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Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame de Paris (/ˌnɒtrə ˈdɑːm, ˌnoʊtrə ˈdeɪm, ˌnoʊtrə ˈdɑːm/;[7][8][9] French: [nɔtʁə dam də paʁi] (listen); meaning "Our Lady of Paris"), referred to simply as Notre-Dame,[1] is a medieval Catholic cathedral on the Île de la Cité in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. The cathedral is consecrated to the Virgin Mary and considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. Its pioneering use of the rib vault and flying buttress, its enormous and colourful rose windows, as well as the naturalism and abundance of its sculptural decoration set it apart from the earlier Romanesque style.[10] Major components that make Notre Dame stand out include one of the world's largest organs and its immense church bells.[11]

The cathedral's construction was begun in 1160 under Bishop Maurice de Sully and was largely complete by 1260, though it was modified frequently in the following centuries. In the 1790s, Notre-Dame suffered desecration during the French Revolution; much of its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. In the 19th century, the cathedral was the site of the coronation of Napoleon I and funerals of many Presidents of the Republic.

Popular interest in the cathedral blossomed soon after the publication, in 1831, of Victor Hugo's novel Notre-Dame de Paris (better known in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame). This led to a major restoration project between 1844 and 1864, supervised by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The liberation of Paris was celebrated within Notre-Dame in 1944 with the singing of the Magnificat. Beginning in 1963, the cathedral's façade was cleaned of centuries of soot and grime. Another cleaning and restoration project was carried out between 1991 and 2000.[12]

The cathedral is one of the most widely recognized symbols of the city of Paris and the French nation. As the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Paris, Notre-Dame contains the cathedra of the Archbishop of Paris (Michel Aupetit). In 1805, Notre-Dame was given the honorary status of a minor basilica. Approximately 12 million people visit Notre-Dame annually, making it the most visited monument in Paris.[13] The cathedral is renowned for its Lent sermons founded by the famous Dominican Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire in the 1860s. In recent years, an increasing number have been given by leading public figures and state employed academics.

The cathedral has been progressively stripped of its original decoration and works of art. Several noteworthy examples of Gothic, Baroque, and 19th-century sculptures and a group of 17th- and early 18th-century altarpieces remain in the cathedral's collection. Some of the most important relics in Christendom, including the Crown of Thorns, a sliver of the true cross and a nail from the true cross, are preserved at Notre-Dame.

While undergoing renovation and restoration, the roof of Notre-Dame caught fire on the evening of 15 April 2019. Burning for around 15 hours, the cathedral sustained serious damage, including the destruction of the flèche (the timber spire over the crossing) and most of the lead-covered wooden roof above the stone vaulted ceiling.[4] Contamination of the site and the nearby environment resulted.[14] Following the April fire, many proposals were made for modernizing the cathedral's design. However, on 16 July 2019, the French Parliament passed a law requiring that it be rebuilt exactly as it appeared before the fire.[15]

Notre-Dame de Paris
Notre Dame de Paris 2013-07-24.jpg
North rose window of Notre-Dame de Paris, Aug 2010.jpg
Nave of Notre-Dame de Paris, 22 June 2014 002.jpg
Saints in Portal, Notre-Dame, Paris (3605120325).jpg
Notredame Paris.JPG
48°51′11″N 2°20′59″E [118]
LocationParvis Notre-Dame – place Jean-Paul-II, Paris
TraditionRoman Rite
Websitewww.notredamedeparis.fr [119]
StatusDamaged by fire
StyleFrench Gothic
Years built1163–1345
Groundbreaking1163 (1163)
Length128 m (420 ft)
Width48 m (157 ft)
Number of towers2
Tower height69 m (226 ft)
Number of spires1 (destroyed by fire)
Spire height91.44 m (300.0 ft) (formerly)[4]
ArchbishopMichel Aupetit
RectorPatrick Jacquin
DeanPatrick Chauvet
Director of musicSylvain Dieudonné[5]
Criteriai, ii, iii
Part ofParis, Banks of the Seine
Reference no.600 [120]
Monument historique
Official name: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Reference no.PA00086250


It is believed that before the arrival of Christianity in France, a Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter stood on the site of Notre-Dame. Evidence for this is the Pillar of the Boatmen, discovered in 1710. This building was replaced with an Early Christian basilica. It is unknown whether this church, dedicated to Saint Stephen, was constructed in the late 4th century and remodeled later, or if it was built in the 7th century from an older church, possibly the cathedral of Childebert I.[2] The basilica, later cathedral, of Saint-Étienne was situated about 40 meters (130 ft) west of Notre-Dame's location and was wider and lower and roughly half its size. For its time, it was very large—70 meters (230 ft) long—and separated into nave and four aisles by marble columns, then decorated with mosaics.[12][16]

Four churches succeeded the Roman temple before Notre-Dame. The first was the 4th century basilica of Saint-Étienne, then the Merovingian renovation of that church which was in turn remodeled in 857 under the Carolingians into a cathedral.[17] The last church before the cathedral of Notre-Dame was a Romanesque remodeling of the prior structures that, although enlarged and remodeled, was found to be unfit for the growing population of Paris.[18][3] A baptistery, the Church of John the Baptist, built before 452, was located on the north side of the church of Saint-Étienne until the work of Jacques-Germain Soufflot in the 18th century.[20]

In 1160, the Bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully,[20] decided to build a new and much larger church. He summarily demolished the Romanesque cathedral and chose to recycle its materials.[18] Sully decided that the new church should be built in the Gothic style, which had been inaugurated at the royal abbey of Saint Denis in the late 1130s.[16]


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.[21][22] 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.

