Essential Architecture-  Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral


Maurice de Sully


Address: Parvis de Notre Dame. 75004 Paris, France.
Telephone:  (on the Ile de France)


1163 to 1250




cut stone. Road distances in France are measured from the "0 km" point on the square. 


  Notre Dame de Paris, Western Façade.
  Night view of Notre Dame from the south, spring 2001. Shows the South Rose Window
  The South Rose Window as viewed from inside
  Images copyright Tim Devlin.

Statue of St. Joan of Arc inside Notre Dame.
Statue of St. Joan of Arc inside Notre Dame.

Notre Dame de Paris (French for "Our Lady of Paris", meaning the church in Paris dedicated to the Virgin Mary), often known simply as Notre Dame in English, is a gothic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité in Paris, France, with its main entrance to the west. While a major tourist destination, it is still used as a Roman Catholic cathedral (archbishop of Paris). Notre Dame de Paris is widely considered the finest example of French gothic architecture.

Notre Dame de Paris was one of the first gothic cathedrals, and was built throughout the Gothic period. Its sculptures and stained glass show the heavy influence of naturalism, giving them a more secular look that was lacking from earlier Romanesque designs.

Notre Dame de Paris was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress. The building was not originally designed to include the flying buttresses around the choir and nave. However, after the construction began and the thinner walls (popularized in the Gothic) grew ever higher, stress fractures began to occur as the walls pushed outward. The buttresses were added to prevent further deterioration. For many years, the buttresses were reviled as it was said they looked "like scaffolding" someone had forgotten to remove and gave the cathedral an "unfinished" look.


The Western Façade
The Western Façade of the cathedral is the single most well-known feature. It is divided into three distinct levels, a holdover from Romanesque architecture. The image to the right indicates some of the west front's most significant features.

The north and south rose windows
The two transept windows of Notre Dame were built between 1250 and 1260, and were designed in the style of the High Gothic period. This is evident by how they sit flush with the wall rather than being recessed, unlike the rose window on the Western Façade which was built during the Early Gothic period. The rose window on the South wall depicts the "Triumph of Christ" along with scenes from the New Testament.

These rose windows are notable for being one of the few stained glass windows in the cathedral, and indeed in all of Europe, that still have their original glasswork.

Art inside the cathedral
The cathedral displays a sculpture of the Virgin Mary which is known as the Virgin of Paris. Commissioned during a time of great wealth by local merchants who saw the cathedral as a source of civic pride and a symbol of new economic freedom, the sculpture is noted for its decadent display and lavishly expensive decoration. While not heretical in subject, some observers have felt that the sculpture is more a symbol of arrogant wealth than piety.

The bell "Emmanuel" in the South Tower weighs 13 metric tons (over 28,000 pounds). The clapper alone weighs 500 kilograms (about 1,100 pounds). 
It is said that when "Emmanuel" was recast in 1631, women threw their gold and other jewelry into the molten metal, giving the bell its unique, pure F sharp tone. 
The main vault inside the cathedral is 34 metres (112 feet) high. 
The towers of the Western Façade are 69 metres (228 feet) tall. 
422 steps (that become increasingly narrower) lead to the very top of the Bell Tower. 

Site history
The Notre Dame de Paris stands on the site of Paris' first Christian church, Saint-Étiennen Basilica, which was itself built on the site of a Gallo-Roman temple to Jupiter. Notre Dame's first version was a "magnificent church" 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. It constitutes the style of Gothic Architecture.

Notre Dame de Paris is 130 m (427 ft) long.

In 1160, having become the "parish church of the kings of Europe", Bishop Maurice de Sully deemed the current Parisian cathedral unworthy of its lofty role, and had it demolished shortly after he assumed the title of Bishop of Paris. According to legend, de Sully had a vision of a glorious new cathedral for Paris, and sketched it in the dirt outside of the original church. To begin the construction, the bishop had several houses demolished and had a new road built in order to transport materials for the new church.

Construction 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. However, both were at the ceremony in question. Bishop de Sully went on to devote most of his life and wealth to the cathedral's construction.

Construction of the west front, with its distinctive two towers, only began circa 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 completed around 1245, and the cathedral was completed around 1345.

Timeline of construction
1160. Bishop Maurice de Sully (named Bishop of Paris), orders the original cathedral to be demolished. 
1163. Cornerstone laid for Notre Dame de Paris - construction begins 
1182. Apse and choir completed. 
1196. Nave completed. Bishop de Sully dies. 
1200. Work begins on Western Façade. 
1225. Western Façade completed. 
1250. Western Towers and North Rose Window completed 
1250–1345. Remaining elements completed 

