Honoring Notre-Dame-de-Paris

Before the Notre Dame de Paris Fire - 2019 - Update - Girl Gone Gallic

To honor her, we must understand her… 

As the renovations continue, let us take a moment to learn the history and honor the significance of Notre Dame de Paris.  We can better appreciate the impact of this tragedy by learning more about the historical and architectural history.  Whether religious or not, the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris is a part of the French heart and soul. 

“Notre Dame is a magnificent monument in a misunderstood age. Every now and then, the stars align to create a virtuous cycle of creative brilliance, which illuminates civilization for centuries afterwards. The great cathedral arose in such an hour…”
Rachel Lu @ theweek.com

Let’s spend a little time getting to know this amazing cathedral in anticipation of visiting her again in a few years time.

Gothic Architecture 

Gothic Architecture was widely used from the 12thand 16thcenturies. before being replaced by the Renaissance style.  In addition to being one of the most famous historical landmarks in Paris, Notre-Dame-de-Paris is a masterpiece of Gothic medieval architecture.

“Gothic cathedrals rarely catch fire. In fact, the Gothic style – with its powerful stone vaults and elegantly pointed arches – developed as a sort of flame-retardant system to protect cathedrals from fire. The Gothic architectural style first appeared in and around Paris in the mid-12th century and it became popular across Europe after a number of Romanesque churches succumbed to incendiary destruction, due in part to the high risk of older barrel vaults made of wood.” – Emily Guerry, medieval historian.

Look for these 7 key Gothic architectural elements:

  • Stone building blocks
  • Flying buttresses counterbalancing roof weight
  • Ribbed stone vaults
  • Extensive use of stained-glass windows
  • Airy light interiors of great height
  • Exterior statues and gargoyles
  • Ornate decoration

The History of Notre Dame

As you will soon understand, Notre Dame de Paris has survived many centuries of use and abuse.  This recent tragedy will certainly not be the end of this iconic landmark.

The Notre Dame de Paris that we know and love is not the first to exist on this site.  A Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to Juniper originally stood on the site, long before the cathedral Notre Dame de Paris. In fact, there have been four iterations of holy buildings on the site where Notre-Dame now stands, each time incorporating their remains into the current monument.

Looking across the centuries at the important dates in her history, you will get a better sense of the importance of this monument to the French people and supporters across the globe – whether religious or not.  Over the course of her history, Notre Dame has hosted dozens of royal coronations and weddings, and its bells have rung for most major events in the history of France. The cathedral dominated the skyline for centuries, and remained the tallest structure in Paris until the Eiffel Tower. The cathedral is intricately entwined in the history and culture of the French people.