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.[24] 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.[12] 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 Baudouin II, in the cathedral during the construction of the Sainte-Chapelle.

The decision was made to add a transepts at the choir, where the altar was located, in order to bring more light into the center 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.[25]

Another significant change came in the mid-13th century, when the transepts were remodeled 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 St 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.[26][25] 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.

Philip the Fair opened the first Estates General in the cathedral in 1302.

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,"[27] whereas if they were added later some movement from prior to their addition would be expected. Tallon thus concluded that "flying buttresses were there from the get-go."[27] The first buttresses were replaced by larger and stronger ones in the 14th century; these had a reach of fifteen metres between the walls and counter-supports.[12]

  • Plan of the Cathedral made by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. Portals and nave to the left, a choir in the center, and apse and ambulatory to the right. The annex to the south is the Sacristy.

  • Early six-part rib vaults of the nave. The ribs transferred the thrust of the weight of the roof downward and outwards to the pillars and the supporting buttresses.

  • The massive buttresses which counter the outward thrust from the rib vaults of the nave. The weight of the building-shaped pinnacles helps keep the line of thrust safely within the buttresses.

  • Later flying buttresses of the apse of Notre-Dame (14th century) reached 15 metres from the wall to the counter-supports.

  • Arrows show forces in vault and current flying buttresses (detailed description).

John of Jandun recognized the cathedral as one of Paris's three most important buildings [prominent structures] in his 1323 Treatise on the Praises of Paris:

That most glorious church of the most glorious Virgin Mary, mother of God, deservedly shines out, like the sun among stars. And although some speakers, by their own free judgment, because [they are] able to see only a few things easily, may say that some other is more beautiful, I believe, however, respectfully, that, if they attend more diligently to the whole and the parts, they will quickly retract this opinion. Where indeed, I ask, would they find two towers of such magnificence and perfection, so high, so large, so strong, clothed round about with such multiple varieties of ornaments? Where, I ask, would they find such a multipartite arrangement of so many lateral vaults, above and below? Where, I ask, would they find such light-filled amenities as the many surrounding chapels? Furthermore, let them tell me in what church I may see such a large cross, of which one arm separates the choir from the nave. Finally, I would willingly learn where [there are] two such circles, situated opposite each other in a straight line, which on account of their appearance are given the name of the fourth vowel [O] ; among which smaller orbs and circles, with wondrous artifice, so that some arranged circularly, others angularly, surround windows ruddy with precious colors and beautiful with the most subtle figures of the pictures. In fact, I believe that this church offers the carefully discerning such cause for admiration that its inspection can scarcely sate the soul.— Jean de Jandun, Tractatus de laudibus Parisius[28]

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.[29]

During the Renaissance, the Gothic style fell out of style, and the internal pillars and walls of Notre-Dame were covered with tapestries.[30]

In 1548, rioting Huguenots damaged some of the statues of Notre-Dame, considering them idolatrous.[31]

The fountain in Notre-Dame's parvis was added in 1625 to provide nearby Parisians with running water.[32]

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 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.[33] 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 Academie royale.

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.

Thirteen of the grands mays remain in Nôtre Dame:

La Descente du Saint Esprit by Jacques Blanchard – 1634

Saint Pierre guérissant les malades de son ombre by Laurent de la Hyre – 1635

La Conversion de saint Paul by Laurent de la Hyre – 1637

Le Centenier Corneille aux pieds de saint Pierre by Aubin Vouet – 1639

La Prédication de saint Pierre à Jérusalem by Charles Poerson – 1642

Le Crucifiement de saint Pierre by Sébastien Bourdon – 1643

Le Crucifiement de saint André by Charles Le Brun – 1647

Saint Paul rend aveugle le faux prophète Barjesu et convertit le proconsul Sergius by Nicolas Loir – 1650

La Lapidation de saint Étienne by Charles Le Brun – 1651

La Flagellation de Saint Paul et Silas by Louis Testelin – 1655

Saint André tressaille de joie à la vue de son supplicepar by Gabriel Blanchard – 1670

Le Prophète Agabus prédisant à saint Paul ses souffrances à Jérusalem by Louis Chéron – 1687

Les fils de Sceva battus par le démon by Mathieu Elyas – 1702

These paintings suffered water damage during the fire of 2019 and were removed for conservation.

An altarpiece depicting the Visitation, painted by Jean Jouvenet in 1707, was also located in the cathedral.

The canon Antoine de La Porte commissioned for Louis XIV six paintings depicting the life of the Virgin Mary for the choir. At this same time, Charles de La Fosse painted his Adoration of the Magi, now in the Louvre.[34] Louis Antoine de Noailles, Archbishop of Paris, extensively modified the roof of Notre-Dame in 1726, renovating its framing and removing the gargoyles with lead gutters. Noailles also strengthened the buttresses, galleries, terraces, and vaults.[35] In 1756, the cathedral's canons decided that its interior was too dark. The medieval stained glass windows, except the rosettes, were removed and replaced with plain, white glass panes.[30] Finally, Jacques-Germain Soufflot was tasked with the modification of the portals at the front of the cathedral to allow processions to more easily enter it.

