Notre Dame Cathedral

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Free History For Your Report

Notre Dame

Construction on Notre Dame de Paris began in the year 1163 under the reign of Louis VII. Construction was completed roughly 200 years later in 1345. The Cathedral is located on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité in Paris, France, with its main entrance to the west. Maurice de Sully, bishop of Paris, was the architect and decided to build the cathedral for the expanding population. In French the name means “Our Lady of Paris”, meaning the church in Paris dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Gallo-Roman temple to Jupiter, a Christian basilica, and a Romanesque church (in that order, the last being the most recent) previously occupied the site on which Notre Dame sits today.

With the towers of the Western Façade standing at 228 feet tall, Notre Dame was the first cathedral built on such a monumental scale and its’ French Gothic Style set the precedent for future French Cathedrals. Notre Dame de Paris was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress. Although the flying buttresses were not originally included in the design, they were added around the choir and nave to prevent further deterioration when stress fractures in the thinner walls began to occur as the walls were built higher and pushed outward.

During its history, Notre Dame has been the site of numerous official and other ceremonial occasions. These include: 

    • 1239; The Crown of Thorns placed in the Cathedral by St. Louis during the construction of Sainte- Chapelle.
    • 1302; Philip the Fair opens the first States General here.
    • 1430; Henri VI of England is crowned here.
    • Mary Stuart becomes Queen of France after her marriage to François II, and is crowned here.
    • 1572; Marguerite of Valoi is married to the Huguenot Henri of Navarre here.
    • 2 December 1804; After the anointing by Pius VII, Napoléon seizes the crown from the pontiffand crowns first himself, then Josephine.
    • 26 August 1944; The Te Deum Mass celebrates the liberation of Paris. (According to someaccounts the Mass was interrupted by snipping from both the internal and external galleries.)
    • 12 November 1970; The Requiem Mass of General de Gaulle is held here.
    • 31 May 1980; After the Magnificat of this day, Pope John Paul II celebrates Mass on the parvis infront of the Cathedral. 

During the French Revolution, Notre Dame was pillaged. The statues of the saints that stood above the portals on the west were mistaken for representations of kings and therefore taken down. (Some statues were recovered in the Latin Quarter in the 1970’s.) Many other things were destroyed or looted during that time as well, but the great bells avoided being melted down.

In 1844, Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc began his restoration of Notre Dame. For the next 23 years he would reinstate the triforium and small clerestory windows in the eastern bay of the nave and restore the sculpture on the west façade, damaged during the French Revolution. He also combined scientific research with his own creative ideas to design Notre Dame’s spire, a new feature to the building, and the sacristy. Also in the 19th century, Napoleon III’s urban planner, Baron Haussmann, evicted the Parisians living in the houses in the Cathedral’s vicinity and cleared the surrounding land to allow for a better view of the Cathedral.

Although the building itself is fascinating, it is the art of Notre Dame that is awe inspiring. 28 statues representing the monarchs of Judea and Israel stand in the west front. The three portals depict, from left to right, the Last Judgment; the Madonna and Child; St. Anne, the Virgin's mother; and Mary's youth until the birth of Jesus. The interior is brilliant to say the least and has room for as many as 6,000 worshipers. The three rose windows — to the west, north, and south — are masterful, their colors a glory to behold on a sunny day.

A few fun facts about Notre Dame de Paris:

    • The bell "Emmanuel" in the South Tower weighs 13 metric tons (over 28,000 pounds). The clapper alone weighs 500 kilograms (about 1,100 pounds).
    • It is said that when "Emmanuel" was recast in 1631, women threw their gold and other jewelry into the molten metal, giving the bell its unique, pure F sharp tone.
    • The main vault inside the cathedral is 34 metres (112 feet) high.
    • 422 steps (that become increasingly narrower) lead to the very top of the Bell Tower.

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