Notre Dame

Notre Dame, more than seven hundred years old, is only the most recent of holy houses to occupy this ancient sacred ground. The Celts held their services on this island in the seine, and atop their sacred groves the Romans built their own temple to Jupiter. In the early years of Christianity, a basilica dedicated to St. Etienne was constructed around 528 by Childebert. A church in the Romanesque manner replaced the basilica, and this stood until 1163 when work began on the structure which stands today.

Proceeded by a Gallo-Roman temple to Jupiter, a Christian basilica, and a Romanesque church, construction of Notre-Dame de Paris began in 1163 during the reign of Louis VII. Pope Alexander III laid the foundation stone. The idea to replace the Romanesque church occupying the site - the Cathedral of St. Etienne was that of Bishop Maurice de Sully Construction was completed roughly 200 years later in about 1345.

This period witnessed Paris coming into its own force as a center of political power and commerce. No expense was spared in creating a church that would reflect the capital’s newly won prestige. These were the ‘development’ years of early Gothic architecture, it was essential that Paris should contain an impressive cathedral featuring innovations to surpass such smaller towns as Sens and Noyon. An advantage which Paris possessed over other sites, was that the construction efforts were supported and encouraged by the the king, Louis VII.

The cathedral constructed in three stages. The choir was completed in 1182; the nave in 1208, and the west front and towers circa 1225-1250. A series of chapels were added to the nave during the period 1235-50, and during 1296-1330 to the apse. The transept crossings were build in 1250-67 by Jean de Chelles and Pierre de Montreuil. It was essentially completed according to the original plans.

The reigns of Louis XIV (end of the 17th century) and Louis XV saw significant alterations including the destruction of tombs, and stained glass. At the end of the 18th century, during the Revolution, many of the treasures of the cathedral were either destroyed or plundered. Only the great bells avoided being melted down, and the Cathedral was dedicated first to the cult of Reason, and to the cult of the Supreme being. The church interior was used as a warehouse for the storage of forage and food.

After falling into disrepair, a restoration program overseen by Lassus and Viollet-le-Duc, was carried out in 1845. This program lasted 23 years, and included the construction of the spire and the sacristy.

During the Commune of 1871, the Cathedral was nearly burned by the Communards - and some accounts suggest that indeed a huge mound of chairs was set on fire in its interior. Whatever happened, the Notre Dame survived the Commune essentially unscathed. During its history, Notre Dame has been the site of numerous official and other ceremonial occasions.