French Revolution and Napoleon

After the French Revolution in 1789, Notre-Dame and the rest of the clergy's property in France was seized and made public property.[36] The cathedral was rededicated in 1793 to the Cult of Reason, and then to the Cult of the Supreme Being.[37] 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.[12][38] Many of the heads 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.[39] 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.[12] The cathedral came to be used as a warehouse for the storage of food and other non-religious purposes.[31]

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.[40]


After the Napoleonic Wars, Notre-Dame was in such a state of disrepair that Paris officials considered its demolition. Victor Hugo, who admired the cathedral, wrote the novel Notre-Dame de Paris (published in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) in 1831 to save Notre-Dame. The book was an enormous success, raising awareness of the cathedral's decaying state.[12] The same year as Hugo's novel was published, however, anti-Legitimists plundered Notre-Dame's sacristy and broke its stained glass windows. In 1844 King Louis Philippe ordered that the church be restored.[12]

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,.[41] 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.[31]

The construction of the sacristy was especially financially costly. To secure a firm foundation, it was necessary for Viollet-le-Duc's laborers to dig 9 meters (30 ft). Master glassworkers meticulously copied styles of the 13th century, as written about by art historians Antoine Lusson and Adolphe Napoléon Didron.[42]

Antonieta Rivas Mercado shot herself at the altar of Notre-Dame on 11 February 1931 with a pistol that was the property of her lover Jose Vasconcelos. She died instantly.

During the liberation of Paris in August 1944, the cathedral suffered some minor damage from stray bullets. Some of the medieval glass was damaged, and was replaced by glass with modern abstract designs. On 26 August, a special mass was held in the cathedral to celebrate the liberation of Paris from the Germans; it was attended by General Charles De Gaulle and General Philippe Leclerc.

In 1963, on the initiative of culture minister André Malraux and to mark the 800th anniversary of the Cathedral, the façade was cleaned of the centuries of soot and grime, restoring it to its original off-white color.[43]

The Requiem Mass of Charles de Gaulle was held in Notre-Dame on 12 November 1970.[44] 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.[45]

After the Magnificat of 30 May 1980, Pope John Paul II celebrates Mass on the parvis of the cathedral.[46]

The Requiem Mass of François Mitterrand was held at the cathedral, as with past French heads of state, on 11 January 1996.[47]

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 discolored the stone. By the late 1980s, several gargoyles and turrets had also fallen off or become too loose to remain in place.[48] A decade-long renovation program 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.[48][49] A discreet system of electrical wires, not visible from below, was also installed on the roof to deter pigeons.[50] The cathedral's pipe organ was upgraded with a computerized system to control the mechanical connections to the pipes.[51] The west face was cleaned and restored in time for millennium celebrations in December 1999.[52]

21st century

The Requiem Mass of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, former Archbishop of Paris and famous Jewish convert to Catholicism, was held in Notre-Dame on 10 August 2007.[53]

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.[54][55] 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.[56][57] 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.[58] 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.[59][60]

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.[61] During that anniversary year, on 21 May 2013, Dominique Venner, a historian and white nationalist, placed a letter on the Church altar and shot himself, dying instantly. Around 1,500 visitors were evacuated from the cathedral.[62]

French police arrested two persons on 8 September 2016 after a car containing seven gas canisters was found near Notre-Dame.[63]

On 10 February 2017, French police arrested four persons in Montpellier already known by authorities to have ties to radical Islamist organizations on charges of plotting to travel to Paris and attack the cathedral.[64] Later that year, on 6 June, visitors were shut inside Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris after a man with a hammer attacked a police officer outside.[65][66]

2019 fire

On 15 April 2019 the cathedral caught fire, destroying the spire and the oak frame and lead roof.[4][67][68] It was speculated that the fire was linked to ongoing renovation work.

According to later studies, the fire broke out in the attic of the cathedral at 18:18. The smoke detectors immediately signaled the fire to a cathedral employee, who did not summon the fire brigade but instead sent a cathedral guard to investigate. Instead of going to the attic, the guard was sent to the wrong location, to the attic of the adjoining sacristy, and reported there was no fire. The guard telephoned his supervisor, who did not immediately answer. About fifteen minutes later the error was discovered, whereupon the guard's supervisor told him to go to the correct location. The fire brigade was still not notified. By the time guard had climbed the three hundred steps to the cathedral attic the fire was well advanced.[69] The alarm system was not designed to automatically notify the fire brigade, which was finally summoned at 18:51 after the guard had returned from the attic and reported a now-raging fire, and more than half an hour after the fire alarm had begun sounding.[70] Firefighters arrived in less than ten minutes.[71]

