Construction history

Before the present Notre-Dame Cathedral

Paris, the old Lutèce, was evangelized from the 3rd century onwards. There were around 250 enough Christians to send Pope Fabien as first bishop Dyonisius, our Saint Denis became Patron Saint of Paris. As Christians were then persecuted in Gaul as in the whole Christian Empire, Bishop Denis was to secretly worship the cult in a simple piece of a Gallo-Roman villa. Denis was martyred a few years later with his auxiliaries on the Mount mercury, named since Mount martyrum (Montmartre). His successors lived underground until the peace of the Church decided by the Emperor Constantine in 313.

It became possible to build a first Christian building, presumably on the left bank and perhaps, according to some stories, on the side of the current Val-de-Grâce. In fact, we don't know anything specific about this first cathedral or the following. Excavations were carried out at different times in the eastern part of the Ile de la Cité, where the Notre-Dame Cathedral is now located. They make it possible to think that it existed at its site at the beginning of our era a pagan temple, subsequently replaced by a great Christian basilica with five naves, probably quite similar to the ancient basilicas of Rome or Ravenna, in particular. But we don't know if this Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Stephen, had been raised in the fourth century and would have been redeveloped later or if it dates from the 7Th century with older elements in remploi. A certainty though: This St. Stephen's Cathedral was of very large dimensions. Its western façade, located about 40 meters west of the present-day façade of Notre-Dame, had a barely inferior width, as to the total length of the building, it represented just over half of the current one. Inside, the naves were separated by marble columns and the walls were covered with mosaics. According to liturgical use, it was completed on its northern flank by a baptistery, called Saint-Jean le Rond.

St. Stephen's Cathedral seems to have been regularly maintained and repaired, enough in any case to withstand the wars and the wear and tear of time. However, in the mid-12Th century during the reign of Louis VII, Bishop Maurice de Sully and the chapter have made an extremely important decision: building in the place of St. Stephen a new Cathedral, much longer and higher than the old one, as permitted by the new architectural techniques that began to be used, that of the ogival style, commonly called Gothic nowadays.


Birth of Notre-Dame Cathedral

On 12 October 1160, Maurice de Sully was elected Bishop of Paris.

Paris, in a context of strong demographic expansion and economic dynamism, affirms the importance of its role in the Kingdom of France as:
political capital of the Capetian kings, notably with Philippe 1er (1060-1108), Louis VI the Gros (1108-1137) and Louis VII the younger (1137-1180);
economic center with the development on the right bank of the Seine of a city of craftsmen and merchants around the market of the halls;
a high place of intellectual formation : international outreach of the school-Cathedral.

Maurice de Sully is Bishop of Paris from 1160 to 1196. From his election, he proposes a pastoral, theological and spiritual response to the profound transformation of his diocese by the reconstruction of a Church-Cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Notre-Dame) and regrouping the Church functions of the Bishop, the Church of the chanoins and the Baptistery. This project is at the Centre ofa gigantic urban construction site :

Demolition of the old Saint-Étienne and edification of Notre-Dame;
– development of a Court wanted as an intermediary space between the secular world and the world of faith: place of catechesis by the sculpted teaching of the Portals ;
New-Notre-Dame Street drilling : ample 6-metre wide track allowing easy access to the Cathedral for a large population; It will serve as a framework for centuries in large processions;
– reconstruction of the Episcopal Palace and to Hotel-Dieu.



1163 is the date traditionally adopted for the laying of the first stone of Notre-Dame in the presence of Pope Alexander III.

The new building is part of the momentum of the new art that will be called Gothic (or ogival art). Projects have already preceded it in this movement:

– in 1140 with the consecration of the Abbey of Saint-Denis built by Abbot Suger ;
– en 1150: noyon;
– en 1153: Senlis;
– en 1160: Laon, Sens.

The first project supervisor anonymous takes the side of a Plan double-sided and without protruding transept (choice which was that of the previous St. Stephen's Cathedral), four-storey elevation supported by StandsLarge sexpartite vaults to 32 meters 50, predominance of the horizontal line, original solution for the vaulting of the rotating part of the ambulatory, alternating "strong" batteries and to "low" batteries between the first and second aisle.


12Th – early 13Th century
Four major work campaigns marked this period under the direction of four Implementers:

1163-1182 : construction of the Choir and its double ambulatory. The master altar of the choir is consecrated on May 19, 1182 by Henri de Château-Marçay, papal legate assisted by Bishop Maurice de Sully. (1st project supervisor).

