Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral is one of the most iconic monuments in Paris and France. The cathedral is linked to many episodes in the history of France. Built in the 12th century,, its construction spanned approximately two centuries. modified in the 18th century then restored in the 19th century, it has been the symbol of Christian worship in Paris over the centuries.
The history of the Cathedral is closely linked to the History of France, in the 4th century, with the advent of Clovis, Paris became the Christian capital of the Frankish kingdom. It was then that a first Saint-Etienne cathedral was built in the 6th century. The rise of the city began in the 12th century after the Norman invasions. Four popes stayed there during the century. The city prospers, it is a place of artistic and intellectual exchanges, equipped with colleges and a university of philosophy and theology. This is how the story of Notre Dame begins.
At the same time, the crusades to Jerusalem and the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela move thousands of faithful on the roads. The Ile de la Cité is an essential stopover for crossing the Seine. In fact, the faithful flock to the district of the city. They generate commercial activity and offerings for worship. In this context, Maurice de Sully, bishop of Paris, undertook the construction of a new and vast cathedral to welcome the faithful.
In the 13th century, the population of Paris doubled. Saint Louis brings back from Jerusalem the relics of the passion of Christ which he places in the cathedral in 1239. The cathedral thus becomes a high place of worship. It grows and changes to become a model of religious architecture.
During the Renaissance, tastes evolved, its appeal was neglected. In the 17th century, by the wish of Louis XIII, the kingdom placed itself under the protection of Notre-Dame de Paris. Major developments took place in the 18th century.
During the French Revolution, Notre-Dame the place where the coronation of Napoleon I in 1804, then the baptism of Henri d’Artois, the Duke of Bordeaux, in 1821, as well as the funeral of several Presidents of the French Republic (Adolphe Thiers, Sadi Carnot, Paul Doumer, Charles de Gaulle, Georges Pompidou, François Mitterrand).
The cathedral inspires many artistic works, in particular Victor Hugo’s novel Notre-Dame de Paris published in 1831 and which in turn partly influences its history. Abused by bad weather and the Revolution, the cathedral threatened to collapse in the 19th century. Driven by a resurgence in popularity thanks to Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo, the State decided to carry out restoration work in the 19th 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.
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, the 850th anniversary of its construction was celebrated in 2013. At the beginning of the 21st century, Notre-Dame was visited each year by some 13 to 14 million people. The building, also a minor basilica, is thus the most visited monument in Europe and one of the most visited in the world until 2019.
The violent fire of April 15, 2019 destroyed the spire and the entire roof covering the nave, the choir and the transept. This is the largest disaster suffered by the cathedral since its construction. Notre-Dame is, since this date, closed to the public for an indefinite period. Its identical reconstruction is decided in 2020 and its reopening to the public planned for 2024.
Before the cathedral
In the 4th century, Clovis converted to Christianity. A Frankish king, he raised Paris to the capital and developed Christian worship. A first Saint-Étienne cathedral was built on the island of the city. In Gallo-Roman times, the town was called the “city”. The first city of Paris is erected on an island which forms a natural rampart against enemies. The city is growing rapidly. Two bridges to the north and south connect the new neighborhoods.
Four religious buildings follow one another before the cathedral of Maurice de Sully: a paleo- Christian church of the 4th century rebuilt into a Merovingian basilica, then a Carolingian cathedral 3 and finally a Romanesque cathedral restored and enlarged, but which gradually proves to be too small for the rapidly growing population of Paris.
Marcel is the ninth bishop of Paris in the 4th century. In 360-361, he participated in the Council of Paris which aims to unify various currents of the church. The same year the Emperor Julien is in Lutèce with his army. Around 496, King Clovis chose Paris as the capital of the Frankish kingdom and converted to Christianity. The diocese of Paris becomes very famous and influential. In the middle of the 6th century, Bishop Germain hosted several councils in Paris.
Two centuries later, the Emperor Charlemagne and his successors granted the Church of Paris a privileged status. Subsequently, the kings reinforced the alliance between the Church and the monarchy, granting the Abbey of Saint-Denis and the Cathedral of Paris primordial roles.
According to Jean Hubert, the primitive cathedral dedicated to Notre-Dame forms, from the 6th to the 12th century, with the Saint-Étienne cathedral a double cathedral which, accompanied by the baptistery of Saint-Jean-le-Rond, constitutes in the Middle Ages the ecclesia of the diocese of Paris, the episcopal group which precedes the cathedral of Bishop Maurice de Sully.
Excavations carried out during restoration work in the 19th century revealed remains of capitals and mosaics under the forecourt. These elements prove the existence of a religious building from the Roman or Merovingian period, dedicated to Saint Stephen. This former church was located under the current forecourt. Not far from the cathedral, the church of Saint Jean le Rond housed from the 6th to the 12th century a large water tank, used as a baptistery. On the current site of the choir of the cathedral, was the old chapel of the episcopal palace, reserved for the bishop. The eastern tip of the island was occupied by a set of buildings reserved for the diocese.