The spire of the cathedral collapsed at 19:50, bringing down some 750 tons of stone and lead. The firemen 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. They feared that, if the bells fell, they could wreck the tower, and endanger the structure of the other tower and the whole cathedral. They had to ascend a stairway threatened by fire, and to contend with low water pressure for their hoses. As other firemen watered the stairway and the roof, a team of twenty firemen climbed up the narrow stairway of the south tower, crossed to the north tower, lowered hoses to be connected to fire engines outside the cathedral, and sprayed water on the fire beneath the bells. By 21:45, they were finally able to bring the fire under control.[69]

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.[72] Because of the ongoing renovation, the copper statues on the spire had been removed before the fire.[73] The stone vaulting that forms the ceiling of the cathedral had several holes but was otherwise intact.[74]

Since 1905, France's cathedrals (including Notre-Dame) have been owned by the state, which is self-insured. Some costs might be recovered through insurance coverage if the fire is found to have been caused by contractors working on the site.[75] The French insurer AXA provided insurance coverage for two of the contracting firms working on Notre-Dame's restoration before the blaze which devastated the cathedral. AXA also provided insurance coverage for some of the relics and artworks in the cathedral.[76]

President Emmanuel Macron said approximately 500 firefighters helped to battle the fire. One firefighter was seriously injured and two police officers were hurt during the blaze.[77]

An ornate tapestry woven in the early 1800s is going on public display for only the third time in recent decades. The decoration was rescued from Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral after the fire.[78]

Projected restoration of the spire

Immediately after the fire, President Macron promised that Notre-Dame would be restored, and called for the work to be completed within five years.[79][80][81][82] An international architectural competition was also announced to redesign the spire and roof.[83] The hasty spire competition announcement drew immediate criticism in the international press from heritage academics and professionals who faulted the French government for being too narrowly focused on quickly building a new spire, and neglecting to frame its response more holistically as an inclusive social process encompassing the whole building and its long term users.[84][85] A new law was immediately drafted to make Notre Dame exempt from existing heritage laws and procedures, which prompted an open letter to President Macron signed by over 1,170 heritage experts urging respect for existing regulations.[86] The law, which passed on May 11, 2019, was hotly debated in the French National Assembly, with opponents accusing Macron's administration of using Notre-Dame self-servingly for political grandstanding, and defenders arguing the need for expediency and tax breaks to encourage philanthropic giving.[87]

President Macron suggested he was open to a "contemporary architectural gesture". Even before the competition rules were announced, architects around the world offered suggestions: the proposals included a three hundred foot spire made of carbon fiber, covered with gold leaf; a roof built of stained glass; a greenhouse; a garden with trees, open to the sky; and a column of light pointed upwards. A poll published in the French newspaper Le Figaro on 8 May 2019 showed that fifty-five percent of French respondents wanted a spire identical to the original. French culture minister Franck Riester promised that the restoration "will not be hasty."[88] On 16 July 2019, the French Parliament passed a law requiring that the Cathedral be rebuilt exactly as it appeared before the fire.[15]

Towers and the spire

  • Towers on west façade (1220–1250).

  • The 19th-century spire was destroyed in the 2019 fire.

  • The rooster reliquary atop the spire. It was found intact in the rubble after the 2019 fire.

  • The spire from above, in 2013

  • Statue of Thomas the Apostle, with the features of restorer Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, at the base of the spire

The two towers are 69 meters (226 ft) high, and were the tallest structures in Paris until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in 1889. The towers were the last major element of the cathedral to be constructed. The south tower was built first, between 1220 and 1240, and the north tower between 1235 and 1250. The newer north tower is slightly larger, as can be seen when they are viewed from directly in front of the church. The contrefort or buttress of the north tower is also larger.[89]

The north tower was accessible to visitors by a stairway, whose entrance was on the north side of the tower. The stairway has 387 steps, and has a stop at the Gothic hall at the level of the rose window, where visitors could look over the parvis and see a collection of paintings and sculpture from earlier periods of the cathedral's history.

The ten bells of the cathedral are located in the south tower. (see Bells below)

A lead-roofed water reservoir between the two towers‍—‌behind the colonnade and the gallery and before the nave and the pignon‍—‌provides water for firefighting.

The cathedral's flèche (or spire), which was destroyed in the April 2019 fire,[90] was located over the transept. The original spire was constructed in the 13th century, probably between 1220 and 1230. It was battered, weakened and bent by the wind over five centuries, and finally was removed in 1786. During the 19th-century restoration, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc decided to recreate it, making a new version of oak covered with lead. The entire spire weighed 750 tons.

Following Viollet-le-Duc's plans, the spire was surrounded by copper statues of the twelve Apostles‍—‌a group of three at each point of the compass. In front of each group is an animal symbolising one of the four evangelists: a winged ox for Saint Luke,[91] a lion for Saint Mark, an eagle for Saint John and an angel for Saint Matthew. Just days prior to the fire, the statues were removed for restoration.[92] While in place, they had faced outwards towards Paris, except one: the statue of Saint Thomas, the patron saint of architects, faced the spire, and had the features of Viollet-le-Duc.

