You are on page 1of 5

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral (full

name: Cathdrale Notre-Dame
de Paris, "Our Lady of Paris") is
a beautiful cathedral on the the
le de la Cit in Paris. Begun in
1163 and mostly completed by
1250, Notre Dame is an
important example of French
Gothic architecture, sculpture
and stained glass.
The Notre Dame is the most
popular monument in Paris and
in all of France, beating even
the Eiffel Tower with 13 million
visitors each year. But the
famous cathedral is also an
active Catholic church, a place
of pilgrimage, and the focal
point for Catholicism in France religious events of national
significance still take place

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
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

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 honeytoned color instead of industrial black.

What to See
West Front
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 Chimres or Grand Gallery connects the two west towers, and is where the cathedral's legendary
gargoyles (chimres) 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 theMuseum of the Middle Ages.
The beautiful West Rose Window dates from about 1220. See the section on Notre Dame's windows below for more

The Portals
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. Click here for an illustrated guide
to the sculptures of the Last Judgment Portal.
Portal of St. Anne (Right West Portal)
The Portal of St. Anne was the first of the three west portals to be installed (c.1200) and its tympanum is an earlier
Romanesque work from the former St. Stephen's Cathedral, dating from about 1150. Anne is the Virgin Mary's
mother, who is mentioned in early Christian stories but not in the Bible.
The tympanum shows the Virgin and Child on a throne, accompanied by two censing angels, a bishop and his
assistant, and a king. The upper lintel depicts scenes from the advent of Christ (Annunciation, Nativity, Magi, etc.)
and the lower lintel tells the stories of Anne and Joachim and Mary and Joseph.
On the trumeau is a statue of Saint Marcel, a 5th-century bishop of Paris, who spears a dragon symbolizing the
scourges with which his diocese was cursed. Statues of Peter, Paul, and biblical monarchs (all remade in the 19th
century) are on the door jambs. The wooden doors have original 13th-century ironwork.
Portal of the Virgin (Left West Portal)
The Portal of the Virgin, dedicated to the patroness of the cathedral, is usually the exit door for modern visitors. It
was sculpted second of the three portals in the 1210s-1220s. Unlike the other two west portals, it is surmounted by a
The tympanum features the Coronation of the Virgin, with an angel crowning Mary while Christ blesses her and
gives her a scepter. The top lintel depicts the Death of the Virgin - Mary lies on her death bed (corresponding to the
Nativity bed in the same position on the right portal) surrounded by Jesus and the Twelve Apostles. Two angels at
her head and feet lift up her up to Heaven. The bottom lintel has three Old Testament prophets (left) and three Old
Testament kings (right), all holding scrolls representing prophecies of Christ.
The archivolts are populated by the Heavenly Court (angels, patriarchs, kings, prophets). The door-jamb statues,
destroyed at the Revolution and replaced in the 19th century, represent, from left to right: Emperor Constantine, an
angel, Saint Denis holding his head, another angel, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Stephen, Saint Genevieve and Pope
Saint Sylvester. On the trumeau is a standing statue of the Virgin and Child, with the pedestal below carved with
scenes of the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve.
The abutments of the doors have panels representing the natural universe, or life on earth. The panels on either side
of the portal are weathered but elegantZodiacs and Labors of the Months. The positions of the months echo the
yearly cycle of the sun: rising in the sky from January to June (left jamb), then descending from July to December
(right jamb). Completing the symbolic medieval universe on the inside jambs are the seasons (left) and the ages of
man (right).

Transept Portals
The south transept portal is dedicated to St. Stephen. The bottom section of the tympanum depicts scenes from
his life: ordination, preaching, and confrontation with the Jewish council. The top shows his death by stoning, with
Saul by himself to the left with a heap of clothes at his feet and a scene possibly relating to the finding of his relics on
the right.
The north transept portal has a 13th-century statue of the Virgin Mary on the trumeau that managed to survive the
Revolution. The bottom section of the tympanum depicts scenes relating to the birth of Christ - Nativity,
Presentation, and Massacre of the Innocents - while the upper two levels show miracles of St. Theophilus.

Stained Glass Windows

The stained glass windows of the Notre-Dame are very beautiful and a good part of them date from the 13th
century when the cathedral was constructed. In this author's opinion, Notre-Dame's collection of stained glass is not
as impressive as those at other French cathedrals, such as Chartres and Bourges, and in Paris the best place to
enjoy an overall effect of stained glass is probably not Notre Dame but Sainte-Chapelle.
Nevertheless, Notre-Dame's stained glass windows remain an important and beautiful work of 13th-century Gothic
art, with interesting details well worth exploring in more detail. The highlight - and the greatest survival of original
glass - is the set of three beautiful rose windows, which shine like jewels over the west door and in the north and
south transept.
West Rose (c.1220)
The west rose window at Notre Dame is 10 meters in diameter and exceptionally beautiful. Dating from about 1220,
it retains most of its original glass and tracery. The main theme of the west rose is human life, featuring symbolic
scenes such as the Zodiacs and Labors of the Months. On the exterior, it is fronted by a statue of the Virgin and Child
accompanied by angels. Unfortunately, the interior view of its colorful medieval glass is now more than half blocked
by the great organ.
South Rose (c.1260)
The south rose window was donated by King St. Louis and installed around1260. Designed by Jean de Chelles and
Pierre de Montreuil, its general themes are the New Testament, the Triumph of Christ, and the symbolic number four.
Repaired more than once over the centuries (in 1725 and 1727 by Guillaume Brice; beginning in 1861 by Viollet-leDuc and Alfred Grente), many of the panes are now out of order. In addition, Viollet-le-Duc rotated the entire rose
15 to create horizontal and vertical axes for stability in the masonry.
The south rose is 12.9 meters in diameter and contains 84 panes of glass. Radiating out from a central medallion of
Christ, it consists of four concentric circles of 12 medallions, 24 medallions, quadrilobes, and 24 trilobes.
The original central medallion has been lost; it probably depicted Christ in Majesty. It was replaced in 1726 by the
coat of arms of Cardinal de Noailles, the Archbishop of Paris who restored the window. Viollet-le-Duc replaced it with
a modern Christ of the Apocalypse. The original medallions surrounding it include:

12 apostles (in the first and second circles),

20 angels carrying a candle, two crowns and a censer (fourth circle);
the Wise Virgins;
biblical scenes including the flight into Egypt, healing of the paralytic, Judgement of Solomon, and
Annunciation (third and fourth circle);

saints and martyrs including Lawrence with his grill, Denis holding his head, Pothin (Bishop of Lyon),
Marguerite and a dragon, Blandine and two lions, George, Ambrose, and Eustacius;
scenes of exceptional quality dating from the 12th century, depicting the Life of St. Matthew (third and
fourth circle)

The corner pieces depict: the Descent into Hell (left) with Moses and Aaron (top) and temptation of Adam and Eve
(bottom); and the Resurrection of Christ (right) with Peter and Paul (top), and Mary Magdalene and John (top).
Below the rose are 16 lancets (spear-shaped windows), which are entirely 19th-century replacements. Designed by
Alfred Grente under Viollet-le-Ducs supervision, the depict 16 prophets. In the center, the four great prophets
(Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel) carry the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) on their shoulders
(inspired by Chartres Cathedral).
North Rose (1250)
The north rose window dates from 1250 and is also 12.9 meters in diameter. Its main theme is the Old Testament,
but the central medallion depicts the Virgin and Child.