Notre Dame de Paris is a well-known Catholic Cathedral located in the heart of Paris. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, as it literally translates to English as “Our Lady in Paris.” First constructed in 1163, it is currently closed due to a 2019 fire that has seriously damaged the centuries-old church.
Notre Dame Cathedral Facts
1. It took 182 years for the Notre Dame Cathedral to be completed.
Notre Dame’s impressive splendor was not accomplished in haste, as it took 182 years for the church to be finally completed, an interesting fact about Notre Dame Cathedral. Construction started in 1163 with a groundbreaking ceremony led by Pope Alexander III and King Louis VII.
It took four phases of construction before the cathedral was finally completed. The first stage began with the creation of the choir and the ambulatories. The second phase, which ran from 1182 to 1190, involved the construction of the nave and the aisles. Transepts were added but were remodeled in the 13th century to the modern Rayonnant style. Jean Ravy, a master builder, finally completed the remaining chevet chapel, rood screen, as well as the choir’s flying buttresses.
2. It is one of the most popular examples of French Gothic Architecture.
French Gothic architecture emerged in 1140, two decades before the Notre Dame Cathedral was built. The style, which was used until the mid-16th century, was the driving force behind the towering heights of many French churches.
Notre Dame de Paris’ beautiful design is characterized by the use of flying buttresses, rib vaults, and rose windows. It is also known for its realistic sculptural decors that are reminiscent of the medieval Romanesque style.
3. The Notre Dame de Paris acted as the “Poor People’s Book.”
In the early days, a lot of people were illiterate. Because of this, the church thought of transforming its walls into a liber pauperum, or the “Poor People’s Book.” An interesting fact about Notre Dame Cathedral is that its sculptures were created in such a way that they were able to tell stories to the parishioners who were not able to read or write.
4. Much of the Cathedral’s statues were destroyed after the French Revolution.
The French Revolution was a pivotal time in the country’s history. It put an end to monarchical rule, as it ushered in the creation of a new republic. It changed France so much so that even the Notre Dame Cathedral was direly affected.
In 1793, it was re-dedicated to the Cult of Reason, an atheistic religion meant to replace Catholicism during the height of the French Revolution. The next year, it was given to the Cult of the Supreme Being, a religion started by Maximilien Robespierre. Because of these changes, the cathedral, which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, had its Marian statues replaced with the Goddess of Liberty.
As the church changed hands, much of its priceless treasures were stolen or destroyed. The statues of biblical kings, who were thought to be French Kings, were eventually beheaded. They were found decades later, buried in a site nearby.
Even as Bonaparte’s ascension to the throne marked the end of the French Revolution, he made sure of one thing. That was to return the Notre Dame Cathedral was returned to its original owners: the Catholic Church.
5. The Notre Dame Cathedral was almost demolished in the early 19th century.
The Napoleonic Wars took a toll on France, with the Notre Dame de Paris being one of its structural casualties. It was damaged so badly that the officials considered demolishing it.
In his bid to save the Cathedral, Victor Hugo wrote the bestselling novel “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” an interesting fact about Notre Dame Cathedral. This helped focus the spotlight on the church, which was in dire need of repair. Despite the plundering of the sacristy in 1831, its restoration was finally commissioned in 1844.
That year, two architects who worked on the Sainte-Chapelle were placed on the helm of the project. While they were given 2.65 million Francs for funding, it was not enough. The lack of resources forced the renovations to stop in 1850. It was finally completed 14 years after to the tune of 12 million Francs.
6. The ongoing renovations led to the disastrous Notre Dame fire of 2019.
On April 15, 6:16 pm, the smoke detectors alarmed the staff of an ongoing fire in the attic. But instead of calling the firemen, the employee on duty sent a guard to investigate. He was, however, directed to the wrong area. This mistake was eventually rectified 15 minutes later, but the guard – who had to climb 300 flights of stairs – was far too late.
At 7:50 pm, the Cathedral’s spire gave way, bringing down 750 tons of lead and stone with it. After almost two hours, the fire brigade finally declared the raze under control.
While the damages were many, the quick thinking of the firemen enabled them to save the buttresses, stained glass windows, towers, and the façade. They even managed to salvage the Great Organ, which suffered from some water damage.
7. Reconstruction will begin in 2021.
France is slated to host the Summer Olympics in 2024 – and President Emmanuel Macron hopes that the reconstruction of the Notre Dame Cathedral would be finished by then.
The restoration project will start officially in 2021, right after the structure is stabilized, an interesting Notre Dame Cathedral fact. This first crucial phase of the project might take as much as 2 years to complete.
While the given timeframe to finish the reworks is 5 years, the President’s hopes might be spoiled by 2019 Covid pandemic, which has put the reconstruction in a standstill since March 15.
8. The Cathedral is a silent witness to many suicides.
While the Notre Dame Cathedral is considered a sacred place, many have done unholy acts in it. Two people have committed suicide in the parish, the first one being Antonieta Rivas Mercado. The Mexican writer shot herself on the altar after being rejected by her lover Jose Vasconcelos.
The most recent suicide was that of Dominique Venner, a historian turned white supremacist. Despite being an atheist, he decided to shoot himself in the Cathedral, as it was a symbolic place that he truly admired.
The Notre Dame Cathedral has withstood several revolutions, wars, even catastrophic fires. People around the world are hoping that it would survive another round of constructions – so it could stand tall and proud for more centuries to come.
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