Stages of construction
Under the reign of Louis VI, Thibaud II, bishop of Paris from 1144 to 1158 became interested in new architectural trends. The Ile de la Cité was a very popular place of passage in the Middle Ages. Its activity developed there throughout the Middle Ages in the midst of numerous places of worship. During the construction of the cathedral, the district is transformed into a building site. Pilgrims and the sick are welcomed at the Hôtel-Dieu.
To build a large building, it is necessary to have large spaces to install the site and store the materials. This is why Maurice de Sully decides to destroy the Saint-Etienne cathedral. The freed surface is used as a manufacturing site before being transformed into a forecourt. The construction of the cathedral is located to the east of the old church. Similarly, to convey the materials, it is necessary to circulate easily. However, the district only has narrow streets and two small bridges to access the island. Louis VI orders the construction of a large bridge, called Pont-aux-changes.
In 1160, Bishop Maurice de Sully decided to build a new type of sanctuary, much larger, in place of the Romanesque cathedral. The first stone of the cathedral was laid in 1163 by Bishop Maurice de Sully. He undertook a colossal project in coordination with the best mason architects of his time. Together, these builders imagined a new religious art, called since the 16th century “Gothic art”.
An ambitious builder, he founded several churches, abbeys and hospices in his diocese and reorganized their fiefs and revenues. However, his major work remains the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. He had it built from 1160 on the site of the existing cathedral, Saint-Étienne. Ambitious in its dimensions and its architectural innovations, this building contributes to the life of the community of parishioners. The redevelopment of the urban plan around the cathedral facilitates access.
The architect of the building, who has remained anonymous, therefore designed a building of exceptional dimensions: 127 meters long, 40 meters wide and 33 meters high. Until the middle of the 13th century, the cathedral was the largest religious monument in the Western world. The prowess of construction techniques initiated at the Saint-Denis basilica continues on the Notre-Dame site. Considered immediately as masterpieces, these new religious buildings are called “French works”. The concept and style served as a model in France and Europe, before falling into disuse during the Renaissance.
Etienne de Garlande, archdeacon of Paris, had major works carried out for its embellishment, including the Saint Anne portal, decorated with column statues. At the same time, Father Suger presided over the work of the new Saint-Denis basilica, designed as a shrine of colored glass. The idea is “Bringing Light” into the church is the key concept. The new architectural techniques impressed contemporaries, in particular by the art of stained glass.
The architecture of the new cathedral must be in line with the new Gothic art. Several large Gothic churches then already existed (the Saint-Denis abbey church, the Notre-Dame de Noyon cathedral and the Notre-Dame de Laon cathedral), while the Saint-Étienne de Sens cathedral was nearing completion. Construction, begun during the reign of Louis VII (who offered the sum of 200 pounds), lasted from 1163 to 1345. At that time, Paris was only a bishopric, suffragan of the archbishop of Sens, Sens being at originally the Roman prefecture of theLyonnaise fourth.
Father Suger offers a stained glass window to the Cathedral on the theme of the triumph of the Virgin (destroyed in the 18ths.). During the construction of the new cathedral, various elements were reintroduced, including the Sainte Anne portal and the stained glass window of the Virgin donated by Suger.
As in the whole of Western Europe, the 11th and 12th centuriesare indeed characterized by a rapid increase in the population of French cities, linked to significant economic development, and the old cathedrals become for the most part too small to contain the increasingly large masses of faithful. Specialists estimate that the population of Paris rose from 25,000 inhabitants in 1180, the beginning of the reign of Philip II Augustus, to 50,000 around 1220, making it the largest city in Europe outside of Italy.
The chronicler Jean de Saint-Victor recorded in the Memorial Historiarum that the construction of Notre-Dame began between 24 March and 25 April 1163 with the laying of the cornerstone in the presence of King Louis VII and Pope Alexander III. Four phases of construction took place under bishops Maurice de Sully and Eudes de Sully (not related to Maurice), according to masters whose names have been lost. Analysis of vault stones that fell in the 2019 fire shows that they were quarried in Vexin, a county northwest of Paris, and presumably brought up the Seine by ferry.
The first phase began with the construction of the choir and its two ambulatories. According to Robert of Torigni, the choir was completed in 1177 and the high altar consecrated on 19 May 1182 by Cardinal Henri de Château-Marçay, the Papal legate in Paris, and Maurice de Sully.
The second phase, from 1182 to 1190, concerned the construction of the four sections of the nave behind the choir and its aisles to the height of the clerestories. It began after the completion of the choir but ended before the final allotted section of the nave was finished. Beginning in 1190, the bases of the façade were put in place, and the first traverses were completed. Heraclius of Caesarea called for the Third Crusade in 1185 from the still-incomplete cathedral.