The Organ
Though several organs were installed in the cathedral over time, the earliest ones were inadequate to the building. The first noteworthy organ was finished in the early 1700's by the noted builder Cliquot. Some of Cliquot's original pipework in the pedal division continues to sound from the organ today, almost 270 years after being installed. The organ was almost completely rebuilt and expanded in the nineteenth century by Aristide Cavaille-Coll. The position of titular organist at Notre-Dame is considered as one of the most prestigious organist posts in France, along with the titulaire post of Saint Sulpice in Paris, Cavaille-Coll's largest instrument. Among the best-known organists at Notre Dame was Louis Vierne, who held this position from 1900 to 1937. Under his tenure, the Cavaillé-Coll organ was modified in its tonal character, notably in 1902 and 1932. Pierre Cochereau initiated further alterations (many of which were already planned by Louis Vierne), including the electrification of the action between 1959 and 1963 (the original Cavaillé-Coll console, which can still be seen at the Musée Notre Dame, was replaced by a new console in Anglo-American style) and the addition of further stops between 1965 and 1972, notably in the Pedal division, the recomposition of the mixture stops, and finally the addition of three horizontal reed stops "en chamade". After Cochereau's sudden death in 1984, four new titular organists were appointed at Notre Dame in 1985: Jean-Pierre Leguay, Olivier Latry, Yves Devernay (who died in 1990), and Philippe Lefévre. This was reminiscent of the eighteenth century practice of the cathedral having four titular organists, each one playing for three months of the year. Beginning in 1989, another restoration to the instrument was undertaken, which was completed in 1992.

Alterations, vandalism, and restorations
During the reign of Louis XIV and Louis XV, at the end of the 17th century, the cathedral underwent major alterations as part of an ongoing attempt to modernise cathedrals throughout Europe. Tombs and stained glass windows were destroyed. The North and South Rose Windows were spared this fate, however.

In 1548, rioting Huguenots damaged features of the cathedral following the Council of Trent.

In 1793 during the French Revolution, the cathedral was turned into a "Temple to Reason" and many of its treasures were destroyed or stolen. Several sculptures were smashed and destroyed, and for a time Lady Liberty replaced the Virgin Mary on several altars. The cathedral's great bells managed to avoid being melted down, but the cathedral was used as a warehouse for the storage of food.

A restoration program was initiated in 1845, overseen by architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The restoration lasted 23 years and included the construction of a flèche (a type of spire) as well as the addition of the chimeras on the Galerie des Chimères.

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 mound of chairs within the cathedral was set alight.

In 1939, It was feared that German bombers could destroy the windows and scatter glass fragments all around making the area unsafe. As a result, on September 13, 1939, they were removed. They were restored at the end of the war.

In 1991, a major program of maintenance and restoration was initiated, which was intended to last 10 years but is still in progress as of 2005, the cleaning and restoration of old sculptures being an exceedingly delicate matter.

Significant events at Notre Dame
Heraclius of Caesarea called for the Third Crusade from the still-incomplete cathedral in 1185. 
Henry VI of England was crowned King of France in 1431. 
Isabelle Romée, the mother of Joan of Arc, petitioned a papal delegation on 7 November 1455 to overturn her daughter's conviction for heresy. 
Mary I of Scotland was married to the Dauphin Francois (later Francois II of France), son of Henry II of France, on April 24, 1558. 
Henry of Navarre (later Henry IV of France) married Marguerite de Valois on August 18, 1572. 
Napoleon Bonaparte, who had declared the Empire on May 28, 1804, was crowned Emperor here on December 2, 1804. 
Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909. 
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. 
Generally, French Catholic religious events of national significance take place in Notre-Dame.

Miscellaneous trivia
In 1905, the law of separation of Church and State was passed; as all cathedrals built by the Kingdom of France, Notre-Dame remains state property, but its use is granted to the Roman Catholic Church. 
France's "Point zéro", the reference point for distances along the highways starting in Paris, is situated in the square in front of the cathedral. 

Notre Dame de Paris in the media
During the early 19th century, the cathedral was in a state of disrepair, and city planners began to contemplate tearing it down. French novelist Victor Hugo, an admirer of the cathedral, wrote his novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame (titled in French Notre Dame de Paris) in part to raise awareness of the cathedral's heritage, which sparked renewed interest in the cathedral's fate. A campaign to collect funds to save the cathedral followed, culminating in the 1845 restoration. 
The cathedral was featured in the film Before Sunset. 
In the movie Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, Amélie's mother is killed while visiting the cathedral. 
Feudal Era Japanese samurai Samanosuke Akechi visited Notre Dame and gained his second Oni-Weapon in this saga: Kuugatou (Nodachi), after being flung into the future in the video game Onimusha 3: Demon Siege. However, the cathedral was infested with demons and apparently underground is a complex filled with an arcane presence and design. 
The videogame Timesplitters 2 contained a level set entirely within Notre Dame, although it does not appear to scale or to have any elaborate architectural similarity. 

Rumours of the Notre Dame
There has been several rumours about strange sightings in the cathedral itself. Several British and Japanese tourists who visited the Notre Dame in the years 1997, 1998, and 1999 have claimed to have seen apparitions of nuns floating at the ceilings of the cathedral.

Furthermore, some mystics have claimed that the Notre Dame was made to quarantine many demons that had existed.

Jacobs, Jay, ed. The Horizon Book of Great Cathedrals. New York, New York: American Heritage Publishing, 1968. 
Janson, H.W. History of Art. 3rd Edition. New York, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1986. 
Myers, Bernard S. Art and Civilization. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1957. 
Michelin Travel Publications. The Green Guide Paris. Hertfordshire, UK: Michelin Travel Publications, 2003. 


Coordinates: 48.852990° N 2.349776° E