Cathedral 200 years. Notre Dame was built on

Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris (c. 1163-1250)


The Notre-Dame Cathedral is a brilliant 12th century example of Gothic Architecture. The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris originally began development by Bishop Maurice de Sully around 1163, however the west towers were the final features to be constructed in 1250. This Cathedral is located in the fourth arrondissement of Paris, France, with the main entrancing facing to the west. The island is on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité.

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The construction of the Cathedral was completed over a course of 200 years. Notre Dame was built on the ruins of two earlier churches, initiated by the bishop of Paris around 1160, Maurice de Sully. He introduced the idea to covert the ruins of the two earlier basilicas into one single building in a much more complexed larger scale.

1163 is traditionally referred to as the laying of the first stone of Notre Dame by the presence of Pope Alexander III. In the 12th to early 13th century four major procedures of work marked this period of construction under the leadership of four contractors. The cathedral is roughly 128 metres in length, and 12 metres wide in the nave. The plan is cruciform and the architecture is Gothic Style with features such as pointed arches and rib vaulting. However the elevated nave, transept and tower were borrowed from 11th-century Romanesque architecture. It is known that Notre Dame is one of the very first cathedrals to have arched exterior supports referred to as flying buttresses. These architectural features were only added to the building when stress began to appear on the upper very thin walls.

Arranged around the outside to serve as extra column supports and drainage pipes are many famous external statues and gargoyles. These gargoyles are carved drain spouts which are designed to carry rainwater away from the building to protect it from water damage. As planned for the extra support provided by the buttresses allowed for the main thin walls to be non-structural which allowed for stain glass which served as a purpose to inspire worshipers and illuminate the cathedral. Notre Dame inspired future churches which soared higher and were more impressive as they achieved more stain glass for more illumination which led to the enlargement of the clerestory windows in the 13th century.

The most impressive aspect of the exterior of Notre Dame is its west façade. This façade began from the 1200s by the third architect and continued under his successors. It retains majority of its original design except for the sculpture which severely damaged during the French Revolution, however is largely restored. Architect Corbusier described this façade as a “pure creation of spirit”. The façade is 41 metres wide and consists of a harmonious assemble based on a play between vertical and horizontal lines. The height of the façade from the ground to the base of the north and south towers in 43 metres high which include many stages that carry different symbolic meaning.

There are 3 entrance portals at the base of the west façade which aren’t identical they all carry different architectural designs of significant symbolism. The larger one in the centre is the portal of the last judgement. To the left is the portal of the Virgin and to the right is the portal of St. Anne. There are four buttresses supporting the entire façade, two for each tower which frame the tree lower portals. The central portal (the last judgement) was constructed between 1220s-1230s and was the last portal to be completed. The left portal (the virgin) was constructed between 1210s-1220s. It represents the death of Mary. Finally the right portal (St. Anne) was dated in the 1200s. This portal shows scenes from Jesus’ childhood. The doors in these portals are fine wrought-iron doors.

The façade also includes the Gallery of the kings, which is 20 metres above the ground and consists of 28 kings that represent the kings of Judah who proceeded Christ. Even higher than the Gallery of Kings is the West Rose Window and the Virgin balcony. The oldest Rose window in the entire Cathedral dates back to 1225 and forms a beautiful halo above the statue of the Virgin and child placed in front of it. The Gallery Chimeras connects the south and the north towers. Between the West Rose window and the Gallery of Chimeras in the Colonnade. Finally there’s the North and South Towers. The towers aren’t identical as the North tower is slightly stronger and larger than of the South. Both towers reach a height of 69 metres. The South tower occupies an enormous bell known as “Emmanuel” accessible via a wooden staircase. Although the South Tower is accessible to the public the North Tower is not.

By the death of Bishop Maurice de Sully in 1196, the apse, choir and the new High Altar were all complete, however the nave itself was nearing completion. By 1200, work began on the western façade, which included the construction of the west rose window and the towers that were all completed around the year of 1250, as well as a complete new north rose window. The remodelling of the transepts into the latest style of Rayonnant Gothic Architecture took place during the 1250’s by architects Jean de Chelles and Pierre de Montreuil along with the enlargement of the clerestory windows.

Notre-Dames interior is as detailed and eye-catching as the exterior. Notre-Dame cathedral expresses itself through the discovery of its nave, side-aisles, transept, choir and ambulatory.
The interior elevation of the cathedral involves many features such as a nave, gallery, triforium, and clerestory which are all features found in Romanesque architecture but never together in the same building. This all lies on a bent axial line. The interior elevation rising to four storeys which is supported by large sexpartite vaults at 32 metres high. The entire interior space is illuminated by circular windows. These windows consisted of decorative oculi opening into the tribune roof space and small clerestory windows.

The nave occupies up to 6,500 people and reaches a height of 35 metres. The series of chapels surrounding the cathedral are all unique with walls covered in frescos the depict bible stories. These frescos are lavishly decorated with very detailed style and vibrant colours. In total there are 27 chapels. The transept and its crossing give the cathedral its Latin cross appearance. Beneath the North and South Rose windows are very large stain glass windows which allow for natural warm light to illuminate in the transept crossing. The choir is located directly behind the transept and surrounded by a double ambulatory. There are several bishops buried choirs’ chapel which are extremely decorated. There are many chandeliers surrounding the ambulatory located at the entrances to the chapels. Finally Notre Dame’s great organ is located in front of the large rose window of the façade. It is the largest organ in France.

Triple arches follow the doubled aisled nave in the gallery and into the triforium. There is a rhythmical arrangement that heightens a sense of verticality. Many openings allow increased light source to enter through the nave, directly coming from the clerestory and indirectly through the galleries and double aisles.

Today Notre-Dame is one of the most famous tourist attractions in all of Europe. Visitors come around the world to attend mass that takes place 3 times a day. The Cathedral has held religious ceremonies and historical events and despite many different religious beliefs people of different faiths and nationalities from all over the world are still in awe over its magnificent design. Although this Cathedral has suffered a lot of damage because of its vast history particularly from the French Revolution in 1786 it has since been sympathetically restored and continues to attract word wide. Over all the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in particular with its incredible stain glass windows and sculptures has demonstrated the heavy influence of naturalism unlike earlier Romanesque Architecture. Within the entire Cathedral there are many magnificent displays of artwork, furniture and many valuable items that very clearly represent the Gothic style. It is widely considered as the finest example of French Gothic Architecture in the world.