its distinctive two towers, began in around 1200 before the nave had been completed. Over the construction period, numerous architects worked on the site, as is evidenced by the differing styles at different heights of the west front and towers. Between 1210 and 1220, the fourth architect oversaw the construction of the level with the rose window and the great halls beneath the towers. The towers were finished around 1245 and the cathedral was finally completed around 1345.
During the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV at the end of the 17th century the cathedral underwent major alterations, during which many tombs and stained glass windows were destroyed. In 1793, the cathedral fell victim to the French Revolution. Many sculptures and treasures were destroyed or plundered; the cathedral was rededicated to the Cult of Reason and later to the Cult of the Supreme Being. Lady Liberty replaced the Virgin Mary on several altars. The cathedral also came to be used as a warehouse for the storage of food.
A restoration program was initiated in 1845, overseen by architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. The restoration lasted 23 years, and included the construction of a spire.
In 1871, a civil uprising leading to the establishment of the short-lived Paris Commune nearly set fire to the cathedral, and some records suggest that a mount of chairs within the cathedral were set alight. In 1905, the law of separation of Church and State was passed; as all cathedrals, Notre-Dame remains state property, but its use is granted to the Roman Catholic Church.
The Te Deum Mass took place in the cathedral to celebrate the liberation of Paris in August 26, 1944. The Requiem Mass of General Charles de Gaulle took place in the cathedral on November 12, 1970.
Notre-Dame de Paris was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress (arched exterior supports). The building was not originally designed to include the flying buttresses around the choir and nave but after the construction began, the thinner walls (popularized in the Gothic style) grew ever higher and stress fractures began to occur as the walls pushed outward. In response, the cathedral"s architects built supports around the outside walls, and later additions continued the pattern.
The west front of the cathedral is one of its most notable features, with its two 69-meter tall towers. The South Tower houses the cathedral"s famous bell, 'Emmanuel.' The bell weighs 13 tons. The bell is Notre-Dame"s oldest, having been recast in 1631.
The King's Gallery is a line of statues of the 28 Kings of Judah and Israel, which was redesigned by Viollet-le-Duc to replace the statues destroyed during the French Revolution. The revolutionaries mistakenly believed the statues to be French kings instead of biblical kings, so they decapitated them. Some of the heads were found during a 1977 excavation nearby and are now on display at the Museum of the Middle Ages.
The beautiful West Rose Window dates from about 1220. See the section on Notre Dame"s windows below for more details.
The three west portals of Notre Dame Cathedral are magnificent examples of early Gothic art, sculpted between 1200 and 1240. Many of the statues, especially the larger ones, were destroyed in the Revolution and remade in the 19th century.
Notre-Dame fire broke out on 15 April 2019, in the roof, causing severe damage to the building. The cathedral's spire and roof collapsed, and considerable damage was sustained to the interior, upper walls, and windows of the church, as well as numerous works of art. The stone ceiling vault beneath the roof prevented most of the fire from descending into the interior of the cathedral below, which ultimately saved the building from further damage.References:
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.