The rooster weathervane atop the spire contained three relics: a tiny piece from the Crown of Thorns in the cathedral treasury, and relics of Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve, patron saints of Paris. They were placed there in 1935 by Archbishop Jean Verdier, to protect the congregation from lightning or other harm. The rooster with relics intact was recovered in the rubble shortly after the 2019 fire.[93]

Iconography – the "poor people's book"

  • Illustration of the Last Judgment, central portal of west façade

  • The martyr Saint Denis, holding his head, over the Portal of the Virgin

  • The serpent tempts Adam and Eve; part of the Last Judgment on the central portal of west façade

  • Archangel Michael and Satan weighing souls during the Last Judgment (central portal, west façade)

  • A strix on the west façade

  • Gargoyles were the rainspouts of the Cathedral

  • Chimera on the façade

  • Allegory of alchemy, central portal

The Gothic cathedral was a liber pauperum, a "poor people's book", covered with sculpture vividly illustrating biblical stories, for the vast majority of parishioners who were illiterate. To add to the effect, all of the sculpture on the façades was originally painted and gilded.[94] The tympanum over the central portal on the west façade, facing the square, vividly illustrates the Last Judgment, with figures of sinners being led off to hell, and good Christians taken to heaven. The sculpture of the right portal shows the coronation of the Virgin Mary, and the left portal shows the lives of saints who were important to Parisians, particularly Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary.[95]

The exteriors of cathedrals and other Gothic churches were also decorated with sculptures of a variety of fabulous and frightening grotesques or monsters. These included the gargoyle, the chimera, a mythical hybrid creature which usually had the body of a lion and the head of a goat, and the Strix or stryge, a creature resembling an owl or bat, which was said to eat human flesh. The strix appeared in classical Roman literature; it was described by the Roman poet Ovid, who was widely read in the Middle Ages, as a large-headed bird with transfixed eyes, rapacious beak, and greyish white wings.[96] They were part of the visual message for the illiterate worshipers, symbols of the evil and danger that threatened those who did not follow the teachings of the church.[97]

The gargoyles, which were added in about 1240, had a more practical purpose. They were the rain spouts of the cathedral, designed to divide the torrent of water which poured from the roof after rain, and to project it outwards as far as possible from the buttresses and the walls and windows where it might erode the mortar binding the stone. To produce many thin streams rather than a torrent of water, a large number of gargoyles were used, so they were also designed to be a decorative element of the architecture. The rainwater ran from the roof into lead gutters, then down channels on the flying buttresses, then along a channel cut in the back of the gargoyle and out of the mouth away from the cathedral.[94]

Amid all the religious figures, some of the sculptural decoration was devoted to illustrating medieval science and philosophy. The central portal of the west façade is decorated with carved figures holding circular plaques with symbols of transformation taken from alchemy. The central pillar of the central door of Notre-Dame features a statue of a woman on a throne holding a scepter in her left hand, and in her right hand, two books, one open (symbol of public knowledge), and the other closed (esoteric knowledge), along with a ladder with seven steps, symbolizing the seven steps alchemists followed in their scientific quest of trying to transform ordinary metals into gold.[97]

Many of the statues, particularly the grotesques, were removed from façade in the 17th and 18th century, or were destroyed during the French Revolution. They were replaced with figures in the Gothic style, designed by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, during the 19th century restoration.

Stained glass – rose windows

  • The earliest rose window, on the west façade (about 1225)

  • The west rose window (about 1225)

  • North rose window (about 1250)

  • North rose window including lower 18 vertical windows

The stained glass windows of Notre-Dame, particularly the three rose windows, are among the most famous features of the cathedral. The west rose window, over the portals, was the first and smallest of the roses in Notre-Dame. It is 9.6 metres in diameter, and was made in about 1225, with the pieces of glass set in a thick circular stone frame. None of the original glass remains in this window; it was recreated in the 19th century.[98]

The two transept windows are larger and contain a greater proportion of glass than the rose on the west façade, because the new system of buttresses made the nave walls thinner and stronger. The north rose was created in about 1250, and the south rose in about 1260. The south rose in the transept is particularly notable for its size and artistry. It is 12.9 metres in diameter; with the claire-voie surrounding it, a total of 19 metres. It was given to the Cathedral by King Louis IX of France, known as Saint Louis.[99]

The south rose has 94 medallions, arranged in four circles, depicting scenes from the life of Christ and those who witnessed his time on earth. The inner circle has twelve medallions showing the twelve apostles. (During later restorations, some of these original medallions were moved to circles farther out). The next two circles depict celebrated martyrs and virgins. The fourth circle shows twenty angels, as well as saints important to Paris, notably Saint Denis, Margaret the Virgin with a dragon, and Saint Eustace. The third and fourth circles also have some depictions of Old Testament subjects. The third circle has some medallions with scenes from the New Testament Gospel of Matthew which date from the last quarter of the 12th century. These are the oldest glass in the window.[99]

Additional scenes in the corners around the rose window include Jesus' Descent into Hell, Adam and Eve, the Resurrection of Christ. Saint Peter and Saint Paul are at the bottom of the window, and Mary Magdalene and John the Apostle at the top.

