Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris
The Notre Dame de Paris stands on the site of Paris' first Christian church, Saint Etienne basilica, which was itself built on the site of a Roman temple to Jupiter.
Notre-Dame's first version was a "magnificent church" built by Childebert I, the king of the Franks at the time, in 528, and was already the cathedral of the city of Paris in the 10th century. However, in 1160, having become the "parish church of the kings of Europe," Bishop Maurice de Sully deemed the building unworthy of its lofty role, and had it demolished.
Construction on the current cathedral began in 1163, during the reign of Louis VII, and opinion differs as to whether Bishop Maurice de Sully or Pope Alexander III laid the foundation stone of the cathedral.
Construction of the west front, with its distinctive two towers, began in around 1200 before the nave had been completed. Over the construction period, numerous architects worked on the site, as is evidenced by the differing styles at different heights of the west front and towers.
Between 1210 and 1220, the fourth architect oversaw the construction of the level with the rose window and the great halls beneath the towers. The towers were finished around 1245 and the cathedral was finally completed around 1345.
During the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV at the end of the 17th century the cathedral underwent major alterations, during which many tombs and stained glass windows were destroyed.
In 1793, the cathedral fell victim to the French Revolution. Many sculptures and treasures were destroyed or plundered; the cathedral was rededicated to the Cult of Reason and later to the Cult of the Supreme Being. Lady Liberty replaced the Virgin Mary on several altars. The cathedral also came to be used as a warehouse for the storage of food.
Napoleon Bonaparte, who had declared the Empire on May 28, 1804, was crowned Emperor at Notre-Dame on December 2, 1804.
A restoration program was initiated in 1845, overseen by architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. The restoration lasted 23 years, and included the construction of a spire.
In 1871, a civil uprising leading to the establishment of the short-lived Paris Commune nearly set fire to the cathedral, and some records suggest that a mount of chairs within the cathedral were set alight. In 1905, the law of separation of Church and State was passed; as all cathedrals, Notre-Dame remains state property, but its use is granted to the Roman Catholic Church.
The Te Deum Mass took place in the cathedral to celebrate the liberation of Paris in August 26, 1944. The Requiem Mass of General Charles de Gaulle took place in the cathedral on November 12, 1970.
In 1991, a major restoration program was undertaken. It was expected to last 10 years but continued well into the 21st century - the cleaning and restoration of the old sculptures was an exceedingly delicate job. But now the scaffolding is down and the result is spectacular: the stone architecture and sculptures gleam in their original honey-toned color instead of industrial black.
What to See
The west front of the cathedral is one of its most notable features, with its two 69-meter (228-feet) tall towers. The South Tower houses the cathedral's famous bell, "Emmanuel." The bell weighs 13 metric tons (over 28,000 pounds), its clapper alone weighs 500 kilograms. The bell is Notre-Dame's oldest, having been recast in 1631.
The Galerie des Chimères or Grand Gallery connects the two west towers, and is where the cathedral's legendary gargoyles (chimères) can be found. The gargoyles are full of Gothic character but are not medieval - they were added during the 19th-century restoration.
The King's Gallery is a line of statues of the 28 Kings of Judah and Israel, which was redesigned by Viollet-le-Duc to replace the statues destroyed during the French Revolution. The revolutionaries mistakenly believed the statues to be French kings instead of biblical kings, so they decapitated them. Some of the heads were found during a 1977 excavation nearby and are now on display at the Museum of the Middle Ages.
The beautiful West Rose Window dates from about 1220. See the section on Notre Dame's windows below for more details.
The three west portals of Notre Dame Cathedral are magnificent examples of early Gothic art. Sculpted between 1200 and 1240, they depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, the Last Judgment, and scenes from the life of St. Anne (the Virgin Mary's mother). Many of the statues, especially the larger ones, were destroyed in the Revolution and remade in the 19th century.
Last Judgment Portal (Center West Portal)
The central west portal was sculpted last of the three, in the 1220s and 1230s, and its theme is the Last Judgment, with Christ emphasized less as judge and more as the suffering savior of humanity.
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