The Notre-Dame: 10 Historical Facts

On 15 April 2019, a terrible fire raged which destroyed part of Notre-Dame de Paris. The roof of the cathedral collapsed, causing the tower of the building to collapse as well. However, Notre-Dame is still a masterpiece of medieval-Gothic architecture and one of the most famous historical sites in Paris. In the 850 years of its existence, this cathedral has seen countless royal weddings, coronations and requiem masses. Below, we have listed 10 historical facts about Notre-Dame for you.

1. The construction 

The construction of Notre-Dame took 200 years. The first stone was laid in 1163, in the presence of Pope Alexander III. The construction was completed in the year 1345.

2. Coronations, weddings and masses

In 1431, the young King of England, Henry VI, was also crowned King of France. This happened in Notre-Dame. Napoleon I and Josephine were also crowned emperor and empress of France here in 1804. 

Notre-Dame also experienced many famous royal weddings. In 1537, faithful James V of Scotland married here with Madeleine van Valois. And in 1558, his daughter also married here with her first husband, Francis, the dauphin of France. 

Requiem masses were also held here. There was the requiem mass for Charles de Gaulle (who led the French revolt against Nazi Germany in the Second World War) and for François Mitterrand (Prime Minister of France from 1981 to 1995).

Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

3. The royal looting

In the 18th century, Notre-Dame, under the leadership of King Louis XIV, was plundered. Ideas about architecture changed drastically at the time, giving the cathedral a rigorous makeover. 

The choir screen, which was covered with sculptures, was knocked down. The stained glass windows from the 12th and 13th centuries were replaced by clear glass and a pillar at the central entrance was demolished to accommodate large processional carriages. 

4. Damage by the French Revolution

During the French Revolution (1787-1799), the Notre-Dame was further destroyed. At this time, the cathedral was seen as a symbol of power and aggression of the church and the monarchy. The building was looted again. Sculptures were destroyed, lead was taken from the roof to make bullets and a number of bronze church bells were melted down to make cannons. 

5. Napoleon seizes power

In 1804, the government of Napoleon Bonaparte signed a treaty by which Notre-Dame came back into the possession of the Catholic Church. Because he wanted to be crowned here, Napoleon had the cathedral repaired quickly and he also paved the roads leading to the cathedral. 

6. The whistleblower of Notre-Dame

But, despite Napoleon’s attempts to restore the cathedral, it remained in poor condition.

When in 1831, Victor Hugo’s novel ‘The Whistleblower of Notre-Dame’ appeared, there was a renewed interest in Notre-Dame. Therefore, in 1844, a famous French architect was hired to lead the complete restoration of the cathedral. The project lasted almost 20 years.

7. Jeanne D’arc

Jeanne D’arc, also known as ‘the Virgin of Orleans’, was a heroine of French history. She led the French army during the 100-year war to victory in the occupation of Orléans (1428-1429). Later she was burned as a heretic by the English. 

In 1909, she was beatified in Notre-Dame by Pope Pius X.

8. Damage caused by the First World War

During the First World War, Notre-Dame was again severely damaged. More than 24 projectiles hit the cathedral. This set the wooden beams on fire and this in turn set the wood of the roof on fire. 

Also a number of stained glass windows, pillars and statues were destroyed.

Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

9. The Second World War

During the Second World War, it was feared that the Germans would destroy the famous stained glass windows, which were still from the 13th century. Therefore, the glass was temporarily removed from the windows and only reinstalled after the Second World War. 

10. The church bells of Notre-Dame

The church bell, called Emmanuel, has sounded during most major events in the history of France. It has sounded during the coronation of kings, visits by the Pope and to mark the end of the First and Second World Wars. 

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