Above the rose was a window depicting Christ triumphant seated in the sky, surrounded by his Apostles. Below are sixteen windows with painted images of Prophets. These were not part of the original window; they were painted during the restoration in the 19th century by Alfred Gérenthe, under the direction of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, based upon a similar window at Chartres Cathedral.[99]

The south rose had a difficult history. In 1543 it was damaged by the settling of the masonry walls, and not restored until 1725–1727. It was seriously damaged in the French Revolution of 1830. Rioters burned the residence of the archbishop, next to the cathedral, and many of the panes were destroyed. The window was entirely rebuilt by Viollet-le-Duc in 1861. He rotated the window by fifteen degrees to give it a clear vertical and horizontal axis, and replaced the destroyed pieces of glass with new glass in the same style. The window today contains both medieval and 19th century glass.[99]

In the 1960s, after three decades of debate, it was decided to replace many of the 19th-century grisaille windows in the nave designed by Viollet-le-Duc with new windows. The new windows, made by Jacques Le Chevallier, are without human figures and use abstract grisaille designs and color to try to recreate the luminosity of the Cathedral's interior in the 13th century.

The 2019 fire left the three great medieval rose windows essentially intact, but with some damage.[100] The rector of the Cathedral noted that one rose window would have to be dismantled, as it was unstable and at risk.[101] Most of the other damaged windows were of much less historical value.[101]


The Archaeological Crypt (Crypte archéologique de l'île de la Cité) was created in 1965 to protect a range of historical ruins discovered during construction work and spanning from the earliest settlement in Paris to the modern day. The crypt is managed by the Musée Carnavalet, and contains a large exhibit, detailed models of the architecture of different time periods, and how they can be viewed within the ruins. The main feature still visible is the under-floor heating installed during the Roman occupation.[102]


One of the earliest organs at Notre-Dame, built in 1403 by Friedrich Schambantz, was replaced between 1730 and 1738 by François Thierry. During the restoration of the cathedral by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll built a new organ, using pipe work from the former instruments. The organ was dedicated in 1868.

In 1904, Charles Mutin modified and added several stops; in 1924, an electric blower was installed. An extensive restoration and cleaning was carried out by Joseph Beuchet in 1932. Between 1959 and 1963, the mechanical action with Barker levers was replaced with an electric action by Jean Hermann, and a new organ console was installed.

During the following years, the stoplist was gradually modified by Robert Boisseau (who added three chamade stops: 8′, 4′, and 2′/16′ in 1968) and Jean-Loup Boisseau after 1975, respectively. In autumn 1983, the electric combination system was disconnected due to short-circuit risk.

Between 1990 and 1992, Jean-Loup Boisseau, Bertrand Cattiaux, Philippe Émeriau, Michel Giroud, and the Société Synaptel revised and augmented the instrument throughout. A new console was installed, using the stop knobs, pedal and manual keyboards, foot pistons and balance pedals from the Jean Hermann console. Between 2012 and 2014, Bertrand Cattiaux and Pascal Quoirin restored, cleaned, and modified the organ. The stop and key action was upgraded, a new console was built, (again using the stop keys, pedal board, foot pistons and balance pedals of the 1992 console), a new enclosed division ("Résonnance expressive", using pipework from the former "Petite Pédale" by Boisseau, which can now be used as a floating division), the organ case and the façade pipes were restored, and a general tuning was carried out. The current organ has 115 stops (156 ranks) on five manuals and pedal, and more than 8,000 pipes.

I. Grand-Orgue
II. Positif
III. Récit
IV. Solo
V. Grand-Chœur
Résonnance expressive
Violon Basse 16
Bourdon 16
Montre 8
Viole de Gambe 8
Flûte harmonique 8
Bourdon 8
Prestant 4
Octave 4
Doublette 2
Fourniture harmonique II-V
Cymbale harmonique II-V
Bombarde 16
Trompette 8
Clairon 4 Chamades:
Chamade 8
Chamade 4 Chamade REC 8
Cornet REC
Montre 16
Bourdon 16
Salicional 8
Flûte harmonique 8
Bourdon 8
Unda maris 8
Prestant 4
Flûte douce 4
Nazard ​223
Doublette 2
Tierce ​135
Fourniture V
Cymbale V
Clarinet basse 16
Clarinet 8
Clarinet aiguë 4
Récit expressif:
Quintaton 16
Diapason 8
Flûte traversière 8
Viole de Gambe 8
Bourdon céleste 8
Voix céleste 8
Octave 4
Flûte Octaviante 4
Quinte ​223
Octavin 2
Bombarde 16
Trompette 8
Basson Hautbois 8
Clarinet 8
Voix humaine 8
Clairon 4 Récit classique:
Cornet V
Hautbois 8 Chamades:
Basse Chamade 8
Dessus Chamade 8
Chamade 4
Chamade Régale 8 Basse Chamade GO 8
Dessus Chamade GO 8
Chamade GO 4Trémolo
Bourdon 32
Principal 16
Montre 8
Flûte harmonique 8
Quinte ​513
Prestant 4
Tierce ​315
Nazard ​223
Septième ​227
Doublette 2
Cornet II-V
Grande Fourniture II
Fourniture V
Cymbale V
Cromorne 8 Chamade GO 8
Chamade GO 4**Cornet REC
Hautbois REC 8
Principal 8
Bourdon 8 *
Prestant 4 *
Quinte ​223