Louis IX deposited the relics of the passion of Christ, which included the Crown of thorns, a nail from the Cross and a sliver of the Cross, which he had purchased at great expense from the Latin Emperor Baldwin II, in the cathedral during the construction of the Sainte-Chapelle. An under-shirt, believed to have belonged to Louis, was added to the collection of relics at some time after his death.
The decision was made to add transepts at the choir, where the altar was located, in order to bring more light into the centre of the church. The use of simpler four-part rather than six-part rib vaults meant that the roofs were stronger and could be higher. After Bishop Maurice de Sully’s death in 1196, his successor, Eudes de Sully oversaw the completion of the transepts, and continued work on the nave, which was nearing completion at the time of his own death in 1208. By this time, the western façade was already largely built, though it was not completed until around the mid-1240s. Between 1225 and 1250 the upper gallery of the nave was constructed, along with the two towers on the west façade.
Another significant change came in the mid-13th century, when the transepts were remodelled in the latest Rayonnant style; in the late 1240s Jean de Chelles added a gabled portal to the north transept topped off by a spectacular rose window. Shortly afterward (from 1258) Pierre de Montreuil executed a similar scheme on the southern transept. Both these transept portals were richly embellished with sculpture; the south portal features scenes from the lives of Saint Stephen and of various local saints, while the north portal featured the infancy of Christ and the story of Theophilus in the tympanum, with a highly influential statue of the Virgin and Child in the trumeau.
Master builders Pierre de Chelles, Jean Ravy, Jean le Bouteiller, and Raymond du Temple succeeded de Chelles and de Montreuil and then each other in the construction of the cathedral. Ravy completed de Chelles’s rood screen and chevet chapels, then began the 15-metre (49 ft) flying buttresses of the choir. Jean le Bouteiller, Ravy’s nephew, succeeded him in 1344 and was himself replaced on his death in 1363 by his deputy, Raymond du Temple.
An important innovation in the 13th century was the introduction of the flying buttress. Before the buttresses, all of the weight of the roof pressed outward and down to the walls, and the abutments supporting them. With the flying buttress, the weight was carried by the ribs of the vault entirely outside the structure to a series of counter-supports, which were topped with stone pinnacles which gave them greater weight. The buttresses meant that the walls could be higher and thinner, and could have much larger windows. The date of the first buttresses is not known with any great precision beyond an installation date in the 13th century.
Art historian Andrew Tallon, however, has argued based on detailed laser scans of the entire structure that the buttresses were part of the original design. According to Tallon, the scans indicate that “the upper part of the building has not moved one smidgen in 800 years,” whereas if they were added later some movement from prior to their addition would be inevitable.
First period (1161-1250)
A legend, founded by the chronicler Jean de Saint-Victor in his Memoriale Historiarum written in the 14th century and reported by a long and abundant historiographical tradition, has it that between March 24 and April 25, 1163, Pope Alexander III, then a refugee in Sens, laid the first stone himself, in the presence of King Louis VII. In the current state of knowledge, the date traditionally retained for the beginning of the work of Notre-Dame is 1163, but it is probable that the site began as early as 1161. Most of the work is done under the direction of Bishop Maurice de Sully (1160-1197) and his successor Odon de Sully(1197-1208) – both unrelated. There are four construction campaigns, corresponding to four different master builders.
The construction of the cathedral of Paris lasted only about 75 years, until the beginning of the work of realization of the side chapels between the buttresses, from 1235. This speed of construction requires significant funding. Henry Kraus’ book on The Money of Cathedrals shows that this first phase of construction only mobilized, for the most part, the proper property of the bishop and the chapter. The construction of the cathedral may have benefited from a period of prosperity and peace. During the reign of Philippe Auguste, the royal domain increased considerably with the acquisition of Normandy and Languedoc, which led to an increase in the finances of the monarchy, but also of the Parisian bourgeoisie, which participated in the management of this new royal domain. However, the names of the kings do not appear in the financing of the cathedral. For example, Saint Louis, who nevertheless makes many donations to abbeys and monasteries, is not mentioned.
The accounts of the cathedral factory have not been preserved. The assets of the bishop and the chapter are known by the cartulary of the cathedral, published by Benjamin Guérard. As Benjamin Guérard points out (page CLXVII), the cartulary of the Notre-Dame church gives no information on the construction of the cathedral. For example, the bishop owned a large part of the land on the right bank of the Seine, and the chapter the Île de la Cité.
