one is shown an example of Gothic architecture
it is a good bet that the example will
be that of Notre Dame de Paris (the name
meaning literally “Our Lady of Paris).
It is known the world over for its stained
glass windows, its towering spires, its
gargoyles, and a hunchbacked character
from Victor Hugo’s novel.
The real Notre Dame is as magnificent
as its reputation, and it has a long history.
The site of the cathedral (as with many
buildings in an ancient city like Paris)
is filled with a history all its own.
Before that cathedral was built the site
was a Romanesque church, before that a
Christian basilica, and before that a
Gallo-Roman temple to Jupiter, and before
that it is believed that Celts worshiped
at the site. When you tread on the site
of Notre Dame you are treading through
a vortex of history itself.
Construction began in 1163. The design
called for the cathedral to replace the
Romanesque church occupying the site -
the Cathedral of St. Etienne (founded
by Childebert in 528). Construction was
completed roughly 200 years later in about
1345. Construction was completed in three
stages; the choir was completed in 1182,
the nave in 1208, and the west front and
towers in 1250. Chapels were added to
the nave sometime between 1235 and 1250
XIV (known as The Sun King) and his son
Louis XV added their contributions during
the 17th Century, which allowed Notre
Dame to join a brotherhood of buildings
to fall into their influence (other example
of “fellow buildings” include
Les Invalides and The Palace of Versailles).
Of course no building in Paris would be
complete without mention of what happened
during the revolution (and the storming
of the Bastille). During the French Revolution
many of Notre Dame’s treasures were
either destroyed or plundered. History
says that only the great bells avoided
being melted down, and the Cathedral was
dedicated first to the cult of Reason,
and to the cult of the Supreme Being.
The church interior was used as a warehouse
for the storage of forage and food.
In the last two centuries Notre Dame has
seen many attempts at restoration. With
the coming of the industrial revolution
the city has begun to eat the great cathedral
alive (i.e. acid rain), and campaigns
have begun to restore this great building.
Much of its most impressive artwork lies
on the outside of the building, and is
directly exposed to the elements.