Doublette 2 *
Tierce ​135

Larigot ​113
Septième ​117
Piccolo 1
Plein jeu III-V
Cornet V (= *)
Tuba magna 16
Trompette 8
Clairon 4
Principal 32
Contrebasse 16
Soubasse 16
Quinte ​1023
Flûte 8
Violoncelle 8
Tierce ​625
Quinte ​513
Septième ​447
Octave 4
Contre Bombarde 32
Bombarde 16
Basson 16
Trompette 8
Basson 8
Clairon 4 Chamade GO 8
Chamade GO 4
Chamade Régale 8
Chamade REC 8
Chamade REC 4
Bourdon 16
Principal 8
Bourdon 8
Prestant 4
Flûte 4
Neuvième ​359
Tierce ​315
Onzième ​21011
Nazard ​223
Flûte 2
Tierce ​135
Larigot ​113
Flageolet 1
Fourniture III
Cymbale III
Basson 16
Basson 8
Voix humaine 8 Chimes

Couplers: II/I, III/I, IV/I, V/I; III/II, IV/II, V/II; IV/III, V/III; V/IV, Octave grave général, inversion Positif/Grand-orgue, Tirasses (Grand-orgue, Positif, Récit, Solo, Grand-Chœur en 8; Grand-Orgue en 4, Positif en 4, Récit en 4, Solo en 4, Grand-Chœur en 4), Sub- und Super octave couplers and Unison Off for all manuals (Octaves graves, octaves aiguës, annulation 8′). Octaves aiguës Pédalier. Additional features: Coupure Pédalier. Coupure Chamade. Appel Résonnance. Sostenuto for all manuals and the pedal. Cancel buttons for each division. 50,000 combinations (5,000 groups each). Replay system.


The position of titular organist ("head" or "chief" organist; French: titulaires des grands orgues) at Notre-Dame is considered one of the most prestigious organist posts in France, along with the post of titular organist of Saint Sulpice in Paris, Cavaillé-Coll's largest instrument.

  • Guillaume Maingot (1600–1609)

  • Jacques Petitjean (1609–1610)

  • Charles Thibault (1610–1616)

  • Charles Racquet (1618–1643)

  • Jean Racquet (c. 1643 – 1689)

  • Médéric Corneille (1689–1730)

  • Guillaume-Antoine Calvière (1730–1755)

  • René Drouart de Bousset (1755–1760)

  • Charles-Alexandre Jollage (1755–1761)

  • Louis-Claude Daquin (1755–1772)

  • Armand-Louis Couperin (1755–1789)

  • Claude Balbastre (1760–1793)

  • Pierre-Claude Foucquet (1761–1772)

  • Nicolas Séjan (1772–1793)

  • Claude-Étienne Luce (1772–1783)

  • Jean-Jacques Beauvarlet Charpentier (1783–1793)

  • Antoine Desprez (1802–1806)

  • François Lacodre dit Blin (1806–1834)

  • Joseph Pollet (1834–1840)

  • Félix Danjou (1840–1847)

  • Eugène Sergent (1847–1900)

  • Louis Vierne (1900–1937)

  • Léonce de Saint-Martin (1937–1954)

  • Pierre Cochereau (1955–1984)

  • Yves Devernay (1985–1990)

  • Jean-Pierre Leguay (1985–2015)

  • Philippe Lefebvre (since 1985)

  • Olivier Latry (since 1985)

  • Vincent Dubois (since 2016)


The cathedral has ten bells. The bourdon, called Emmanuel, weighing at 13 tons and tuned to F sharp, has been an accompaniment to some of France's major historical events since its first 15th-century casting, such as the coronation of French kings, papal visits, and the end of conflicts such as World War I and World War II. It also rings in times of sorrow like for the funerals of the French heads of state, tragedies such as the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001,[103] and on special holidays like Christmas, Easter, and Ascension. It was recast at the request of King Louis XIV in 1681, and managed to escape the events of the 1789 French Revolution. According to bell ringers and musicians, it is still one of the most beautiful sound vessels and one of the most remarkable of its kind in Europe.

There were also four bells that replaced those destroyed in the French Revolution. Placed at the top of the North Tower in 1856, these ring daily for basic services, the Angelus and the chiming of the hours. The first of these bells, named Angélique-Françoise, weighs in at 1,915 kg and is tuned to C sharp; the next bell is named Antoinette-Charlotte, weighing in at 1,335 kg and tuned to D sharp. Then there is the bell named Jacinthe-Jeanne weighing in at 925 kg tuned to F and the fourth bell named Denise-David weighs 767 kg and just like the Grand Bell Emmanuel, it is tuned to F sharp. A few years later, in 1867, a carillon of three bells in the spire with two chimes that linked to the monumental clock were put in place and another three bells were positioned in the actual structure of Notre-Dame itself, so that they could be heard inside. However, unfortunately, these are at present mute, although a project is currently being looked at, and hopefully will be put into place, in order to restore the Carillon to its former glory. The four bells that were put in place in 1856 are now stored, as of February 2012.

About a year later, a new set of eight bells for the North Tower of Notre-Dame was being produced, along with a Grand Bell for the South Tower, just as there were originally before most were destroyed during the French Revolution. The construction of bells is one of accuracy and precision to obtain the desired sound and the work has been entrusted to two separate companies, one in France for the eight bells and one in Belgium for the Grand Bell. Each of the new bells is named with names that have been chosen to pay tribute to saints and others who have shaped the life of Paris and the Notre-Dame.