The cartulary notes that several properties of the bishop were sold by bourgeois and had to be used to finance the construction of the cathedral. The cathedral obituary has preserved the donation of 100 books made by Maurice de Sully, in 1196, to buy the lead necessary for its cover. Another income of the bishop came from the third of the tax of the crown on the transactions made with the halls of Paris. The contribution of the canons of the chapter was made by taking the size on the subjects of the fiefdoms that the canons possessed. When a new size was announced in 1250 for the construction of the cathedral, the serfs of the chapter fiefdoms refused to pay. The chapter then had them imprisoned. Blanche de Castille intervened to free them, but they were ordered to pay. It was not until 1263 that 636 serfs were able to redeem their manumission.
Second period (c.1250 – c.1350)
At that time, the portals of the transept, built in the Romanesque style, contrasted by the severity of their style with the large Gothic facade, richly decorated in the style of the day. The reconstruction of the Romanesque parts was then swiftly decided by Bishop Renaud de Corbeil (1250-1268) to align the facades of the transepts with those of the side chapels of the nave which were completed around 1250 and of the choir undertaken afterwards.
Jehan de Chelles, Pierre de Montreuil, Pierre de Chelles, Jean Ravy, Jean le Bouteiller and Raymond du Temple were the master builders who succeeded each other during this period. Jean de Chelles lengthens the transept, first to the north (around 1250), then to the south and has the north facade of the transept and its rose window made. After his death in 1265, his work on the south transept was completed by Pierre de Montreuil, who also designed the south facade of the transept and its rose window. Pierre de Montreuil also completed the chapels and the red door. Likewise, he begins the replacement of the flying buttresses of thechoir. He died in turn in 1267.
His successor Pierre de Chelles built the rood screen and began the bedside chapels in 1296. The latter were completed by Jean Ravy, who was project manager from 1318 to 1344. Jean Ravy began construction of the flying buttresses of the choir of a range of 15 meters. He also begins the making of the enclosure of the choir. In 1344, his nephew Jean le Bouteiller succeeded him and worked until 1363. After his death, his deputy Raymond du Temple completed the work, in particular the enclosure of the choir.
15th and 16th centuries
On 16 December 1431, the boy-king Henry VI of England was crowned king of France in Notre-Dame, aged ten, the traditional coronation church of Reims Cathedral being under French control.
During the Renaissance, the Gothic style fell out of style, renaissance artists turned away from Gothic art, considered the work of barbarians, so they did not hesitate to camouflage the pillars, cover the walls and arcades with huge tapestries and hangings. Baroque statuary invades the naves already loaded with numerous altars and desks, tombs and cenotaphs.
In 1548, rioting Huguenots damaged some of the statues of Notre-Dame, considering them idolatrous. The fountain in Notre-Dame’s parvis was added in 1625 to provide nearby Parisians with running water.
King Louis XIV, on the insistence of his father, Louis XIII, decided in 1699 to make extensive modifications to Notre-Dame. He tasked Robert de Cotte with the renovation. Cotte replaced the rood screen with a sumptuous and gilded wrought iron fence, opened up the choir and ambulatory, and removed the tombs in the nave. New furniture was produced as well as the current high altar, depicting Louis XIV and Louis XIII kneeling before a pietà.
Since 1449, the Parisian goldsmith guild had made regular donations to the cathedral chapter. In 1630, it was decided that the guild would donate a large altarpiece every year on the first of May. These works came to be known as the grands mays. The subject matter was restricted to episodes from the Acts of the Apostles. The prestigious commission was awarded to the most prominent painters and, after 1648, members of the Académie Royale.
17th and 18th centuries
In 1625, the fountain of the Parvis Notre-Dame was built by the architect Augustin Guillain, it was intended to supply the inhabitants of the Île de la Cité with running water. In 1699, according to the wish of Louis XIV and the wishes of his father Louis XIII, profound transformations were made in the interior decoration of the cathedral, in particular at the level of the choir.
The architect Robert de Cotte demolishes the rood screen(which was replaced by a wrought iron gate gilded with a gold rabbet), part of the high reliefs of the enclosures in order to open the choir on the ambulatory by replacing them with gates, as well as tombs to allow the complete redevelopment of the choir in the style of the time, like many other Gothic cathedrals throughout Europe, during the 17th and 18th centuries. New stalls were made, as well as a new high altar for which were made the statues that still adorn it today, representing Louis XIV renewing the vow of his father Louis XIII, both kneeling in front of the Pietà.
Seventy-six paintings had been donated by 1708, when the custom was discontinued for financial reasons. Those works were confiscated in 1793 and the majority were subsequently dispersed among regional museums in France. Those that remained in the cathedral were removed or relocated within the building by the 19th-century restorers.
In 1709, Cardinal Antoine de La Porte commissioned from King Louis XIV six paintings illustrating the life of the Virgin for the decoration of the choir. Charles de La Fosse, realized for this project in 1715, The Adoration of the Magi, now kept in the Louvre Museum.
