The construction of the Cathedral began in the middle of the 12th century and was spread over two hundred years. It is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture in France. The cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. Several of its attributes set it apart from the earlier Romanesque style, particularly its pioneering use of the rib vault and flying buttress, its enormous and colourful rose windows, and the naturalism and abundance of its sculptural decoration.
Notre-Dame de Paris is the largest religious building built in Europe in the 12th century. Covering an area of 6000 m2, it is 69 meters high. It testifies to a real technological prowess achieved by the architects of the Middle Ages. Like most French cathedrals, Notre-Dame de Paris draws a plan in the shape of a Latin cross. Its main facade is oriented west-north-west, its apse is oriented east-south-east. The cathedral can hold up to 9,000 people, including 1,500 in the galleries.
Begun at the instigation of Bishop Maurice de Sully, its construction spanned approximately two centuries, from 1163 to the middle of the 14th century. After the French Revolution, the cathedral benefited between 1845 and 1867 from a major, sometimes controversial, restoration under the direction of the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who incorporated unpublished elements and motifs into it. For these reasons, the style is not totally uniform: the cathedral has characteristics of primitive Gothic and radiant Gothic. The two rose windows that adorn each of the arms of the transept are among the largest in Europe.
To deal with the collapse of such a vast building, the exterior architecture of Notre-Dame innovates. The architects lighten the walls, pierce large bays, place buttresses and flying buttresses on the facades, cross the ribs of the vaults. Its entrance and its two towers are oriented west-north-west, its apse is oriented east-south-east. The transept is oriented along a north-northeast, south-southwest axis. The main nave has ten bays, the choir five. Its axis is slightly deviated from the axis of the nave. The apse is semi-circular with five sides.
Although built after the choir, the nave is of the early Gothic style, with sexpartite vaults, however without alternating strong piers and weak piers as seen in the Cathedral of Saint-Étienne in Sens. The transept, clearly identifiable from the exterior of the monument, does not project beyond the collaterals and the side chapels. The choir has no collaterals.
Apart from the transept, the interior elevation is on three levels, with large arcades, galleries and high windows. In the first two spans of the two arms of the transept, the elevation is however at four levels. In the 19th century, the restorer Viollet-le-Duc undertook to “correct” the tenth bay of the nave, by recreating the four levels there as they appeared before the modifications made in the 1220s to the initial plan. The north and south facades of the transept have magnificent rose windows decorated with stained glass, among the largest in Europe, with a diameter of 13 meters.
The construction of the Cathedral began in the middle of the 12th century and was spread over two hundred years. It is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture in France. Modifications were made in the 18th century and a major restoration project was carried out in the 19th century. The first phase of construction started in 1163 when Bishop Maurice de Sully laid the first stone. It lasts until 1250 under the reign of Saint Louis.
During the Renaissance, tastes evolved. The renewed interest comes from Louis XIII when he places the crown of France under the protection of the Virgin Mary. As a sign of devotion, he wants to make changes to the cathedral. They take place at the end of the reign of Louis XIV and continued under Louis XV. Under Louis XVI, modifications were still made because the cathedral was considered too dark and its entrance too narrow.
In the 19th century, the architect works on the cathedral with Jean Baptiste Lassus after a competition to restore the building. The cathedral is falling into disrepair. Viollet-le-Duc directed the work for twenty years. He creates structural modifications with the intention of getting closer to his original form. In his program, he recreated the vanished gallery of kings, incorporated new decorative elements such as chimeras and built a new spire. These whimsical additions have sometimes been reproached to him. Following this vast project, the cathedral no longer undergoes architectural modifications, only maintenance in the 20th century.
The cathedral was built of cut stone from quarries located on the old suburbs of Paris. It is a Lutetian limestone whose technical properties have been known and renowned since the Gallo-Roman era. It consists of a soft limestone called “lambourde” used indoors and a hard limestone reserved for exterior facades and pillars. There is also a hard and fine limestone called “liais” used for certain sculptures and monolithic columns.
The cathedral is mainly built in cut stone from the old quarries of Paris, located in the 5th arrondissement at first (during the construction of the choir), then rather in the 12th arrondissement and in Charenton (during the construction of the nave). High quality limestone formations were exploited there: the Lutetian limestones, dating from 40 to 46 million years, very characteristic of the architecture of the entire Paris region. The Lutetian limestones are not present everywhere. In the Gothic period, these stones had already been used for more than a millennium, since the Gallo-Roman period, and we therefore had a good knowledge of the properties and behavior of each of the varieties with respect to aging and weathering. This experience was used for the construction of the cathedral.
Soft limestones, in particular “joists”, were used for the interior of the walls and for the sheltered architecture, such as the vaults or arcades of the stands. On the other hand, hard shell limestones (limestones with cerithes, conical shells of fossilized gastropods which were deposited near the coast in the Lutetian), from the “free banks” in the quarries, were used for the stones exposed to the outside, as well as for the foundations of the barrels of the large columns inside, which must support weight. During modern times, hard limestone with cerithes was mainly used in Paris for the foundations of buildings, but hardly any more for the elevation.
“Liais”, a hard Lutetian limestone with a very fine to small grainmilioles, whose consistency is somewhat similar to marble, was used in particular as statuary stone (such as the famous statue of Adam), and for some small architectural elements, such as the monolithic columns of the stands and those which run along the pillars in the nave (but not in the choir), as well as for the mullions and the tracery of the windows. The binder being present only in a thin bench in the quarries (30 to 40 cm thick), it determined the elongated format of the sculptures. Due to its density, it is conducive to implementation in tort (with the natural stratification of the stone arranged vertically, and not horizontally in the natural direction), but this arrangement offers a lower load capacity.
Until the 2019 fire, the roof frames were made of wood, mainly oak, and the cover was made of lead plates. The large spire was made of the same materials.
The Gothic cathedral was a liber pauperum, a “poor people’s book”, covered with sculptures vividly illustrating biblical stories, for the vast majority of parishioners who were illiterate. To add to the effect, all of the sculpture on the façades was originally painted and gilded. The tympanum over the central portal on the west façade, facing the square, vividly illustrates the Last Judgment, with figures of sinners being led off to hell, and good Christians taken to heaven. The sculpture of the right portal shows the coronation of the Virgin Mary, and the left portal shows the lives of saints who were important to Parisians, particularly Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary.
The exteriors of cathedrals and other Gothic churches were also decorated with sculptures of a variety of fabulous and frightening grotesques or monsters. These included the gargoyle, the chimera, a mythical hybrid creature which usually had the body of a lion and the head of a goat, and the Strix or stryge, a creature resembling an owl or bat, which was said to eat human flesh. The strix appeared in classical Roman literature; it was described by the Roman poet Ovid, who was widely read in the Middle Ages, as a large-headed bird with transfixed eyes, rapacious beak, and greyish white wings. They were part of the visual message for the illiterate worshipers, symbols of the evil and danger that threatened those who did not follow the teachings of the church.
The gargoyles, which were added in about 1240, had a more practical purpose. They were the rain spouts of the cathedral, designed to divide the torrent of water which poured from the roof after rain, and to project it outwards as far as possible from the buttresses and the walls and windows where it might erode the mortar binding the stone. To produce many thin streams rather than a torrent of water, a large number of gargoyles were used, so they were also designed to be a decorative element of the architecture. The rainwater ran from the roof into lead gutters, then down channels on the flying buttresses, then along a channel cut in the back of the gargoyle and out of the mouth away from the cathedral.
Amid all the religious figures, some of the sculptural decoration was devoted to illustrating medieval science and philosophy. The central portal of the west façade is decorated with carved figures holding circular plaques with symbols of transformation taken from alchemy. The central pillar of the central door of Notre-Dame features a statue of a woman on a throne holding a sceptre in her left hand, and in her right hand, two books, one open (symbol of public knowledge), and the other closed (esoteric knowledge), along with a ladder with seven steps, symbolizing the seven steps alchemists followed in their scientific quest of trying to transform ordinary metals into gold.
Many of the statues, particularly the grotesques, were removed from the façade in the 17th and 18th centuries, or were destroyed during the French Revolution. They were replaced with figures in the Gothic style, designed by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, during the 19th-century restoration.
