One of the most dominating and expansive architectural landmarks in Paris, France is the Notre Dame Cathedral. The cathedral towers over the Seine and the Ile-de-la-Cite. Its history is as impressive as the building itself and marks many turning points in the history of France.
The Notre Dame Cathedral sits on the spot that originally supported a temple built by the Romans as a dedication to Jupiter. A Romanesque church that was built by the Christian basilica followed the fall of this temple. The temple was known as the Cathedral of St. Etienne and was founded in 528 by Childebert.
In order to accommodate the expanding population in Paris, Maurice de Sully, who was the bishop at the time, opted to build the new cathedral in dedication of the Virgin Mary. The completion of the cathedral took nearly 200 years and because of the high illiteracy rate at the time, focused on teachings of the bible in artwork and picture format.
Cultural Significance of Notre Dame Cathedral
The history of the Notre Dame Cathedral is powerful to the people of France. It was the first stop by Crusaders who were headed off to the holy wars in the Middle East. It became an easy target to enemies of France and was pillaged during the French Revolution as were other Cathedrals in the area. Many of the original design, artwork, and treasures were ruined at this time. Ultimately, the Cathedral became a storage unit for food during the Revolution.
A Second Birth
During the 19th century, a number of Parisian artists as well as the writer Victor Hugo (author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame)brought the partial ruin of the Notre Dame Cathedral to the attention of the people. Their intent was to recapture the holiness and beauty of the Cathedral in the attempt to reestablish the classic elegance and pride that exuberated from the Cathedral.
This reconstruction of the Notre Dame Cathedral took nearly 25 years and combined artwork, replacement of stained glass windows, and scientific research to construct the Cathedral to be nearly tamper proof. The dedicated group designed the spine of the building, which lead to the solid foundation. The Baron Haussmann, Napoleon III's master city planner, also ordered homes in the vicinity to be destroyed and torn down in order to establish bountiful and unobstructed views of the magnificent Cathedral.
While the history of the Notre Dame Cathedral is a huge part of the lure, the main attraction is the artwork that continues to awe. There are 28 statues that represent the monarchs of Judea and Israel that occupy the west front of the building. Three portals are set up to depict and demonstrate major occurrences in biblical history. The portals include the Last Judgment, the Madonna and Child, St. Anne (the Virgin's mother) and Mary's youth prior to the birth of Jesus.
Visiting Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral continues to be a working -- and active -- parish. Visitors are welcome to attend services at the Cathedral. In fact, the church accommodates tourists by performing several services in English (as well as other popular tourist languages.) The interior of the Notre Dame Cathedral is able to accommodate up to 6,000 worshipers. This is particularly popular on sunny days when the stained glass windows capture the glorious colors.
While visitors to the Notre Dame Cathedral come from all over to glory in the artwork and sculptures, many come to indulge in the amount of history that occupies one space. The enormous Cathedral overtakes the scenery in its surrounds and boasts the most impressive knowledge of biblical history. Those visiting will not leave uneducated.
Guided tours of the Notre Dame Cathedral are available to those interested in asking questions and those who are thirsty for more information. While there continues to be an impressive amount of information, sometimes one trip isn't enough. Share the experience with the family. They are guaranteed receive impressive views and an expanse of knowledge.