In 1726, Cardinal de Noailles, Archbishop of Paris, modified the architecture of the cathedral, he changed “all the profiles”, at the level of the gables, roses and pinnacles on the south side. He reinforces the flying buttresses, the galleries, the terraces, and rebuilds the great vault of the bay which threatened to fall into ruin. He renovated the framework and the roof, of which he had all the seals changed. He had the gargoyles replaced by lead pipes, changing the evacuation of rainwater. Inside, he had the old medieval rood screen removed and had a chapel inlaid in white marble for his family.
In 1756, the canons, judging the building too dark, asked the Le Vieil brothers to destroy the stained-glass windows from the Middle Ages and replace them with white glass; after which the walls of the cathedral were whitewashed. The rosettes were however preserved. Finally, at the request of the clergy, Jacques-Germain Soufflot, architect of the church of Sainte-Geneviève, removed the trumeau and part of the tympanum from the central portal, decorated with the Last Judgment, to allow the canopy of the processions to pass more easily. Soufflot builds a new portal and a sacristy to the south of the choir.
Until the Revolution, the cathedral was owned by the Archdiocese of Paris. On November 2, 1789, it was made available to the nation as well as all the property of the clergy. Since then, the French state has owned the building. In February 1791, by a series of decrees, the cathedral became the seat of the parish of the city by transferring the prerogatives exercised until then by the ten small churches of the island, created by Maurice de Sully in the 12th century. In 1793, Catholic worship was banned in Paris. The cathedral is looted and vandalized. The revolutionaries establish “the cult of Reason” around the mottos of freedom and equality. Many buildings are transformed into “Temple of Reason” including Notre-Dame.
After the French Revolution in 1789, Notre-Dame and the rest of the church’s property in France was seized and made public property. The cathedral was rededicated in 1793 to the Cult of Reason, and then to the Cult of the Supreme Being in 1794. During this time, many of the treasures of the cathedral were either destroyed or plundered. The twenty-eight statues of biblical kings located at the west façade, mistaken for statues of French kings, were beheaded. Many of the heads of the statues were found during a 1977 excavation nearby, and are on display at the Musée de Cluny.
For a time the Goddess of Liberty replaced the Virgin Mary on several altars. The cathedral’s great bells escaped being melted down. All of the other large statues on the façade, with the exception of the statue of the Virgin Mary on the portal of the cloister, were destroyed. The cathedral came to be used as a warehouse for the storage of food and other non-religious purposes.
With the Concordat of 1801, Napoleon Bonaparte restored Notre-Dame to the Catholic Church, though this was only finalized on 18 April 1802. Napoleon also named Paris’s new bishop, Jean-Baptiste de Belloy, who restored the cathedral’s interior. Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine made quasi-Gothic modifications to Notre-Dame for the coronation of Napoleon as Emperor of the French within the cathedral. The building’s exterior was whitewashed and the interior decorated in Neoclassical, then in vogue.
After the Napoleonic Wars, Notre-Dame was in such a state of disrepair that Paris officials considered its demolition. The great novelist Victor Hugo, an admirer of the building, then wrote his novel Notre-Dame de Paris which had enormous success and was intended in particular to raise public awareness of the value of such a monument, He succeeded in creating a broad popular movement of interest in favor of the cathedral. His novel had revived a monument then marginalized and had made it more familiar to Parisians. Through his novel, Victor Hugo largely contributed to saving the battered masterpiece from a fatal fate.
In 1844 King Louis Philippe ordered that the church be restored. The fate of Notre-Dame focused different currents of thought: the Catholics of course who wanted to reconcile France with the piety and faith of yesteryear, the monarchists also who tried to reconnect with a close past, but also the secular current.
The architect who had hitherto been in charge of Notre-Dame’s maintenance, Étienne-Hippolyte Godde, was dismissed. In his stead, Jean-Baptiste Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who had distinguished themselves with the restoration of the nearby Sainte-Chapelle, were appointed in 1844. The next year, Viollet-le-Duc submitted a budget of 3,888,500 francs, which was reduced to 2,650,000 francs, for the restoration of Notre-Dame and the construction of a new sacristy building. This budget was exhausted in 1850, and work stopped as Viollet-le-Duc made proposals for more money. In totality, the restoration cost over 12 million francs.
When Lassus died in 1857, Viollet-le-Duc was left sole architect of the project until its completion on 31 May 1864. Supervising a large team of sculptors, glass makers and other craftsmen, and working from drawings or engravings, Viollet-le-Duc remade or added decorations if he felt they were in the spirit of the original style. One of the latter items was a taller and more ornate spire, to replace the original 13th century spire, which had been removed in 1786. The decoration of the restoration included a statue of Saint Thomas that resembles Viollet-le-Duc, as well as the sculpture of mythical creatures on the Galerie des Chimères.