The cathedral forecourt forms a large esplanade. It becomes a manufacturing workshop during construction and restoration sites. Its current surface designed by the architect Beaufrand in the 18th century was redeveloped in 1960. Kilometer zero is in the center, it marks the starting point of fourteen radiating routes from Paris all over France. Excavations in the 19th century revealed the pre-existence, on this site, of the old church-cathedral of Saint Etienne, built in the 4th or 6th century and destroyed to build Notre-Dame Cathedral. An archaeological crypt is accessible from the forecourt.
The Cathedral is built on a rectangular plan in which is inscribed a Latin cross. It is structured around four main parts: the west facade serves as the main entrance; the two north and south side facades and their braces form the transept;the rounded chevet closes the building to the east.
In the 13th century, a modification of the initial plan brought more interior clarity, in the spirit of the religious buildings built at the same time. It is the emergence of the “Gothic style”. The walls are raised and largely hollowed out to mitigate the risk of collapses. The bay windows are enlarged, the stands are topped with terraces. A complex channeling system terminated by long gargoyles projects rainwater away from the walls. The roof and the frame are taken over. The upper double-flight flying buttresses are replaced by large single-flight flying buttresses, launched above the stands.
The western facade is the result of an innovative architecture of its time. His style offers a regular rhythm of horizontal and vertical lines. Large portals welcome the faithful, while the square towers house the bells. Its construction is the object of all attention because it compiles several functions: the entrance of the faithful, the entrance of the west light, the shelter and the sound diffusion of the bells in the towers.
The facade largely corresponds to the vision of Eudes de Sully, bishop of Paris from 1197 to 1208. The architect of the 1200s adopted the traditional approach of the ” harmonic facade ” (symmetrical and tripartite facade: basement pierced by three portals, the central one wider, the two lateral ones surmounted by powerful towers housing the bells) but the three-part horizontal division does not reflect the internal division of the building with five naves.. Its construction lasted half a century, from 1200 to 1250. Its architectural composition is a simple geometric design.
The harmonious simplicity of its proportions fascinates. The architect Le Corbusier speaks in the 20th century of a pure creation of the spirit managed by the square and the circle, hence its geometric purity. The square symbolizes the rational world, the limited space while the circle is a symbol of the spiritual state, of the unlimited, of the divine.
Three portals make up the lower part of the western facade. The central portal, called the Judgment Portal, is larger than the Saint Anne Portal (south, right) and the Virgin Portal (north, left). These portals are decorated with many biblical characters. They allow the faithful who do not know how to read the Bible to understand the gospel and the history of Christians through images.
On the foothills, niches shelter four statues redone by the workshop of Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. From left and right, probably Saint Stephen and Saint Denis, and on either side of the central portal, the allegories of the Church and the Synagogue.
Under the balustrade, a horizontal band presents the gallery of the kings. Twenty meters above the ground, it forms a series of twenty-eight characters illustrating the twenty-eight generations of the kings of Judea, preceding Christ. During the Revolution, wrongly associated with the sovereigns of the kingdom of France, the statues were destroyed or mutilated. During the restorations of the 19th century, the workshops of Adolphe-Victor and Geoffroy-Dechaume produced the statues that are still visible.
The gallery of the kings is surmounted by a small terrace bordered by an openwork balustrade which forms the gallery of the Virgin. In the center of the facade, a rose window 9.60 m in diameter was executed around 1225. Two angels, with candlesticks symbolizing “the fault” and “the redemption”, surround a central statue of the Virgin. This set was commissioned by Viollet-le-Duc to replace the damaged statues and was made in 1854 by Geoffroy-Dechaume. Viollet-le-Duc had statues of Adam and Eve (sculpted by Jean-Louis Chenillon) placed on each side of the rose window. Some experts believe that the statues of Adam and Eve would have their place in the niches of the transept of the south facade.
The two square towers are 69 meters high. You reach their summit by 422 steps. The four faces are pierced by two high bays with arches decorated with sausages and leafy hooks. They are covered with a lead terrace bordered by an openwork balustrade. The south tower was built around 1220-1240, then the north tower between 1235 and 1250. The towers offer an exceptional view of the center of Paris up to distant perspectives. In the past, their heights allowed the faithful and pilgrims to find their bearings from afar, because Paris was located in a basin. Arrows are considered in the 13th century but were never built. The towers house the bronze bells and the Emmanuel staff.
The Gate of the Virgin
The portal of the Virgin evokes, according to the tradition of the Church, the death of Mary, her assumption into paradise and her coronation as queen of heaven. It is set up around 1210-1220. Notre-Dame cathedral is dedicated to Mary, this portal is particularly dedicated to her. The Virgin and Child, placed in the center, on the trumeau between the two doors, tramples the serpent, symbol of Satan. The four seasons are represented on the left and the four ages of life on the right. They remind the faithful, as soon as they enter, of the rhythm of life.
Under the trumeau, a bas-relief represents the story of Adam and Eve in three sequences: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (or earthly paradise), the temptation of Adam and the original sin (the devil is represented under the form of Lilith, an attractive woman with a long serpent’s tail) and the expulsion of the first men from the Garden of Eden.
The tympanum is located above the two doors. On the lower lintel, three prophets appear on the left and three kings of Israel on the right, holding phylacteries inscribed with biblical texts. The heavenly Jerusalem is placed under a canopy. A chest symbolizes the Ark of the Covenant materializing the promise of God to his people. Mary is considered the new Ark of the Covenant. The upper lintel represents the death of Mary surrounded by Jesus and the twelve apostles, Paul under a fig tree and John under an olive tree. Two angels lift her shroud to carry her to heaven. At the top of the tympanum of the portal of the Virgin, Mary is in paradise, seated and crowned by an angel. Jesus blesses her, gives her the sceptre. Sacred queen of heaven, she sits next to her son. Around, in the four arches of the portal, angels, patriarchs,
On each side of the two doors, nine full-length statues take place. On the left, the Emperor Constantine, an angel, Saint Denis and another an angel. On the right, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Stephen, Saint Geneviève and Pope Saint Sylvester. Saint Denis, Saint Geneviève and Saint Marcel are the patron saints of Paris. Their presence at the entrance to the cathedral recalls their benevolent protections over the faithful who enter the cathedral. These statues, destroyed in 1793 following the French Revolution, were rebuilt in the 19th century under the direction of Viollet-le-Duc. The sides of the two doors evoke the twelve months of the year. On the left, the signs of the zodiac symbolize the cycle. On the right, works of the months represent the terrestrial cycle. The stained glass windows of the western rose take up these themes.
The Gate of Sainte-Anne
The Sainte-Anne portal, in the Romanesque style, is the oldest of the three portals. It recounts episodes from the childhood of Christ. In the center, the Virgin and Child is flanked by the King of France and the Bishop of Paris, testimony to the close ties between royalty and Christianity. The Sainte-Anne portal stands to the right of the central portal. Installed around 1200, it is the first of the three portals placed on the western facade. Some sculpted pieces were taken from a tympanum made fifty years earlier for the old Saint-Étienne cathedral. This is why its Romanesque style seems more archaic compared to the other two portals.
The central trumeau, between the two doors, represents Saint Marcel, bishop of Paris in the 4th century. He crushes a dragon, symbol of the plagues afflicting his diocese. The replacement of the original statue, mutilated during the revolution, took place in the 19th century. Nine full-length statues arranged on either side of the two doors were also redone in the 19th century under the direction of Viollet-le-Duc. They figure on the left a king, the Queen of Sheba, King Solomon and Saint Peter; on the right Saint Paul, King David, Bathsheba and another king. The hinges, forged fittings, are an exceptional example of ironwork in the Middle Ages.
This portal is dedicated to Saint Anne, mother of Mary. Below the tympanum, the two lintels represent in the lower part the marriage of Joachim and Anne (parents of Mary) and that of Mary and Joseph (parents of Jesus). The upper part recounts scenes from the life of Christ: the Annunciation (announcement of the angel Gabriel to Mary), the Visitation to Mary (visit of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, to Mary), the Nativity (birth of the Christ in Bethlehem), Epiphany (adoration of the Magi).
