Cathedral de Notre-Dame de Paris Turns 850
This may not be the oldest, nor the largest nor most ornate Gothic cathedral in Europe, but it is arguably the most famous and most-visited, and is certainly stunning. A pair of 200-foot-tall bell towers stands on either side of a gorgeous façade studded with intricate statuary, including amazing gargoyles. The flying buttresses and stained-glass windows are also outstanding. The Paris Cathedral de Notre-Dame is on the Ile de la Cité in the River Seine, the historical center of the city (old Roman city of Lutetia) and the geographical center, as Point Zero is in the square in front of the cathedral—the point from which all distances in France are measured.
Visitors to Paris this summer were greeted with an unusual sight around the famous
Notre-Dame Cathedral. Instead of the large wide-open parvis (square) in front of it, filled with camera-toting tourists, there was a tall blue mock gateway, called La Porte Jubilaire et La Montée (Jubilee Gate and The Way). From it, we stepped onto a boardwalk passageway leading up to a platform overlooking the front of the cathedral. The platform was also the top of a bank of bleachers, from which visitors could sit and contemplate the cathedral or watch various performances put on in honor of the occasion.
What was the occasion?
A momentous one actually, as this wonderful Gothic cathedral celebrated its 850th year in 2013. In 1160 Maurice de Sully (Bishop of Paris) ordered the original cathedral of Paris to be demolished and a new one started in a different location. In 1163 the corner stone was laid and construction began. Work continued in stages on the cathedral until 1345, when it was finally totally completed and dedicated.
But, this occasion might not have happened because before and after the French Revolution, the cathedral had fallen into disrepair and some of the city authorities were planning to demolish it. It’s hard to imagine Paris (or the world even) without this lovely building, and luckily a famous French author felt the same way: Victor Hugo.
Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a French Gothic novel, published in January 1831. In the novel, almost every event is in, on, or around the outside of Notre Dame. As one of the novel’s themes, Hugo wanted to point out the sad state of repair of the cathedral. He described how a once beautiful place was now crumbling and how the passage of time had brought many negative changes to the church and how the eras had scarred it. People took notice and campaigns began to save the cathedral.
Thank goodness they did, and renovating and maintaining such a historical building is an ongoing task. Every year that we’ve regularly visited Paris and the cathedral (for almost 20 years now) the city seemed to be cleaning one section of it and usually scaffolding covered one or other part, but the last couple of times Notre-Dame been gloriously clear and glowing white.