The construction of the sacristy was especially financially costly. To secure a firm foundation, it was necessary for Viollet-le-Duc’s labourers to dig 9 metres (30 ft). Master glassworkers meticulously copied styles of the 13th century, as written about by art historians Antoine Lusson and Adolphe Napoléon Didron.
The lamentable state of the masonry of the cathedral was widespread, the red door for example was in ruins. There were countless broken pinnacles, collapsed gables. As for the great statuary of the portals and the facade, there was not much left of it. The restorers had to carry out in-depth research in order to restore (identically if possible, which was rarely done at the time) the degraded parts, as evidenced by the writings and drawings of Viollet-le-Duc.
It is the restitution of the sculpted program of the cathedral which constitutes the main success of the two architects. From the outset they wanted to reconstitute all the sculptural ornamentation destroyed, drawing inspiration from or copying works from the same period that had remained intact (Amiens, Chartres and Reims). To do this, the architects brought together a team of excellent sculptors under the direction of Adolphe-Victor Geoffroy-Dechaume. Many of them came from the workshop of David d’Angersand knew each other.
More than a hundred large statues were thus created for the exterior, including the twelve copper statues surrounding the base of the spire, works by Geoffroi-Dechaume himself, which testify to the great talent of this sculptor. Viollet-le-Duc took great care in making these statues. They were first drawn by him, then a life -size plaster model was made. The necessary corrections were then made until the work was deemed satisfactory. Only then was the final stone statue made. No creative freedom was left to the sculptors, whose work was totally controlled by the architects.
During the restoration, the cathedral was somewhat remodeled. The south rose window, for example, was pivoted by fifteen degrees in order to make it rest along a vertical axis, a modification which, sometimes criticized, was motivated by the need to consolidate the whole, whose masonry had collapsed. Finally, a few statues from the architect’s imagination were erected, such as the chimeras contemplating Paris from the top of the facade.
The forecourt of Notre-Dame was cleared in the years 1860-1870 by works desired by Baron Haussmann during the transformations of Paris under the Second Empire, hygienist concernsd’Haussmann combined with a new artistic conception which isolates the cathedral on a square and releases perspectives. These works necessitated the demolition of the former 18th century foundlings’ hospice, which had become the seat of the administration of Assistance-publique, and the former Hôtel-Dieu. After the construction of the archaeological crypt, the contours of the medieval streets and old buildings, such as the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Ardents church, which disappeared in 1747, were materialized on the floor of the forecourt by paving stones of light colors.
During the Paris Commune of March-May 1871, the Cathedral and other churches were closed down, and some two hundred priests and the Archbishop of Paris were taken as hostages. In May, during the Semaine sanglante of “Bloody Week”, as the army recaptured the city, the Communards targeted the cathedral, along with the Tuileries Palace and other landmarks, for destruction; the Communards piled the furniture together in order to burn the cathedral. The arson was halted when the Communard government realised that the fire would also destroy the neighbouring Hôtel-Dieu hospital, filled with hundreds of patients.
In 1965, the twelve high windows of the nave and the twelve small rosettes with alveoli of the galleries were furnished with 24 colored stained glass windows replacing the gray and dull glass implanted by the canons in the 18th century. Non-figurative, they were the work of the glass painter Jacques Le Chevallier who used the products and colors of the Middle Ages. The set used about fifteen tones, predominantly red and blue (the graduation going from west to east from blue to red).
October 3, 1972, during a rally in support of Front de liberation de la Bretagne militants, Breton separatists manage to hang a Gwenn ha Du at the top of the spire of the cathedral, necessitating the dispatch of a helicopter for the dropping out afterwards.
The Requiem Mass of Charles de Gaulle was held in Notre-Dame on 12 November 1970. The next year, on 26 June 1971, Philippe Petit walked across a tight-rope strung up between Notre-Dame’s two bell towers and entertained spectators.
After the Magnificat of 30 May 1980, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass on the parvis of the cathedral.
The Requiem Mass of François Mitterrand was held at the cathedral, as with past French heads of state, on 11 January 1996.
The stone masonry of the cathedral’s exterior had deteriorated in the 19th and 20th century due to increased air pollution in Paris, which accelerated erosion of decorations and discoloured the stone. By the late 1980s, several gargoyles and turrets had also fallen off or become too loose to remain in place.
A decade-long renovation programme began in 1991 and replaced much of the exterior, with care given to retain the authentic architectural elements of the cathedral, including rigorous inspection of new limestone blocks. A discreet system of electrical wires, not visible from below, was also installed on the roof to deter pigeons. The cathedral’s pipe organ was upgraded with a computerized system to control the mechanical connections to the pipes. The west face was cleaned and restored in time for millennium celebrations in December 1999.
The Requiem Mass of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, former archbishop of Paris and Jewish convert to Catholicism, was held in Notre-Dame on 10 August 2007.