Like queens in the Middle Ages, the Virgin and Child stands on a throne, under a canopy and wears royal attributes: the crown and the scepter. She holds on her knees her son Jesus who blesses the faithful and presents the Book of the Law. This representation of the Virgin and Child is characteristic of the Romanesque style with a hieratic frontal attitude. This style draws its inspiration from the Greco-Byzantine style through the succession of small pleats on the dress.
The identities of the figures representing the Bishop of Paris (left) and a King of France (right) remain unknown. They may be Bishop Saint Germain and King Childebert, founder of the Abbey of Saint-Germain -des-Prés, who died in Paris in 558. Or else, Bishop Maurice de Sully and King Louis VII, first sponsors of the cathedral. In the concentric arches, above the tympanum, the celestial court (angels, kings, prophets and elders of the apocalypse) sings the glory of God.
The Gate of Last Judgment
The gate of the last judgment is installed between 1220 and 1230. It represents the judgment of God, according to Saint Matthew, where the accursed are punished and the blessed welcomed to eternal life. The portal of the Last Judgment dates from the 1210s, installed after the other two portals of the facade. It represents, in the Christian iconography of the Middle Ages, the judgment of God when the soul of the deceased is resuscitated. According to Christian tradition, God “will judge the living and the dead”. The Gospel of Saint Matthew reports the words of Jesus: “what you did to the least of one of my brothers, you did it to me”.
At the lower lintel, the dead are resuscitated and come out of their tomb. The angels sound the trumpet. Among these characters are a pope, a king, women, warriors, and an African man. At the upper lintel, the Archangel Michael weighs the souls and two demons try to tip the balance. The elect are led to paradise (to the right of Christ) while the damned, chained and terrified, are led by other demons to hell.
At the tympanum, Christ in Majesty is seated in glory. He shows the wounds on his hands and his side. Two angels carry the instruments of the crucifixion: the lance and the nails for one, the cross for the other. Mary and Saint John are kneeling on either side. As in the other portals, the celestial court occupies the arches: angels, patriarchs, prophets, doctors of the Church, martyrs and virgins. Hell occupies the right of the arches. The “wise virgins” (to the right of God) symbolize the hope of gaining paradise. For they carry lighted lamps, the “foolish virgins” of extinguished lamps. In the center of the portal, on the trumeau between the two doors, the teaching Christ stands on a plinth.
The sculptures represent the twelve apostles on either side of the doors, in the doorways. On the left are Barthélemy, Simon, Jacques le Mineur, André, Jean and Pierre, on the right Paul, Jacques le Majeur, Thomas, Philippe, Jude and Mathieu. In 1792, the revolutionaries destroyed these statues. At the foot of the twelve apostles, medallions represent the virtues and vices, a theme taken up in the stained glass windows of the western rose window.
The portal of the last judgment underwent two important modifications in the 18th century. The first, in 1771 when the architect Germain Soufflot removed the trumeau and the central part of the two lintels because the archbishop wanted to facilitate the passage of the canopy during processions. A wooden arch evoking Mary enhanced with a crown carried by two angels replaces the void. Two doors replace the heavy leaves, one sculpted with Christ carrying his cross; the other of Maria dolorosa, Mary weeping in grief over the death of her son.
The second modification dates from the great restoration campaign of the 19th century. The architect Viollet-le-Duc then restores the original state of the portal. He had the trumeau redone, the statues of the wise virgins and the foolish virgins and the statues of the twelve apostles placed in the doorways.
The north facade and its cloister were built in the middle of the 13th century by Jean de Chelles. The architect fixed new architectural concepts taken up by Pierre de Montreuil on the south facade.
In the Middle Ages, the Notre-Dame cloister was accessible during the day. It welcomes lay people in the service of the priests. In the middle of the 13th century, the priests decided to modify the shape of the cathedral and add an overflowing transept. Its construction predates the south facade. The architect Jean de Chelles carried out the work until his death in 1258. The north facade forms a long, dimly lit bay. It is divided into three floors, slightly set back from each other. It is bordered by a small street and never benefits from direct sunshine. The chapels placed later around the nave tend to erase the overflow of the arm of the transept.
The facade of the north brace has the same architectural elements as that of the south brace: a gable surmounts the portal, a clerestory gallery with the large rose window occupies the middle part. A decorated triangular gable tops it off. A large pinnacle in the shape of pinnacles rises at its base on each side. It is pierced by a rose that illuminates the attic of the north transept.
The statue of the Virgin and Child is placed on the trumeau, in the center of the portal. The statue escapes the ravages of the Revolution, the child it carries in its arms disappears. Her features would be those of Marguerite de Provence, wife of Saint Louis. The attitude of the Virgin is delicate, slightly swaying. The drape with soft folds accentuates the effect of majesty. Her maternal smile interprets a humanized Christianity. The image of the woman and the mother take on all their importance.
The lintel, in the lower part of the tympanum, represents four scenes from the childhood of Christ: the nativity, the presentation in the temple, the massacre of the innocents by Herod and the flight into Egypt. The sober elegance, the delicacy of the faces, the drapes with deep folds are typical of Ile-de-France sculpture of the 13th century.
The upper part of the tympanum represents the miracle of Theophilus. A young cleric, Théophile is jealous of the bishop. To supplant him and get out of poverty, he sells his soul to the devil. With the help of the devil, he manages to humiliate the bishop. Then, not knowing how to get out of the situation, he implores Marie who manages to cancel the pact. Théophile repents as a sign of gratitude.
The Red Door
Commissioned by Saint Louis in the 13th century, the red door allows the priests to pass directly from the cloister to the choir of the Cathedral. Not far from the Portail du Cloître, the small Red Door owes its name to the color of its leaves. In the Middle Ages, red was the color reserved for women. In the iconography, the Virgin or “Our Lady” is dressed in a red dress as in the stained glass window of Notre-Dame de Chartres. From the Renaissance, Mary is generally dressed in blue. In Christianity, red is also the color associated with the Passion of Christ, and by extension with the liturgical vestments of Holy Week, preceding Easter. White is the color reserved for the pope and red that of the vestments of cardinals.
The red door opens with a north side chapel at the level of the third span of the choir. Commissioned by Saint Louis, Pierre de Montreuil built it around 1270. It allows the priests to go to the office by directly linking the cloister to the choir of the cathedral. Saint Louis is represented on the tympanum to the left of the Virgin, crowned by an angel. Marguerite de Provence, the wife of Saint Louis is placed to the right of Christ. Scenes from the life of Saint Marcel, bishop of Paris in the 4th century, are depicted on the arches that frame the tympanum.
South facade and the Gate of Saint-Étienne
The south transept portal pays homage to Stephen, the first Christian martyr. It evokes the name of the first cathedral church of Paris. Built in the 13th century, it was largely restored in the 19th century. The tympanum of the portal tells in bas-reliefs, the life of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Divided into three superimposed horizontal registers, the decoration of the tympanum is read from bottom to top and from left to right. In the lower register, Saint Stephen preaches Christianity then he is brought before the judge. The stoning of Saint Stephen and his burial take place in the middle register. At the top: Christ surrounded by blessed angels. On the trumeau, the central pillar between the two doors, is the statue of Saint Etienne, a work by Geoffroi-Dechaume reconstructed in the 19th century.
The triple arch of the door is carved with twenty-one martyrs crowned by angels, including Saint Denis, Saint Vincent, Saint Eustache, Saint Maurice, Saint Laurent, Saint Clement, Saint George and others whose identity is unknown. is not determined. On each side of the portal, the three statues of apostles date from the restorations of the 19th century. They replace those that disappeared during the Revolution. The niches in height, above the clerestory, shelter the statues of Moses and Aaron.
Above the Saint-Étienne portal, stained glass windows offered by Saint Louis decorate the rose window, which is thirteen meters in diameter. During restoration work in the 19th century, the architect Viollet-le-Duc noted a collapse of the masonry. In addition, the rose window suffered over the centuries and during the fire started by insurgents in 1830. To consolidate everything, he took over the facade and rotated the rose window by 15° on its vertical axis. The master glassmaker Alfred Gérente restores the 13th century stained glass windows and reconstructs the missing medallions in the spirit of the Middle Ages.
