The Story Behind Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame de Paris

On 15 April 2019, the world watched the burning of the 850-year-old cathedral in fear and sadness. The famous cathedral is one of the most popular landmarks in the world, standing tall at the heart of Paris and drawing over 13 million visitors a year.

Notre Dame de Paris, meaning “Our Lady of Paris,” is known for its unique size, antiquity, and architectural interest. Here is the short history behind this historical masterpiece.

When Was the Cathedral Built?

Notre Dame has a long and rich history. During the 11th and 12th centuries, Paris was the center of political, economic and intellectual power in France; and in 1160, the idea of building the cathedral emerged with the intention of symbolizing the glory of Paris.

In 1163, the construction of Notre Dame started with the laying of the foundation stone in the presence of King Louis VII and Pope Alexander III. The construction period lasted for almost two centuries; and during this period, with the contributions of many famous architects like Jean de Chelles, Pierre de Montreuil, Pierre de Chelles, the cathedral gained its unique gothic style as we see today. For instance, the adding of the flying buttresses were intended to not only support the structure but also contribute to its gothic atmosphere.

The completion of Notre Dame was in 1345, and since then, it has been regarded as a jewel of medieval Gothic architecture.

Historical Events That Happened in Notre Dame

Due to its important location and long history, this magnificent cathedral was home for many significant historical events.

  • In 1431, during the Hundred Years’ War, Henry VI of England was crowned King of France with a traditional coronation inside Notre-Dame. He was only ten years old when the coronation was held.
  • During the Renaissance, as the gothic elements fell out of style, the cathedral’s walls and pillars were covered with tapestries.
  • In the 16th century, the cathedral was severely damaged by rioting groups due to claims of idolatry.
  • In 1699, King Louis XIV, under the wishes of his father, Louis XIII, started the renovation of the cathedral.
  • The effect of the renovation didn’t last long. Notre Dame continued to suffer deterioration during the French Revolution (1789). The building was mostly used as a food and wine store. Revolutionary groups severely damaged the structure of the cathedral, especially the statuary. Many of the statues lost their heads, yet thankfully the heads were discovered in 1997.
  • In 1804, when it was about to collapse, Napoleon Bonaparte rescued Notre Dame from possible destruction and crowned himself emperor of France in the cathedral.

Notre Dame in medieval Paris

  • In 1831, Victor Hugo released his famous historical novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The popularity of the book brought the cathedral new attention and inspired the restoration campaigns.
  • The campaigns were brought to a successful conclusion. Parisians and the government thought that this decaying monument was a treasure worth restoring.
  • In 1844, the cathedral was ordered to be restored under the government of King Louis Philippe. The following restoration was held by two famous architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.
  • Thankfully, Notre Dame didn’t take any serious damage from the two World Wars. During the second half of the 20th century, the cathedral was under the modernization process, and a few restorations such as extensive cleaning of the facades and statues were carried out.

Notre Dame in the 21st Century

Ever since it was built 850 years ago, Notre Dame has been regarded as a masterpiece of gothic architecture. It has also attracted many visitors around the world for its beauty and glory.

Sparks fill the air as Paris Fire brigade members spray water to extinguish flames as the Notre Dame Cathedral burns in Paris, France, April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

The cathedral has managed to survive from centuries of France’s turbulent past; at least, until 2019. On 15 April 2019, the world watched the burning of Notre Dame. A fire consumed the cathedral’s spire and Medieval roof. Luckily, the main structure wasn’t badly damaged, and since the cathedral was under the restoration process, the copper statues on the spire hadn’t been there during the fire.

Although it is said that the building didn’t take any serious damage, some estimate the possible cost of the restoration may be nearly $180 million. In fact, this is not the first time the cathedral has taken such a serious damage; it had been about to collapse many times throughout history. I believe it would get better soon and stand at the heart of Paris with its all glory and magnificence.


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