The set of four 19th-century bells atop the northern towers at Notre-Dame were melted down and recast into new bronze bells in 2013, to celebrate the building’s 850th anniversary. They were designed to recreate the sound of the cathedral’s original bells from the 17th century. Despite the 1990s renovation, the cathedral had continued to show signs of deterioration that prompted the national government to propose a new renovation program in the late 2010s.
The entire renovation was estimated to cost €100 million, which the archbishop of Paris planned to raise through funds from the national government and private donations. A €6 million renovation of the cathedral’s spire began in late 2018 and continued into the following year, requiring the temporary removal of copper statues on the roof and other decorative elements days before the April 2019 fire.
Notre-Dame began a year-long celebration of the 850th anniversary of the laying of the first building block for the cathedral on 12 December 2012. On the occasion of the jubilee of the 850th anniversary of the cathedral, major works are being carried out in the cathedral to mark its entry into the 21st century. century. The lighting in the nave has been extensively restored, allowing the creation of atmospheres specific to visits, masses and concerts in the evening. The great organ sees in a first phase its console completely computerized in 2013.
In 2014, its 12,000 pipes are all cleaned. A fire prevention system is put in place, with new door locks and specific wiring installed. The trailing wires here and there inside and outside are also largely masked to allow for better architectural unity. Finally, the towers of Notre-Dame are adorned with nine new bells, including a dome, which rang for the first time on March 23, 2013. They thus give a new bell tower similar to that existing in the Middle Ages.
From November 2012 to December 2013, a temporary structure of the belfry type, the “Chemin du jubilee” is installed on the forecourt, following the old rue Neuve Notre-Dame and leading to a belvedere and a tier of 600 places giving an unprecedented view of the facade of the cathedral. It is filled with the first names of the employees of the cathedral and the saints of the Christian liturgy.
The pollution generates significant damage (falling gargoyles, ruin of pinnacles, etc.) which led the archdiocese in 2017 to launch an appeal for donations for an expected amount of 100 million euros over 20 years in order to repair the spire which it the watertightness had to be redone (10 million euros of work), for the sacristy located right next to the cathedral (10 million), the buttresses of the chevet had to be consolidated (20 to 30 million).
The restoration of the cathedral in the 1990s only concerned the western facade. A global restoration program lasting ten years and whose cost is estimated at 60 million euros (40 million from the State and 20 million from patronage) begins, April 11, 2019, by removing the sixteen statues, prior to the restoration work on the spire scheduled to last three years at a cost of 11 million euros. The project management of the operation is entrusted to the Regional Conservation of Historic Monuments service within the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs of Île-de-France and the project management to the chief architect of the monuments.
April 11, 2019, the 16 monumental statues of Viollet-le-Duc which surrounded the spire were removed, with great lifting, for their rehabilitation. They thus escape the damage of the fire of theApril 15, 2019.
On 15 April 2019 the cathedral caught fire, destroying the spire and the “forest” of oak roof beams supporting the lead roof. It was speculated that the fire was linked to ongoing renovation work. The spire of the cathedral collapsed at 19:50, bringing down some 750 tonnes of stone and lead. The firefighters inside were ordered back down. By this time the fire had spread to the north tower, where the eight bells were located. The firefighters concentrated their efforts in the tower. By 21:45, they were finally able to bring the fire under control.
The main structure was intact; firefighters saved the façade, towers, walls, buttresses, and stained glass windows. The Great Organ, which has over 8,000 pipes and was built by François Thierry in the 18th century was also saved but sustained water damage. Because of the ongoing renovation, the copper statues on the spire had been removed before the fire. The stone vaulting that forms the ceiling of the cathedral had several holes but was otherwise intact.
Immediately after the fire, President Macron promised that Notre-Dame would be restored, and called for the work to be completed within five years.
In October 2019, the French government announced that the first stage of reconstruction, the stabilising of the structure against collapse, would take until the end of 2020. The first task of the restoration was the removal of 250–300 tonnes of melted metal tubes, the remains of the scaffolding, which remained on the top after the fire and could have fallen onto the vaults and caused further structural damage. This stage began in February 2020 and continued through April 2020. A large crane, eighty-four metres (275′) high, was put in place next to the cathedral to help remove the scaffolding. Later, wooden support beams were added to stabilise the flying buttresses and other structures.
On 10 April 2020, the archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, and a handful of participants, all in protective clothing to prevent exposure to lead dust, performed a Good Friday service inside the cathedral. Music was provided by the violinist Renaud Capuçon; the lectors were the actors Philippe Torreton and Judith Chemla. Chemla gave an a cappella rendition of Ave Maria.