Pierced with an openwork rose in proportion to the large rose window, the gable is located on the top floor of the facade, above the rose window. It illuminates the roof of the transept. A gallery runs behind the balustrade which makes it possible to follow the roofs of the cathedral from east to west. Two large pyramidions flanked on the gable form the upper parts of the buttresses. Three statues decorate the top. They represent Saint Martin and Saint Stephen, and Christ appearing in a dream to Saint Martin who, according to legend, gives his coat to the poor.
On the top floor of the facade, a gable rises above the rose window. It is one of the finest examples of gables built at the time (1257). It is itself pierced by an openwork rose, which lights up the roof of the transept. On the archivolt of the rose window is placed an entablature carrying a balustrade, behind which runs a gallery. This allows the passage from the upper galleries of the east of the cathedral to those of the west, galleries which run along the roofs. The gable itself therefore rises a little behind the rose window, and its thickness is 70 centimeters.. Two large pyramidions flank it forming the upper parts of the buttresses which buttress the rose window.
Three statues decorate the top and the two lower angles of the gable. The one at the top represents Christ appearing in a dream to Saint Martin, wearing half of the mantle given by the latter to the poor man in the legend. The two other statues, located to the left and right of the base of the gable, represent Saint Martin and Saint Stephen. The whole gives an impression of great harmony. The roof rose is of a proportion perfectly in keeping with the large rose window of the transept. According to Viollet-le-Duc, the great beauty of this construction was not surpassed elsewhere in Gothic architecture.
Lateral facades of the nave
The construction of the nave began in 1182, after the consecration of the choir. Some even think that the work began in 1175, before the consecration 120. Work stopped after the fourth span leaving the nave unfinished while the building of the facade began in 1208. The building of the nave was resumed in 1218 in order to buttress the facade. At the end of the 1220s, the fourth architect of Notre-Dame undertook to completely modify the initial plan at the level of the upper part of the building. The architect undertook the lengthening of the bays downwards by removing the old third level, that of the rosesof the old building overlooking the attic of the stands. This attic was therefore removed in favor of a terrace covering these stands and formed of large slabs.
The problem then arose of the evacuation of rainwater which risked stagnating following the removal of the inclined roof of the stands. The architect therefore had to introduce a new element in architecture, of which we are still heirs today: to collect rainwater under the roof by a system of gutters, and to evacuate them step by step through vertical conduits. towards a system ending at the level of long gargoyles intended to project them away from the building a. This was an entirely new system for managing rainwater at the top of buildings. A whole series of other modifications had to be carried out on the upper level of the building (upper parts of the main vessel): resumption of the roof and the framework, raising of the gutter walls, creation of gutters. Above all, the upper double-flight buttresses were replaced by large single-flight buttresses launched above the stands.
The great flying buttresses are remarkable and testify to the genius of the architect of the time. They are in a single long flight, launched above the collaterals and their heads support the top of the gutter walls of the cathedral. These heads rest on the right of vertical conduits intended to evacuate the water from the gutters of the roof of the nave. The extrados of the buttresses is dug with a gutter which crosses the top of the abutment and ends in a long gargoyle.
These buttresses were not primarily intended to buttress the building, but to solve the problem of the evacuation of rainwater, which became very important after the transformation of the roof of the stands into a terrace. This explains the relative weakness of these bows. Their construction is unquestionably a feat, which is manifested by their great length, but also by their thinness. Their role being weak in supporting the vault of the main vessel, the architect allowed himself to be daring.
The great span of these flying buttresses is quite exceptional in the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages. Indeed in the buildings of the time, lined with double aisles or double ambulatories, the abutments of these enormous flying buttresseswere to take up considerable ground outside the churches. The flying buttresses are two flights, that is, they are separated by an intermediate point of support which, by dividing the thrust, destroys part of its effect and thus allows to reduce the thickness of the outer buttresses or abutments. This is how the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral are built,, as well as those of the choir of that of Amiens; these last three buildings also have either double aisles or a double ambulatory.
The construction of the Cathedral begins with its apse, in the shape of a semicircle. It is therefore the oldest part of the sanctuary. It surrounds the apsidal chapels and corresponds to the apse of the interior of the building. In the 14th century, Jean Ravy replaced the old flying buttresses of the 13th century. He placed fourteen around the choir with a range of fifteen meters, including six for the bedside itself. As with the façades of the nave, their function allows rainwater to be evacuated far away. Panels depicting episodes from the life of the Virgin decorate the apse.
The stained glass windows of Notre-Dame, particularly the three rose windows, are among the most famous features of the cathedral. The west rose window, over the portals, was the first and smallest of the roses in Notre-Dame. It is 9.6 metres (32′) in diameter, and was made in about 1225, with the pieces of glass set in a thick circular stone frame. None of the original glass remains in this window; it was recreated in the 19th century.
The two transept windows are larger and contain a greater proportion of glass than the rose on the west façade, because the new system of buttresses made the nave walls thinner and stronger. The north rose was created in about 1250, and the south rose in about 1260. The south rose in the transept is particularly notable for its size and artistry. It is 12.9 metres (42′) in diameter; with the claire-voie surrounding it, a total of 19 metres (62′). It was given to the cathedral by King Louis IX of France, known as Saint Louis.
The south rose has 94 medallions, arranged in four circles, depicting scenes from the life of Christ and those who witnessed his time on earth. The inner circle has twelve medallions showing the twelve apostles. (During later restorations, some of these original medallions were moved to circles farther out). The next two circles depict celebrated martyrs and virgins. The fourth circle shows twenty angels, as well as saints important to Paris, notably Saint Denis, Margaret the Virgin with a dragon, and Saint Eustace. The third and fourth circles also have some depictions of Old Testament subjects. The third circle has some medallions with scenes from the New Testament Gospel of Matthew which date from the last quarter of the 12th century. These are the oldest glass in the window.
Additional scenes in the corners around the rose window include Jesus’ Descent into Hell, Adam and Eve, the Resurrection of Christ. Saint Peter and Saint Paul are at the bottom of the window, and Mary Magdalene and John the Apostle at the top. Above the rose was a window depicting Christ triumphant seated in the sky, surrounded by his Apostles. Below are sixteen windows with painted images of Prophets. These were not part of the original window; they were painted during the restoration in the 19th century by Alfred Gérenthe, under the direction of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, based upon a similar window at Chartres Cathedral.
The south rose had a difficult history. In 1543 it was damaged by the settling of the masonry walls, and not restored until 1725–1727. It was seriously damaged in the French Revolution of 1830. Rioters burned the residence of the archbishop, next to the cathedral, and many of the panes were destroyed. The window was entirely rebuilt by Viollet-le-Duc in 1861. He rotated the window by fifteen degrees to give it a clear vertical and horizontal axis, and replaced the destroyed pieces of glass with new glass in the same style. The window today contains both medieval and 19th century glass.
In the 1960s, after three decades of debate, it was decided to replace many of the 19th-century grisaille windows in the nave designed by Viollet-le-Duc with new windows. The new windows, made by Jacques Le Chevallier, are without human figures and use abstract grisaille designs and colour to try to recreate the luminosity of the cathedral’s interior in the 13th century.
Towers and the spire
The two towers are 69 metres (226 ft) high, and were the tallest structures in Paris until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in 1889. The towers were the last major element of the cathedral to be constructed. The south tower was built first, between 1220 and 1240, and the north tower between 1235 and 1250. The newer north tower is slightly larger, as can be seen when they are viewed from directly in front of the church. The contrefort or buttress of the north tower is also larger.
The south tower was accessible to visitors by a stairway, whose entrance was on the south side of the tower. The stairway has 387 steps, and has a stop at the Gothic hall at the level of the rose window, where visitors could look over the parvis and see a collection of paintings and sculpture from earlier periods of the cathedral’s history. The fourteen bells of the cathedral are located in the north and south towers. A lead-roofed water reservoir between the two towers, behind the colonnade and the gallery and before the nave and the pignon (gable).