1182-1190 : construction of last three spans of the nave, Aisles and Stands. (2nd master of work).

1190-1225 : building the foundations of the Façade and first two spans of the nave, connection of the two spans to the high façade to the Gallery of Kings. (3rd master of work).

1225-1250 : High Gallery and both Tours on the façade, modification and enlargements of the high Windows and development of side chapels of the nave between the abutting of the buttresses (4th master of work).


The work of the masters of the late 13Th – early 14Th century

The names of the implementers are known: Jean de Chelles, Pierre de Montreuil, Pierre de Chelles, Jean Ravy, Jean Le Bouteiller

Enlargement of the transepts arms: North crossbrace (Cloister's portal And Northern rose) and South crossbrace (Saint-Étienne Portal And South rose).

Fitting of chapels of the choir and the bedside between the buttresses.

Setting up of large buttresses of the choir and the bedside of 15 meters of volley.

Erection of the rood screen and stone fence history around the choir and the sanctuary.


The changes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Redevelopment under the direction of Robert de Cotte of the sanctuary and choir to accomplish the Vow of Louis XIII.

– Restoration of the South rose.

Replacement of Stained glass of the 12Th and 13Th century by the white Windows in the middle of the eighteenth century by the brothers Le Vieil.

Works of the architect Soufflot:
– new sacristy;
– Redevelopment of the Central portal.

During the revolutionary period:
– Disassembly of the Arrow of the 13Th century;
– Destruction of the 28 statues of Kings of the Gallery of Kings ;
– Destruction of all the large statues of the portals with the exception of the Virgin of the pier of Cloister's portal.


The revival of the nineteenth century.

In the early nineteenth century, the context was new: a new Concordat was signed in July 1801 and Notre-Dame was returned to the Roman Catholic cult on April 18, 1802. In 1831, Victor Hugo published his novel Notre-Dame de Paris which will be a huge success. In 1844, the Government of King Louis-Philippe 1er decreed the restoration of the Cathedral of Paris and the construction of a sacristy.

The restoration project is entrusted to two architects: Eugene Viollet-le-Duc and Jean-Baptiste Lassus. In 1857, Lassus's death left Viollet-le-Duc, the only master of work.

Restoring a building, not maintaining it, repairing it or doing it again, is restoring it in a complete state that may never have existed at any given time. (Viollet-le-Duc)

This is the beginning of this great restoration campaign, sometimes Deputy of modifications of the general architecture, whose main axes are:
– the reconstruction of the arrow ;
– the restitution of the sculptures (about fifteen sculptors, including Adolphe Geoffroy-Dechaume, will intervene);
– elevation of the new sacristy;
– Re-establishment of a new glazing by appealing to large glassmakers (Alfred Gérente, Louis Steinhel, Antoine Husson, Maréchal de Metz, Didron the elder);
– to the central portal , restoration of the prior State to the work of Soufflot;
– reconstitution of a part of the Treasury and furniture;
– murals in the side chapels;
– complete overhaul of the great organ.

On 31 May 1864, the dedication of the Cathedral will take place by Archbishop Darboy of Paris.


Contemporary period

The two world conflicts will fortunately save the Cathedral.

1965 will see the culmination of 30 years of intense debates on the renewal of the stained glass windows of the nave in lieu of the grisailles of the XIXth. It's finally the master glassmaker James Le Chevallier which was chosen to carry out these verrières on the principle of non-figurative and animated greywood, which corresponded to a State and a luminous atmosphere as they could have been in the 13Th century.

From 1990 to 1992, the great organ, which became surely the most famous twentieth century in the world, was the subject ofa large-scale restoration carried out by a group of French organ factors.

It is also worth noting the great cleaning campaign of the Western facade which lasted more than ten years and which, thanks to the talents of the restorers of the services of the historical monuments and the techniques employed, allows us since the year 2000 to admire again this jewels of medieval architecture in all its splendor.

In response to the guidelines of Vatican Council II, the clergy will make several times the liturgical plateau. The last amendments, in 2004, under the episcopate of the Cardinal-Archbishop Jean-Marie Lustigerwill, among other things, to regain the traffic space between the two transepts and, by the new disposition of the premises, fully associate the choir and the nave which now only make one during liturgical celebrations.

Anchored more than ever in our time and far from being a Museum, the Cathedral wants, as from its origins, the House of God and the abode of men, testify to these evolutions of all kinds signs of an ever-present radiance.

Light a candle at Notre-Dame