Our Lady of Paris: the cathedral of Notre Dame endures

On Monday April 15, 2019, Paris made news headlines around the world, as millions of people looked on in disbelief. After more than 800 years at the heart of Paris, it seemed that the iconic cathedral of Notre Dame was about to go up in flames. While the damage was extensive, and the rebuilding work will take many years and highly specialised skills, much of the building of Our Lady of Paris was thankfully saved for future generations, thanks to the co-ordinated and careful efforts of Parisian officials.

Buildings tell the story of their location; and through the centuries Notre Dame’s fate has been inexorably intertwined with the history of Paris. The site has been a place of worship since at least Roman times, but it was not until 1160 that the then bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, proposed a cathedral. Pope Alexander III laid the foundation stone three years later. It took until 1250 for the choir, nave and western façade to be completed, and the next century saw porches and other embellishments added.

Over the centuries Notre Dame has featured in many works of literature, art, photography and film. Most famously, Victor Hugo wrote Notre Dame de Paris, translated into English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a book which provided the inspiration for many dramatic interpretations and even inspired a Disney movie.

Another iconic Parisian building, about as different from Notre Dame as it’s possible to be, celebrates a special birthday in 2019: yes, the Tour Eiffel, better known to many of us as the Eiffel Tower, will be 130 years young on 15 May. 

What building do you think of first, when you think of Paris? What building do you think of first, when you think of the capital of your own country? What building do you think of first when you think of your home town, or the place where you grew up?

Henley, J. (2019), Victor Hugo's Notre Dame novel tops bestseller list after fire, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/17/the-hunchback-of-notre-dame-book-tops-bestseller-list-fire 17 April 2019 (accessed 7 May 2019)

Notre Dame de Paris (1999), Encyclopedia Britannica, updated 6 May 2019, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Notre-Dame-de-Paris (accessed 7 May 2019)

The Notre-Dame Cathedral in Art (1460–1921) (c2019), The Public Domain Review, https://publicdomainreview.org/collections/the-notre-dame-cathedral-in-art-1460-1921/ (accessed 7 May 2019)