The cathedral’s flèche (or spire) was located over the transept. The original spire was constructed in the 13th century, probably between 1220 and 1230. It was battered, weakened and bent by the wind over five centuries, and finally was removed in 1786. During the 19th-century restoration, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc decided to recreate it, making a new version of oak covered with lead. The entire spire weighed 750 tonnes.
Following Viollet-le-Duc’s plans, the spire was surrounded by copper statues of the twelve Apostles—a group of three at each point of the compass. In front of each group is a symbol representing one of the four evangelists: a winged ox for Saint Luke, a lion for Saint Mark, an eagle for Saint John and an angel for Saint Matthew. Just days prior to the fire, the statues were removed for restoration. While in place, they had faced outwards towards Paris, except one: the statue of Saint Thomas, the patron saint of architects, faced the spire, and had the features of Viollet-le-Duc.
The rooster weathervane atop the spire contained three relics: a tiny piece from the Crown of Thorns in the cathedral treasury, and relics of Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve, patron saints of Paris. They were placed there in 1935 by Archbishop Jean Verdier, to protect the congregation from lightning or other harm. The rooster with relics intact was recovered in the rubble shortly after the fire.
Twenty-one bronze bells make up the ringing of Notre-Dame, of which the drone is the oldest. They ring the hours and key moments in the life of the Church or in the history of Paris. They all bear a first name in homage to a personality of the Church. The largest of Notre-Dame’s bells is located in the south tower. In campanology, it is called “bumblebee”. It rings for special occasions such as Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, or All Saints’ Day and during events such as the death or the election of the Pope.
In the north tower, four bells ensure the daily ringing of the offices of the Cathedral. They weigh between two and three tons each. The ringing of the bells punctuates the life of the faithful, marks the solemnity of the offices. For all Parisians, they give the time according to the number of strokes of the leaf, or warn of the great moments in the history of France. This tradition continues today.
The poor quality of the metal of the four bells of the north tower caused harmonic discordances and poor acoustic quality. They were all replaced in 2013 with the exception of the Emmanuel dome, recognized for its sonic excellence. The Cornille-Havard foundry in Villedieu-les-Poêles makes the bells for the north tower, the Marie dome at the Royal Eijsbouts foundry in the Netherlands.
Roof and frame
The structure of Notre-Dame is among the oldest structures in Paris. Only after that of Saint-Pierre de Montmartre (1147) and some elements of that of Saint-Germain des Prés (1160-1170) precede it. Named “the forest” because of the number of beams, each one comes from a different oak tree. The dimensions are impressive: 100m long by 13m wide in the nave, 40m in the transept and 10m high. This framework was set ablaze during the 2019 fire leaving the entire roof gaping, open to the sky.
The installation of warheads is an architectural innovation of the Middle Ages. The architects imagine raising steeply pitched roofs. The inclination of those of Notre-Dame is 55°. At the time of its construction, clearing and urban development made heavy wood scarce. Woods with a smaller section are then used to raise the frames and accentuate the slopes.
A first framework was built in the choir of the cathedral with felled trees around 1160-1170. Some woods are already three hundred or four hundred years old at the time of construction, which corresponds to trees from the 8th or 9th century. The first frame has disappeared, but wood is reused in the second frame, put in place between 1220 and 1240.
A lead roof rests on the second framework, made up of 1326 tables 5 mm thick, weighing a total of 210 tonnes. In the 9th and 12th centuries, the roofs of churches were covered with flat tiles. As Paris does not have clay deposits, a lead cover is preferred. In 1196, Bishop Maurice de Sully bequeathed by will 5000 pounds for the purchase of lead.
The frameworks of the choir and the nave have survived the centuries. On the other hand, Viollet-le-Duc plans to restore those of the transepts and the spire in the middle of the 19th century. Made according to the principles in force in the 19th century, they differ from the frames of the choir and the nave because the dimensions of the beams are more imposing and spaced out than those of the Middle Ages.
The first spire was built above the transept crossing in the middle of the 13th century, around 1250. Such high constructions suffer from the wind which bends and weakens their structures: the spire was slowly deformed and the joists were distorted. In order to avoid any risk of collapse, it was dismantled between 1786 and 1792, after more than five centuries of existence. The cathedral remained without a spire until the restoration directed by Viollet-le-Duc and carried out by the Ateliers Monduit in the middle of the 19th century. This new arrow, made of oak covered with lead, weighed 750 tons; she collapsed onApril 15, 2019during the cathedral fire.
The spire was guarded by the statues of the Twelve Apostles and the Four Evangelists, made of repoussé copper. During the 2019 fire, the statues were no longer in place as they had been taken down a few days before, for restoration work. These statues are the work of Geoffroy-Dechaume and constitute a whole in harmony with the spirit of the 13th century. The apostles are all turned towards Paris, except for one of them, Saint Thomas, patron saint of architects, who turns towards the spire. This one has the features of Viollet-le-Duc, the architect of the spire turning around as if to contemplate his work one last time. The rooster at the top of the spire contained three relics: a small parcel of the Holy Crown, a relic of Saint Denis and one of Saint Geneviève. These relics were placed there in 1935, at the time of Jean Verdier.
Gargoyles and chimeras
Gargoyles are decorative elements. The gargoyles were put in place at the end of the gutters to evacuate rainwater from the roof and only designate the ends of the water drainage pipes. Their function is to protect the walls from the runoff of rainwater which alters the conservation of the stone. They designate the end of the gutters to evacuate the water coming from the roof far away. This is why they appear overhanging, leaning into the void, essentially located on the large flying buttresses of the choir.
They often take the form of fantastic, even frightening animals. They date from the Middle Ages. Gargoyles are found in particular at the level of the large buttresses of the choir. The drainage system of the roof of the apseends with a channel on the top of the flying buttresses then with long gargoyles.
The chimeras are these fantastic statues located at the top of the building, at the top of the facade: the Gallery of chimeras. All the angles of this balustrade serve as a support or a perch for demons, monsters and fantastic birds. These elements did not exist in the Middle Ages and were added by Viollet-le-Duc in a neo-Gothic style in the 19th century.
The interior of the cathedral is where the cathedra, the seat of the bishop, is located. It is in this church that on the most solemn days, the bishop presides over the liturgy.
The nave is made up of a kind of “avant-nave” or narthex of two bays located under and between the towers, followed by eight other bays. The central nave, 12 meters wide between the axes of the columns, is bordered by two collaterals with quadripartite vaults both to the north and to the south, making a total of five naves for only three portals, which is exceptional. Two rows of seven side chapels, built between the flying buttressesof the vessel open, from the fourth to the tenth span, on the external collaterals.
The elevation is at three levels. The first is made up of large arcades opening onto the interior side aisles. The second corresponds to a rostrum opening onto the nave by bays made up of three arcades, which rest on thin columns. Above these arcades, the tracery of these bays is full. The stands are lined with small roses. Finally, the third level is that of the high windows which have two lancets surmounted by an oculus.
The 14 side chapels are lit by windows with four lancets, grouped in pairs and surmounted by three polylobed oculi. On the one hand, the gallery being deep and the stained glass windows of its clerestory very dark, and on the other hand the windows of the collateral chapels being very far from the central nave, the lighting of the nave is essentially based on the high windows and is therefore quite low. The nave has several irregularities. The first span is narrower than the others; as a result, the gallery has only two arches while the high window is a baysimple. Moreover, it does not have a side chapel.
The last span has a four-level elevation, due to Viollet-le-Duc: the upper window is shorter, and in the space thus formed between the upper window and the level of the stands, a jagged oculus in the shape of a wheel has been introduced.. Such a structure is analogous to that of the neighboring transept. The choir, located due east, is very slightly offset to the left in relation to the central nave, which traditionally symbolizes the head of Christ slumped on the cross.
Another irregularity: the columns. Between the massive piers of the crossing and the imposing pillars which support the interior corner of the two towers, the central nave is bordered by two groups of seven columns. The original plan provided for completely cylindrical columns similar to those of the choir. This was done at the end of the twelfth century. century for the five pairs of eastern columns (closest to the transept).
