Notre Dame translates as "Our Lady" from French.
Notre Dame de Paris was one of the first Gothic cathedrals, and its construction spanned
the Gothic period. Its sculptures and stained glass show the heavy influence of
naturalism and give them a much more secular look that was severely lacking from earlier
And the Notre Dame de Paris was among the first
buildings in the world to use the flying buttress even though the building was not
originally designed to include the flying buttresses around the choir and nave, but after
the construction began and the thinner walls grew ever higher, stress fractures began to
occur as the walls started to pushed outward, which is why this type of design was decided
Unfortunately at the end of the 18th century, during the French Revolution, many of the
treasures of the cathedral were either destroyed or plundered and the statues of biblical
kings of Judea were beheaded. Yet in a nearby excavation conducted in 1977 many of
the heads were found and are now on display at the Musee
It was only the great bells that avoided being melted down, and the cathedral interior was
used as a warehouse for the storage of forage and food, but even today you can actually
pay to go up to the bell tower, which provides a fantastic view along with the close ups
of the gargoyles and the architecture that you can see on the tower visit.
Construction of the Notre Dame
In 1160, Bishop Maurice de Sully deemed the current Parisian cathedral unworthy of its
lofty role, and had it demolished shortly after he assumed the title of Bishop of Paris.
According to legend, Bishop Maurice de Sully had a vision of a glorious new cathedral for
Paris, and sketched it in the dirt outside the original church. But in order
to begin the construction, the bishop had to have several houses demolished and had a new
road built in order to transport all the materials for the new church.
Construction began in 1163, during the reign of King Louis VII, and opinion differs as to
whether Bishop Maurice de Sully or Pope Alexander III laid the very first foundation stone
of the cathedral, however, they were both at the ceremony. Bishop de Sully went on
to devote most of his life and wealth to the cathedral's construction prior to his death
By the time of his death, the apse and the choir had been completed and the year Bishop de
Sully died the Nave was also completed.
It was in the year 1200 that work began on the western facade, and over the construction
period, numerous architects worked on the site, as is evident by the different styles at
different heights of the west front and towers. Between 1210 and 1220, the fourth
architect oversaw the construction of the level with the rose window and the great halls
beneath the towers.
The towers were completed around 1245, and the whole cathedral was completed around 1345.
Damage and Restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral
In 1548, rioting Huguenots damaged some of the features of the cathedral following the
Council of Trent.
During the reign of King Louis XIV and King Louis XV, at the end of the 17th century, the
cathedral underwent major alterations as part of an ongoing attempt to modernize
cathedrals throughout Europe. Stained glass windows and even tombs were destroyed,
however, the north and south rose windows of the Notre Dame were spared this fate. The
beautiful rose window still has its original medieval stained glass for all to view today
and when it was built was largest window of its kind in the world.
It was at the start of the 1800's that Napoleon
decided to save the Notre Dame Cathedral from destruction, which is where he was crowned
emperor in 1804 and in 1845 a restoration program was initiated that was overseen by two
architects named Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. The restoration
lasted 25 years and included the construction of a fleche, which is a type of spire.
During the Paris Commune in 1871, the cathedral was nearly burned by the Communards and
there are some accounts that suggest a huge mound of chairs were set on fire in its
interior, but the Notre Dame survived the Commune essentially unscathed.
Following the start of World War II, it was feared that German bombers could destroy the
stained glass windows and as a result, on 11 September 1939, they were removed and
restored at the end of the war.
And then in 1991, another major program of maintenance and restoration was initiated,
which was intended to last only 10 years, but the cleaning and restoration of old
sculptures is such a delicate procedure that it has taken far longer than previously
predicted, but is essential for this glorious monument to survive for us to all benefit
for years to come and continue as a place of worship with mass and other services still
There is so much more that you can find out about the history of Notre Dame with a visit to the Musee de Notre Dame de Paris that is located
only a very short walk away from the cathedral, plus it even has one of the old organs on display along with music from the
famous pianist Louis Vierne.