Notre Dame de Paris

Paris, France

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 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.

Architecture

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.

Interior

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.

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