On the other hand, the two pairs of western columns erected around 1220 deviate from this scheme. The architect of the time abandoned the cylindrical column, one of the fundamental characteristics of Notre-Dame, to approach the Chartrain model (linked to Chartres Cathedral). He avoided, however, that this difference seemed too brutal. Thus, he added to the second columns a single engaged column, to make a transition with the first columns which have four.
The reverse of the facade is occupied by an organ gallery which precedes the rose window and conceals its lower part. This one is consecrated to the Virgin, surrounded by the prophets, the vices and the virtues, the labors of the months and the signs of the zodiac. This rose was largely redone by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. Until the 19th century, the nave was empty of pews, the laity wandering around during the liturgies. On the other hand, it is loaded with many altars and desks, statues, tombs and cenotaphs, paintings and tapestries covering the walls or hanging between the arcades.
In 1965, the high windows of the nave and the rose windows of the stands were finally furnished with colored stained glass replacing the gray and dull glass implanted by the priests in the 18th century. Non-figurative, they are the work of Jacques Le Chevallier who used the products and colors of the Middle Ages. The set is predominantly red and blue.
Mays des Orfèvres
“Mays des Orfèvres ” at Notre-Dame is a series of 76 paintings offered to the cathedral by the brotherhood of goldsmiths, almost every year on the date of May 1 (hence their name), in homage to the Virgin Mary, and this from 1630 to 1707. The goldsmiths had long had their own chapel within the sanctuary. In 1449, the tradition of the Offering of May to Notre-Dame de Paris was instituted by the brotherhood of Goldsmiths of Paris.
These Mays were commissioned from renowned painters, who had to submit their sketches to the priests of the cathedral. After the foundation of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, in 1648, the artists chosen were all members or relatives of the latter. These commissions soon became a form of religious painting competition. Their subject matter was usually taken from the Acts of the Apostles. After displaying them on the forecourt, they were hung at the level of the arcades of the nave or the choir.
The Mays were dispersed during the Revolution, there are now about 50 left. The most important were recovered by the cathedral and today adorn the side chapels of the nave of Notre-Dame. Some are stored in the Louvre Museum, others in a few churches or in various French museums.
South side chapels
The first chapel (span 4) is the former chapel of the goldsmiths. Since 1964, it has been returned to them. There is the May of 1651: The Stoning of Saint Stephen by Charles Le Brun.
The second chapel houses the Martyrdom of Saint Andrew also by Charles Le Brun. It is the May of 1647. We also see the martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew there, the work of Lubin Baugin, a painter of the 17th century.
The third chapel contains the May of 1643, Crucifixion of Saint Peter, a work by Sébastien Bourdon, who took advantage of this exceptional commission to embark on a daring composition (complexity of the lines of force by a network of diagonals, creating an unprecedented Baroque dynamic in the artist’s work).
The fourth chapel contains Preaching of Saint Peter in Jerusalem (May 1642), painting by Charles Poerson.
The fifth chapel contains The Centurion Corneille at the Feet of Saint Peter, May 1639, the work of Aubin Vouet.
The sixth chapel contains the may of 1637, The conversion of Saint Paul by Laurent de La Hyre. There is also a Nativity of the Virgin by Le Nain.
The seventh chapel contains the may of 1635, Saint Peter curing the sick of his shadow by Laurent de La Hyre as well.
North side chapels
From west to east, from the façade towards the choir:
The first chapel contains the baptismal font made according to the plans of Viollet-le-Duc. There is also the may of 1634, The Descent of the Holy Spirit by Jacques Blanchard, as well as The Adoration of the Shepherds by Jérôme Francken, created in 1585.
Second chapel: you can see Saint Paul blinding the false prophet Barjesu, May 1650 by Nicolas Loir.
The third chapel or Chapel of the Holy Childhood (or Missionary Childhood), contains the reliquary of Saint Paul Tchen, martyr. The latter, a Chinese seminarian at the major seminary of Tsingay, in China, was beheaded for his faith in July 1861, along with three other Chinese Christians. These four martyrs were beatified in 1909 by Pope Pius X and canonized by John Paul II theOctober 1, 2000. The chapel also houses the May of 1655 depicting The Flagellation of Saint Paul and Saint Silas by Louis Testelin.
Fourth chapel: The may of 1670, a work by Gabriel Blanchard, depicts Saint Andrew quivering with joy at the sight of his ordeal. The chapel also contains the monument to Cardinal Amette created in 1923 by Hippolyte Lefèbvre.
The fifth chapel is dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. It contains the may of 1687 representing the prophet Agabus predicting to Saint Paul his sufferings in Jerusalem, the work of Louis Chéron.
Sixth chapel: May of 1702, The sons of Sceva beaten by the demon by Mathieu Elias. The sons of Sceva were two Jewish exorcists. You can also see The Martyrdom of Saint Catherine, a painting by the painter-engraver Joseph-Marie Vien; dated 1752.
Finally, the seventh chapel contains the tombstone of Canon Étienne Yvert.
The choir of the cathedral is surrounded by a double ambulatory. It consists of five rectangular or straight bays surmounted by two sexpartite vaults. The apse is five-sided, corresponding to five radiating chapels. The elevation of the first bay is similar to that of the transept, that is to say has four levels: a small rose window is inserted between the level of the stands and that of the high windows. On the other hand, the other spans, including those of the apse, have a three-level elevation, similar to that of the nave.(large arcades, gallery and high windows). All around the choir, the gallery is lit by bays with two lancets, a structure that is found at the level of the high windows.
All the decoration of the choir had been redone by Robert de Cotte. During the restoration of the 19th century, Viollet -le-Duc, wishing to return to the essentially Gothic style of the building, removed some of the transformations carried out at that time by de Cotte, such as the covering of the Gothic arcades with classical marble columns. supporting semicircular arches. He also removed the high altar of de Cotte to return to an altar of the Middle Ages. From the choir of the 18th century, however, there are still stalls and sculptures that can be seen behind the high altar.
Current composition of the choir
To satisfy the new Catholic rite defined at the Second Vatican COUNCIL, the choir was somewhat enlarged, it now also occupies the eastern half of the crossing of the transept. A new altar was commissioned by Archbishop Jean-Marie Lustiger and occupies this new space, clearly visible both from the nave and from the two crosspieces of the transept. Located close to the center of the cathedral, the new altar, in bronze, was made by Jean Touret and Sébastien Touret, artists of sacred art, in 1989. You can see the four evangelists (Saint Matthew, Saint Luke,Saint Mark and Saint John), as well as the four major Old Testament prophets, namely Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Daniel. This altar is completely destroyed by the consequences of the fall of the rubble and the arrow during the fire of April 15, 2019.
To the east of the choir, not far from the apse, there is still the old high altar created by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century, with the superb statues installed in the early 18th century in the background. century by the architect Robert de Cotte and forming part of the wish of Louis XIII.
Nicolas Coustou ‘s pietà is placed behind the altar. On either side of it are the statues of the two kings, Louis XIII by Guillaume Coustou and Louis XIV sculpted by Antoine Coysevox. A series of six bronze angel statues surround the set and each carries an instrument of the Passion of Christ: a crown of thorns, the nails of the crucifixion, the sponge soaked in vinegar, the inscription which surmounted the cross, the reed with which Christ was whipped and the spear that pierced his heart. Since the 1990s, the pietà has been surmounted by the Cross and Glory ensemble produced byMarc Couturier. The Cross is a carved wooden structure covered with gold leaf. The Glory, a halo-object above the Cross, of an analogous constitution, suggests the shape of a fish, a Christian symbol. The work survives the fire of theApril 15, 2019.
The carved wooden stalls are installed on both sides of the choir. There were 114. There are 78 left, including 52 high and 26 low. They were made at the beginning of the 18th century by Jean Noël and Louis Marteau according to plans by René Charpentier and Jean Dugoulon. The high backs of the stalls are decorated with bas-reliefs and separated by overmantels decorated with foliage and instruments of the Passion. On each side, the stalls end in an archiepiscopal stall, surmounted by a canopywith groups of angels sculpted by Dugoulon. One of these two stalls is reserved for the archbishop, the other being intended for an important guest. The bas-relief in the stall on the right represents the martyrdom of Saint Denis, the one on the left the healing of Childebert I by Saint Germain, Bishop of Paris.
