Incredible Facts About Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral and Why It's Significant for Catholics
On April 15, a fire broke out and engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. As one of the most famous landmarks in the world, the cathedral is beloved by many as a symbol of Catholicism. Notre Dame de Paris means Our Lady of Paris.
Here are a few interesting facts about Notre Dame Cathedral:
NOTRE DAME IS ONE OF THE OLDEST BUILDINGS IN PARIS.
Albumen silver print from glass negative of the east facade of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, circa 1860
Built on the island of Île-de-la-Cité, the cathedral stands on a Gallo-Roman city that was once known as Lutetia. The first stone was laid in 1163 during the reign of Louis VII, but its construction would go on until the next century. Through time, it has been restored and updated with many additions including stonework, stained glass, and even the gargolyes which were added later in the 19th century.
NOTRE DAME IS CONSIDERED ONE OF THE GREATEST FRENCH GOTHIC STRUCTURES IN FRANCE.
Featuring rib vaults, flying buttresses, rose windows, and sculptural decorations, the cathedral has stood out for its French Gothic architecture.
Plan of the Cathedral made by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. Portals and nave to the left, choir in the center, and apse and ambulatory to the right.
Early six-part rib vaults of the nave. The ribs transferred the thrust of the weight of the roof downward and outward to the pillars and the supporting buttresses.
The massive buttresses which counter the outward thrust from the rib vaults of the nave
Later flying buttresses of the apse of Notre Dame (14th century) reached 15 meters from the wall to the counter-supports.
NOTRE DAME WAS SAVED BY NAPOLEON AND VICTOR HUGO.
By the 19th century, the cathedral was in bad shape. To rectify this, he ordered it to be returned to its original use as a church. He then hosted his coronation in the cathedral, bringing public interest back into the structure.
Publicity still from film Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
In 1831, Victor Hugo used the cathedral as the setting for his novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The book's new success further created interest for the cathedral and renovations were subsequently overseen by architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.
MANY HISTORIC EVENTS HAVE TAKEN PLACE IN THE CATHEDRAL.
Mid-15th-century depiction of Henry being crowned King of France
Many important people in history have set foot in Notre Dame. In 1431, Henry VI of England was crowned King of France in the cathedral. While in 1909, Joan of Arc was beatified by Pope Pius X in the cathedral. The requiem mass for French President General Charles de Gaulle was held there in 1970.
IT HOLDS A NUMBER OF RELIGIOUS RELICS AND ARTICLES.
Relic of the crown of thorns, bought by Louis IX from Baldwin II. It has long been preserved in Notre Dame de Paris.
The cathedral itself has irreplaceable items such as the organ, Emmanuel bell, and three stained-glass rose windows, but it has also acted as the home of a number of relics, one being the crown of thorns believed to be the same exact one Jesus Christ wore leading up to his crucifixion. There's also the true cross, a piece of wood from the cross from which Jesus was crucified. Another relic that's kept in the cathedral is one of the nails used in the crucifixion.
IT'S NOT THE FIRST TIME IT WAS HEAVILY DAMAGED.
The cathedral was notably pillaged during the French Revolution. A mob decapitated 28 statues of kings in the cathedral which were then thought to be fully destroyed. In 1977, however, 21 heads were discovered hidden in the basement of the French Bank of Foreign Trade. What was discovered is now displayed in the Musee de Cluny.
Before Napoleon ordered the cathedral to be restored, it was used as warehouse. The structure's exterior was in ruin due to vandalization. During the Second World War, Notre Dame was heavily damaged by two dozen German shells.