A new phase of the restoration commenced on 8 June 2020. Two teams of workers began descending into the roof to remove the tangle of tubes of the old scaffolding melted by the fire. The workers used saws to cut up the forty thousand pieces of scaffolding, weighing altogether two hundred tons, which was carefully lifted out of the roof by an eighty-meter (262′) tall crane. The phase was completed in November 2020.
In February 2021, the selection of oak trees to replace the spire and roof timbers destroyed by the fire began. As many as a thousand mature trees will be chosen from the forests of France, each of a diameter of 50 to 90 centimetres (20″ to 36″) and a height of eight to fourteen meters (26′ to 45′), and an age of several hundred years. Once cut, the trees must dry for twelve to eighteen months. The trees will be replaced by new plantings.
Two years after the fire, a great deal of work had been completed, They’re also building a replica of the church’s spire. More oak trees needed to be shipped to Paris where they would need to be dried before use; they will be essential in completing the restoration. On September 18, 2021, the public agency overseeing the Cathedral stated that the safety work was completed and the cathedral was now fully secured, and that reconstruction would begin within a few months.
In 2022, a preventive dig carried out between February and April before the construction of a scaffold for reconstructing the cathedral’s spire unearthed several statues and tombs under the cathedral. One of the discoveries included a 14th-century lead sarcophagus that was found 65 feet below where the transept crosses the church’s 12th-century nave. Another significant discovery was an opening below the cathedral floor, likely made around 1230 when the Gothic cathedral was first under construction; inside were fragments of a choir screen dating from the 13th century that had been destroyed in the early 18th century.
Closely linked to the history of France and Paris, since its construction the cathedral has hosted significant events attended by the most eminent political personalities.
Reception of the Popes
754: Etienne II renews the coronation of King Pépin le Bref in Saint-Denis, to which he associates his son Charles, the future Charlemagne.
835: Gregory IV inaugurates the first All Saints’ Day in Saint-Denis, in the presence of numerous bishops and King Louis I the Pious.
1107: Pascal II receives in Saint-Denis Philippe I and his son, the future Louis VI le Gros, whom he qualifies as “very devoted son of the apostles”.
1131: Innocent II celebrates Easter in Saint-Denis in the presence of Louis VI and Saint Bernard.
1147: Eugene III consecrates the Abbey of Saint-Pierre de Montmartre, in the presence of Saint Bernard and Pierre the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny.
1163: Alexander III celebrates Easter in Paris and lays the first stone of the cathedral. He seeks the protection of King Louis VII of France, and confers on him the golden rose intended to honor the sovereign, “the sole defender of the Church after God”.
1804: Napoleon I is crowned emperor by Pius VII
1980: John Paul II is invited to Paris and Notre-Dame by Unesco, the episcopate and civil authorities.
1997: John Paul II travels to Paris on the occasion of World Youth Days (WYD)
2008: Benedict XVI launches the 850th anniversary commemorations
1239: Saint Louis lays down the Holy Crown of Christ, pending the completion of the construction of the Sainte-Chapelle.
1302: first meeting of the Estates General of the Kingdom of France under the initiative of Philippe le Bel.
1431: opening of the trial for the rehabilitation of Joan of Arc.
1447: Charles VII celebrates with a Te Deum (hymn of celebrations and triumphs) the recapture of Paris from the English at the end of the Hundred Years War
1594, Henri IV celebrates his entry into Paris by attending a Te Deum, marking the reconquest of the capital against the League of Frondeurs
1663: renewal by Louis XIV of the treaty of alliance between France and the Swiss
1789: the cathedral becomes state property by decree of nationalization of the property of the clergy on November 2, 1789.
1793: transformation of the cathedral into a temple of Reason by the Commune of Paris, in order to practice the cult of the Supreme Being there.
1811: baptism of the King of Rome, son heir to Napoleon I.
1944: August 25, the bells ring for the liberation of Paris. The next day, a Magnificat is sung in the presence of General de Gaulle and General Leclerc.
Royal and imperial weddings
1558: Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland and Francis II, son of Henry II
1559: Elisabeth of France and Philip II of Spain. Marriage by proxy. The Duke of Alba represents the king.
1572: Marguerite de Valois (known as Queen Margot) and Henri IV
1853: Eugénie de Montijo and Emperor Napoleon III
Coronations and coronations
1431: coronation of King Henry VI of England, towards the end of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). He does not reign because Charles VII is already crowned king of France in 1429 in Reims.
1804: coronation of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte by Pope Pius VII. (represented by the painting Le Sacre de Napoléon, by Louis David, Louvre Museum).
May 9, 1945: Cardinal Suhard welcomes General de Gaulle as well as members of the government and the ambassadors of the United States, USSR and Great Britain. During the office a Te Deum of thanksgiving for the victory is sung, followed by the Marseillaise.
2012: Mgr André Vingt-Trois, Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, launches the jubilee of the cathedral for its 850th anniversary.