Chapels around the choir
Starting from the right of the choir, one encounters first, laterally to the right, the sacristy for masses, the back of which corresponds to the western arm of the cloister of the Chapter. The next chapel contains the tomb of Denys Affre who was killed in 1848, at the entrance to rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine.
Follows the location of the entrance to the Sacristy of the Chapter which leads to the treasury of the cathedral. Then comes the Chapelle Sainte-Madeleine containing the burial of Marie Dominique Auguste Sibour.
The chapel of Saint-Guillaume is the first of the five radiating chapels of the apse of the cathedral. There is the mausoleum of Lieutenant-General Henri Claude d’Harcourt by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, as well as the Visitation of the Virgin by Jean Jouvenet, dated 1716 and the monument of Jean Jouvenel des Ursins and his wife Michelle de Vitry (15th century). The theme of this composition (“the conjugal reunion”) was defined in the contract signed between the sculptor and the Countess on July 1, 1771.
In the next chapel, Saint-Georges chapel, are the tomb of Georges Darboy (shot in 1871 with 30 other priests taken hostage by the Communards), the work of Jean-Marie Bonnassieux, as well as a statue of Saint George. From 1379 to the Revolution, this chapel was that of the shoemakers. The third chapel or axial chapel of the cathedral, is the Chapel of the Virgin or of Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs where we find the statues of Albert de Gondi, Marshal of France who died in 1602, and of Pierre de Gondi, cardinal and bishop of Paris, died in 1616.
To one side of the chapel is a 14th -century fresco showing the virgin and other saints surrounding the soul of a bishop, Simon Matifas de Bucy. Opposite the entrance to this axial chapel, in the ambulatory, just behind the choir, is the recumbent statue of Bishop Simon Matifas de Bucy (died 1304).
The axial chapel has recently exhibited a red glass safe, containing Christ’s crown of thorns, a relic looted in 1250 in Constantinople by the Frankish crusaders (including Baudouin II de Courtenay), bought by Saint Louis and transferred from the Saint – Chapel at Notre-Dame in 1792.
The fourth chapel or Saint-Marcel chapel, contains the tombs of Jean-Baptiste de Belloy, cardinal, by Louis Pierre Deseine and of Hyacinthe-Louis de Quélen, the work of Adolphe-Victor Geoffroi-Dechaume.
The last of the apsidal chapels or Saint-Louis chapel houses the tomb of Cardinal de Noailles sculpted by Geoffroi-Dechaume. The last chapels surrounding the choir are the northern side chapels: in the Saint-Germain chapel, one can see the tomb of Antoine-Éléonor-Léon Leclerc de Juigné (died in 1809), executed according to the plans of Viollet-le -Duke. Finally, in the next chapel which precedes the Red Door, or Saint-Ferdinand chapel, there are the mausoleums of Christophe de Beaumont (died in 1781) and Marshal de Guébriant (died in 1643). You can also see the orant of Cardinal Morlot (died in 1862).
The transept is wider than the nave. It has no aisles, the stability of the whole being ensured by the external buttresses. The transept includes the crossing of the transept and two braces of three bays. The two bays closest to the crossing of the transept are covered with a sexpartite vault, the third with a quadripartite vault. In the first two bays, the elevation is at four levels, and not three like the nave. The large arcades open onto the side aisles of the nave. The second level is always made up of the stands. What changes is the addition of a third stage formed by oculilike wheels. Finally, the fourth level is that of the high windows. These are smaller than those of the nave, since the addition of the oculi reduced them by the corresponding height. In total, the top of the vault reaches the same height as that of the nave or the choir.
The wall of the third bay is solid at the level of the large arches. It is then topped by two levels of blind decorative arcades in the south transept, but only one level in the north transept. The eastern part of the crossing of the transept is occupied by the new high altar of the cathedral.
South crosspiece and its rose window
There is a painting by Antoine Nicolas, La Fontaine de la Sagesse, produced in 1648. Against the southeast pillar of the crossing of the transept is a statue of the Virgin and Child called Notre-Dame de Paris (the real statue holding this title is that of the trumeau of the door of the cloister). It is dated from the 14th century and comes from the Saint -Aignan chapel located in the former cloister of the priests of the Île de la Cité. It was transferred to Notre-Dame in 1818 and placed first in the trumeau of the Portal of the Virgin to replace the Virgin of the 13th century mutilated in 1793. In 1855, Viollet-le-Ducplaced it in its current location. Nearby is a plaque recalling that it was in Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral that the trial for the rehabilitation of Joan of Arc took place.
Almost opposite the statue of the Virgin Our Lady, on the southwest pillar of the window, is the memorial to the million dead of the British Empire who fell during the First World War, most of whom rest in France. Before the French Revolution, there was attached to the first eastern pillar, on the south side, a wooden equestrian statue of Philip IV the Fair erected as an ex-voto, facing the altar of the Virgin, the king having attributed his victory of Mons- en-Pévèle to the protection of Mary. One can also see in this cross a plaque indicating the place where Paul Claudel was in December 1886, when, aged 18 and suddenly touched by a religious illumination, he converted to Catholicism.
The enormous rose window, 13.1 meters in diameter, donated by Saint Louis and located at the top of the end wall of the transept, retains only part of its original stained glass windows, some of which were replaced during a restoration in 1737. The rose window suffered again during the revolution of 1830, following the fire of the nearby archdiocese. It then underwent a new restoration carried out by Viollet-le-Duc who rotated it by 15 degrees in order to give it a robust vertical axis to consolidate it. It is organized around Christ who occupies its center. All around are represented the wise virgins and the foolish virgins, men and women saints, angels, apostles.
North crosspiece and its rose window
One can see there against the northeast pillar of the crossing of the transept, a statue of Saint Denis, the work of Nicolas Coustou. The back wall of the north cross has three levels: a door, surmounted by a section of wall without ornament. The second level consists of a clerestory with nine arches of two lancets. Finally, a third floor consists of the rosette. Unlike the south rose window, the north rose window has retained its original 13th century stained glass almost intact. The center is occupied by the Virgin Mary. Around her gravitate the judges, the kings, the high priests of Israel and the prophets of the Old Testament.
One of the earliest organs at Notre-Dame, built in 1403 by Frédéric Schambantz, was rebuilt many times over the course of 300 years, however 12 pipes and some wood survive from this ancient instrument. It was replaced between 1730 and 1738 by François Thierry, and later rebuilt by François-Henri Clicquot. During the restoration of the cathedral by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll built a new organ, using pipework from the former instruments. The organ was dedicated in 1868.
In addition to the great organ in the west end, the quire of the cathedral carries a medium-sized choir organ of 2 manuals, 30 stops and 37 ranks in a 19th-century case from the 1960s. It was heavily damaged by waterlogging, but is at least partially reusable. It also had a 5-stop single-manual continuo organ, which was completely destroyed by water from firefighters.
Burials and crypts
Unlike some other French cathedrals, Notre-Dame was originally constructed without a crypt. In the medieval period, burials were made directly into the floor of the church, or in above-ground sarcophagi, some with tomb effigies. High-ranking clergy and some royals were buried in the choir and apse, while many others, including lower-ranking clergy and lay people, were buried in the nave or chapels. There is no surviving complete record of all of the burials made at this time.
In 1699, many of the choir tombs were disturbed or covered over during a major renovation project. Remains which were exhumed were reburied in a common tomb beside the high altar. In 1711, a small crypt measuring about six meters by six meters (20′ x 20′) was dug out in the middle of the choir which was used as a burial vault for the archbishops, if they had not requested to be buried elsewhere. It was during this excavation that the 1st century Pillar of the Boatmen was discovered. In 1758, three more crypts were dug in the Chapel of Saint-Georges to be used for burials of priests of Notre-Dame. In 1765, a larger crypt was built under the nave to be used for burials of priests, beneficiaries, chaplains, cantors, and choirboys. Between 1771 and 1773, the cathedral floor was repaved with black and white marble tiles, which covered over most of the remaining tombs. This prevented many of these tombs from being disturbed during the Revolution.