Emmanuel is accompanied by another large bell in the south tower called Marie. At six tonnes and playing a G Sharp, Marie is the second largest bell in the cathedral. Marie is also called a Little Bourdon (petite bourdon) or a drone bell because it is located alongside Emmanuel in the south tower. Built in a foundry in The Netherlands, it has engravings as a very distinctive feature, something which is different compared to the other bells. The phrases "Je vous salue Marie," in French, and "Via viatores quaerit," in Latin, which mean "Hail Mary" (where the bell gets its name from the Virgin Mary) and "The way is looking for travellers". Below the phrase appears an image of the Baby Jesus and his parents surrounded by stars and a relief with the Adoration of the Magi. It is in charge of the Small Solennel, which is similar to the Great Solennel except that the ringing peal starts with the bourdon and the eight bells in the north tower. This ring is heard on only 1 January (New Year's Day) at the stroke of midnight and it replaces Emmanuel for international events. Like Emmanuel, the bells are used to mark specific moments such as the arrival at the Cathedral of the body of the deceased Archbishop of Paris.

In the North Tower, there are eight bells varying in size from largest to smallest. Gabriel is the largest bell there; it weighs four tons and plays an A sharp. It is named after the Archangel Gabriel, who announced the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. Built in a bell foundry outside Paris in 2013, it also chimes the hour through the day. Like Emmanuel and Marie, Gabriel is used to mark specific events. It is used mainly for masses on Sundays in ordinary times and some solemnities falling during the week in the Plenum North. It shows 40 circular lines representing the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert and the 40 years of Moses' crossing the Sinai.

Anne-Geneviève is the second largest bell in the North Tower and the fourth largest bell in the cathedral. Named after two saints: St. Anne, Mary's mother, and St. Geneviève the patron saint of Paris, it plays a B and it weighs three tons. It has three circular lines that represent the Holy Trinity and three theological virtues. Like Emmanuel, Marie and Gabriel, Anne-Genevieve is used to mark specific moments such as the opening of the doors to the Palm Sunday mass or the body of the deceased Archbishop of Paris. Also it is the only bell that does not participate in a chime called the Angelus Domini, which happens in the summer at 8am, noon and 8pm (or 9am, noon and 9pm).

Denis is the third largest bell in the North Tower and fifth largest bell in the cathedral. It is named after St. Denis, the martyr who was also the first bishop of Paris around the year 250; it weighs 2 tons and plays a C sharp. This bell includes the third phrase of the Angelus, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord". There are also seven circular lines representing the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the seven Sacraments.

Marcel is the fourth largest bell in the North Tower and sixth largest bell in the cathedral. It is named after the 9th bishop of Paris. It plays a D sharp and weighs 1.9 tons. It is named after Saint Marcel, the ninth bishop of Paris, known for his tireless service to the poor and sick in the fifth century. The bell that bears his name as a tribute has engraved upon it the fourth sentence of the Angelus, "Be it done unto me according to Thy word".

Étienne is the fifth largest bell in the North Tower and seventh largest bell in the cathedral. It is named after St. Étienne (English St. Stephen), the first Christian martyr. It plays an E sharp and weighs 1.5 tons with its most prominent feature being its gold stripe slightly above the nameplate.

Benoît-Joseph is the sixth largest bell in the North Tower and eighth largest bell in the cathedral. The bell is named in honor of Pope Benedict XVI, using the French version of his pontifical name combined with his given name (Joseph). It plays an F and weighs 1.3 tons. It has two silver stripes above the skirt and one silver stripe above the nameplate. This bell is used for weddings and sometimes chimes the hour replacing Gabriel, most likely on a chime called the Ave Maria.

Maurice is the seventh largest bell in the North Tower and second smallest in the cathedral. It is named after Maurice de Sully, the bishop of Paris who laid the first stone for the construction of the Cathedral. It includes the inscription, "Pray for us, Holy Mother of God". It plays a G sharp and weighs one ton. It has two gray stripes below the nameplate. This bell is used for weddings.

Jean Marie is the smallest bell of the cathedral. Unlike Benoît-Joseph and Anne-Geneviève which have two names, it is named after Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, Paris' bishop from 1981 until 2005, and on it is engraved the eighth and last sentence of the Angelus: "that we might be made worthy of the promises of Christ". It plays an A sharp and weighs 0.780 tons. It has a small gray stripe above the skirt. This bell is also used for weddings.


Until the French Revolution, Notre-Dame was the property of the Archbishop of Paris and therefore the Roman Catholic Church. It was nationalized on 2 November 1789 and since then has been the property of the French state.[104] Under the Concordat of 1801, use of the cathedral was returned to the Church, but not ownership. Legislation from 1833 and 1838 clarified that cathedrals were maintained at the expense of the French government. This was reaffirmed in the 1905 law on the separation of Church and State, designating the Catholic Church as having the exclusive right to use it for religious purposes in perpetuity. Notre-Dame is one of seventy historic churches in France with this status. The archdiocese is responsible for paying the employees, for security, heating and cleaning, and for ensuring that the cathedral is open free to visitors. The archdiocese does not receive subsidies from the French state.[105][106]


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