This resilient, gravity-defying Gothic cathedral survived centuries of France’s turbulent past. It emerged in the 19th century from near ruin, thanks to a massive restoration project.

Construction of Notre Dame de Paris began in 1163 on the Île de la Cité, the heart of the medieval city of Paris. Nearly 900 years later, its sculptures, stained glass, and flying buttresses still inspire and awe.
GÜNTER GRÄFENHAIN/FOTOTECA 9X12
  • 1163
    The first stone of the cathedral is laid with Pope Alexander III in attendance.
  • 1182
    Bishop Maurice de Sully celebrates the first Mass after the high altar has been consecrated.
  • 1240-1345
    Incorporating Gothic elements, several different builders guide the cathedral to completion.
  • 1789
    French revolutionaries cause major damage to the building, especially the statuary.
  • 1831
    Publication of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame sparks a campaign to restore the cathedral.
  • 1844
    Viollet-le-Duc is appointed to lead a complete restoration of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame de Paris is perhaps France’s most famous landmark: standing tall at the heart of the city for centuries, accepting the people’s reverance one day, then facing their rejection on another. As of Monday evening local time in Paris, a massive fire has broken out in the cathedral, according to the Associated Press.

The cathedral, which houses the crown of thorns relic, sits on the Île de la Cité, an island in the center of the Seine. The town was well-placed to control the passage of goods along the waterway and grew wealthy. By the 10th century, Paris was the center of an emerging new European power.

Trade was key to the city’s burgeoning fortunes, but Paris was gaining a reputation as a spiritual centre as well. A saintly cult had been developing around its local martyr, St. Denis. According to tradition, Denis was beheaded on the hill of Montmartre (“martyrs’ mount”) in the mid- to late-third century AD, after which he ran ten or so kilometres while carrying his severed head. In a spot north of the city, alleged to be where he stopped running, a basilica was built in the 12th century to honour him.

The post above is part of an article  “An 800-year history of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral”, National Geographican.


Inside Notre Dame | The Story of God

Morgan Freeman, host of “The Story of God” on National Geographic, learns about the ancient Crown of Thorns while exploring Notre Dame.


“It was just heartbreaking to watch. The ladders were not tall enough. The hoses were not strong enough,” said eye witness John Dickas.

The heat from the flames was felt even on the opposite side of the river Seine. At the height of the fire, the cathedral spire that marked the Paris skyline, toppled from the intense flames.

A view of the cross and sculpture of Pieta by Nicolas Coustou in the background of debris inside Notre-Dame de Paris, in the aftermath of a fire that devastated the cathedral. – Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via REUTERS