Important Dates

  • 1163 – The first stone of the cathedral is laid with Pope Alexander III and King Louis VII in attendance.
  • 1182 – Bishop Maurice de Sully celebrates the first Mass after the high altar has been consecrated.
  • 1240 – Incorporating Gothic elements, several different builders guide the cathedral towards completion.
  • 1345 – The work on the cathedral, the interior of which is 427 by 157 feet (130 by 48 meters), was completed in 1345. The many exterior statues are brightly painted and gilded depicting saints and biblical stories. Each feature has a symbolic meaning – the main portal represents the entrance to paradise, over the main doors is the last judgement, the right portal the coronation of the Virgin Mary. 
  • 1420 – The crowing of Henry VI, the boy king
  • 1537 – The marriage of James V, King of Scotland, to Madeleine of Valois.
  • 1548 – Rioting Huguenots extensively damaged some of the cathedral’s finest statues.
  • 1558 – The marriage Mary Queen of Scots to Francis II (the dauphin of France).
  • 1559 – Elizabeth de France was married to the King of Spain by proxy.
  • 1572 – The marriage of Henry IV to Marguerite de France, vows exchanged at the front entrance as Henry was a protestant and not allowed into the cathedral.
  • 1625 – The marriage of King Charles I of England to Henrietta Marisa of France (married by proxy).
  • 1699 – The radical alterations of the cathedral made by King Louis XIV as taste changed were controversial. The “restoration” added baroque elements and painted the walls which later generations would consider caused more damage than centuries of wear and tear. “The rood screen (choir partition), studded with sculptures, was pulled down. The stained-glass windows from the 12th and 13th centuries were replaced with clear glass. Only the three Notre-Dame rose windows retain much of their original glazing. A pillar of the central doorway was demolished to allow grand processional carriages to pass through.” -Jose Luís Corral Fuentes
  • 1787 to 1799 – French revolutionaries cause major damage to the building, especially the statuary. Notre-Dame suffered damage and devastation as a symbol of the power and aggression of church and monarchy, the building was ransacked; sculptures and statues were destroyed; lead from the roof was pillaged for bullets and a number of bronze bells were melted down to make cannon balls. By the end of the revolution, Notre-Dame was “a shadow of its former self” and had been de-Christianized.  ”. – Jose Luís Corral Fuentes
  • 1789 – Notre Dame de Paris becomes public property and is turned into a food warehouse, suffering damage from its new use.
  • 1793 – Rededicated to the “Cult of Reason” with the Goddess of Liberty replacing the Virgin Mary on several alters.  All of the larges statues on the façade, with the exception of the Virgin Mary, are destroyed.  The 28 statues of biblical kings were beheaded, mistaken for the kings of the French Monarchy.
  • 1801 – The exterior was whitewashed, and interior columns in neoclassical style were added.
  • 1802 – Napoleon Revolutionaries confiscated the last remaining bell, “Emmanuel” (Bourdon Bell), but never destroyed it. It was put back in the southern towers at Napoleon’s request and the monument returned to the catholic church.
  • 1804 – Napoleon I and Josephine were crowned as emperor and empress of France. In spite of Napoleon’s efforts, Notre-Dame remained in a poor state and was half-ruined inside.
  • 1831 – Publication of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame sparks a campaign to save the cathedral from destruction and restore the cathedral as a symbol to France’s glorious Christian past.  Unfortunately, there were still anti-royalists who plundered the sacristy and broke many stained glass windows.
  • 1844 – Viollet-le-Duc who had restored the Sainte-Chapelle is appointed to begin a 20-year restoration of Notre Dame.
Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris – 1847
  • 1856 – Napoleon III offered four bells to Notre-Dame to celebrate his son’s baptism and to replace the ones lost in the revolution. Each bell is named after a saint.
Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris – 1860’s
  • 1871 – Rioters against the French Government burned benches and chairs in the wake of France’s defeat in the Franco-German War and the collapse of Napoleon III’s Second Empire (1852–70).
  • 1909 – Joan of Arc is sanctified.
  • 1914 – (WWI) Dozens of German shells hit the cathedral and the wooden scaffolding setting it and the oak of the roof on fire.
  • 1918 – (WWI) The Bourdon Bell “Emmanuelle” rings for the end of the war.
  • 1944 – (WWII) During the Second World War it was feared that German soldiers might destroy Notre-Dame’s famous medieval rose stained glass windows that date back to the 13th century. The rose windows were removed and only reinstalled after the war had ended. The Bourdon Bell “Emmanuelle” rings again for the end of the war.
  • 1970 – Requiem mass for former president Charles de Gaulle who led the French resistance against Nazi Germany.
  • 1991 – Decade long restoration spurred by the growing pollution causing damage to the exterior.
  • 1995 – Requiem mass for former president (1981-1995) Francois Mitterand
  • 2013 – Controversial plans marking the 850thanniversary melt down the set of four 19th-century bells from the northern towers to recreate the original 17th-century bells and “retrieve the harmony and harmonics of the bells that existed before the revolution” (Father Jacquin).  The only remaining original bell in the tower is the Bourdon Bell “Emmanuel”.
  • 2017 – The cathedral is in dire need of major restorations, cracks begin to appear in the cathedral’s stone, raising concerns that the structure could become unstable. 
  • April 2018 – The cathedral begins a $6.8M four-year renovation starting with the cathedral’s central spire to be completed by Le Bras Freres historical restoration company.
  • April 2019 – The Great Spire Fire of 2019, likely the result of an electrical fire.


A glimpse of her former glory before the fire – to be savored until we can visit again!

Happy Travels,
Girl Gone Gallic

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