In 1858, the choir crypt was expanded to stretch most of the length of the choir. During this project, many medieval tombs were rediscovered. Likewise the nave crypt was also rediscovered in 1863 when a larger vault was dug out to install a vault heater. Many other tombs are also located in the chapels.
Decorations and artworks
Throughout its history, donors, wealthy families, brotherhoods have offered cult objects to Notre-Dame: relics of saints, monstrances, lecterns, tapestries… Artists and craftsmen, among the most famous of their time, contribute to the enrichment of this collection. The know-how, the materials used (gold, precious stones, silk) make these objects true works of art.
Over time, the cathedral has gradually been stripped of many of its original decorations and artworks. However, the cathedral still contains several noteworthy examples of Gothic, Baroque, and 19th-century sculptures, a number of 17th- and early 18th-century altarpieces, and some of the most important relics in Christendom – including the Crown of Thorns, a sliver of the true cross and a nail from the true cross.
The exterior statuary of Notre-Dame is designed at the same time as the architecture of the cathedral. It tells episodes of Christian history. Inside, the statues are added over time. From the 12th century, architects designed the statuary of the Cathedral, at the same time as the building itself. It is located mainly outside, on the portals. It is designed in a narrative mode. Each part tells a story from the Bible.
Many statues have disappeared over time, degraded by bad weather or destroyed in times of political unrest. During the restorations of the 19th century, some were redone in “the Gothic style” mainly on the western facade. Traces of paint found on some 13th century statues prove that the interior and exterior statuary was colorful in the Middle Ages.
There are few medieval statues left inside the cathedral. However, the most emblematic is a 14th century Virgin and Child. The choir tower represents a sculpted program partially preserved. In the 18th century, following the wishes of Louis XIII, the choir of the cathedral was redesigned. The addition of many sculpted elements, including the imposing Pieta in white marble, marks one of the many changes to the cathedral.
The side chapels are filled with altars, tombs and decorations over the centuries. However, the most representative is the mausoleum of the Comte d’Harcourt by Jean Baptiste Pigalle. When in the 19th century, Viollet-le-Duc directed the restoration work, “the Gothic style” dominated on the western facade. He adds imaginary creations to the building. Thus appear the new spire and its twelve statues of apostles or even chimeras on the edge of the terrace. Some statues come from particular venerations such as Saint Anthony of Padua or Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
The paintings kept at Notre-Dame date from the 17th and 18th centuries. Commissioned by the priests of the cathedral from the most illustrious Parisian painters, they testify to the artistic quality of religious painting in Paris at that time. At Notre-Dame, the stained glass windows testify to the taste of medieval art for colour. In the Middle Ages, the paintings are present on the portals and the rood screen around the choir. Erased by bad weather, they have completely disappeared outside the building. The cathedral has no paintings from the Middle Ages. At that time, religious painting existed mainly in the form of icons. Due to their small sizes, these precious painted objects are easily transportable. Painting also decorates chests and tabernacles.
From the 13th century, many families and trade corporations testified to their devotion to Mary by ordering decorations for chapels. In the 16th century, the corporation of goldsmiths made a habit of offering a painting to Notre-Dame every May 1st. This tradition evolved in the 17th century through large paintings called ” Les Mays de Notre-Dame “. At the beginning of the 18th century, the corporation ceased its annual offering. At the same time, the choir of the cathedral underwent major renovations. Thus, to decorate this new choir, the best painters of the time produced the eight large paintings illustrating the Life of the Virgin, of which only the Visitation by Jean Jouvenet remained on site. Finally, a painting representing Saint Thomas Aquinas recalls the importance that this Dominican exercised in Paris in the 12th century.
Treasure of Notre-Dame de Paris
The inventories of 1343 and 1416 do not mention the primitive rooms which house the first treasury of Notre-Dame de Paris, used as a monetary reserve in case of need. The kings of France sell parts or send them to be melted down in times of crisis or war. Looted in 1793, the treasury was reconstituted from 1804, notably with the delivery to the Archdiocese of Paris of the relics of the Sainte-Chapelle, then it was enriched by donations and orders from Chapter.
The current treasure of Notre-Dame de Paris is exhibited in the neo- Gothic building of the sacristy of the Chapter, built from 1840 to 1845 under the leadership of Lassus and Viollet-le-Duc, and located south of the choir of the cathedral. It is accessed by one of the right side chapels of the choir. The public can currently visit it every day except Sunday. You can see in particular prestigious pieces such as the Crown of thorns and other relics of the Passion of Christ, monstrances and reliquaries, a large lectern in the Baroque style, a collection of cameosof the popes.
Sacristy of the chapter
The sacristy is connected to the cathedral by two parallel arms thereby enclosing a space allocated to a small square cloister, the cloister of the Chapter.
In the 1830s, the construction of a new sacristy for the chapter was essential. Indeed, the previous building, built by Soufflot between 1755 and 1758, and seriously damaged during the riots ofJuly 29, 1830, had met a sad fate onFebruary 14, 1831. That day, in fact, the archiepiscopal palace and the sacristy were looted and destroyed. It was a building mixing Greek and Gothic styles: a staircase with two ramps led to a round vaulted room where the shrines and relics were stored, while the ornaments were kept on the floor above.
The budget of 2,650,000 francs for the restoration of the cathedral, voted by the National Assembly in 1845, allowed not only the repair of the sanctuary, but also the construction of this sacristy, and this for an amount of 665,000 francs for the Big work. As we have seen, the construction of the latter proved to be much more expensive, the very unstable subsoil requiring deep foundations of some 9 meters. As for the style, Viollet-le-Duc opted for neo- Gothic style inspired by the 13th century, in order to bring it into harmony with the apse of the cathedral. Work began in 1849.
Stained glass in the sacristy of the chapter
The stained glass windows had been planned to be white at the start, but Prosper Mérimée having underlined the disadvantages of this absence of coloring, they quickly came to put in place colored stained glass windows. Those in the main hall of the building which represent a series of bishops of Paris by Maréchal de Metz.
The arcades of the cloister galleries have eighteen stained glass windows whose stained glass windows are in lighter colors, the work of Alfred Gérente from the designs of Louis Steinheil. These windows represent the legend of Saint Geneviève, patroness of the city of Paris. You can see at the bottom of each window a Latin inscription describing the scene. Only the last six scenes of the saint’s life can be admired by visitors. These are the ones in the corridor giving access to the Treasury. At the top of the main canopy of the cloister, there is a stained glass window representing the coronation of the Virgin.
Reliquaries and relics
The main pieces on display in the treasury are the reliquaries of the Holy Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the Cross of Christ, together with a nail from the latter. Only the reliquaries that various 19th century donors (including Napoleon I and Napoleon III) offered to the public are presented to the public, since during the Revolution the treasury was looted, and the various objects it contained dispersed or destroyed..
The centerpiece of the treasury is the reliquary of the Palatine Cross. which has been there since 1828. It is so named because it belonged to Princess Palatine Anne de Gonzague de Cleves who died in the 17th century. This reliquary is intended to contain a piece of the true Cross as well as a nail of the latter. There is a gold blade with an inscription in Greek attesting that the fragment belonged to the Byzantine emperor Manuel I Komnenos who died in 1180.
Another piece of great value, the old reliquary of the Holy Crown of Thorns which was created in 1804 by Charles Cahier. According to tradition, the Crown of Thorns was acquired from Baldwin II of Courtenay, the last Latin Emperor of Constantinople, by Saint Louis, King of France. It is visible during Lent and Holy Week. During the 1845 restoration carried out by Viollet-le-Duc’s team, the creation of a new shrine -reliquary for the Crown of Thorns became necessary. This new reliquary, in gilded bronze and silver, diamonds and precious stones, dates from 1862. It is 88 cm high and 49 cm wide.. It was made after the design of Viollet-le-Duc by the goldsmith Placide Poussielgue-Rusand, the same who executed the Crown of Light for the cathedral. Adolphe-Victor Geoffroy-Dechaume collaborated in its realization for the sculpture of the figures. The treasury also contains relics of Saint Louis, King of France: clothes (including Saint Louis’ shirt), a fragment of his jawbone and a rib.