Audio File length: 2.34
English / USA Language: English / USA

Now focus on the cathedral. Whilst you're gazing at the gargoyles - the extraordinary monstrous creatures adorning the western facade, I'll tell you the fascinating story of Notre-Dame.

It all began in the middle ages when the bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, realized that the old basilica of Saint-Étienne was falling into ruin, and decided to replace it with a new church. Easier said than done - it took almost two centuries! Pope Alexander III laid the first stone in 1163, and over the next 20 or so years the apse and choir were completed. Then in the first half of the 13th century the splendid facade that you are now looking at was finished. Around 1250 the western towers and the rose window on the north side were ready, but the work was only completely finished in 1345.

The church also suffered various other vicissitudes in connection with important episodes in French history in the centuries that followed. In the mid-1500s it sustained serious damage by the Huguenots - the French protestants who refused to worship the Virgin and the saints and consequently destroyed images of them. But the most difficult time for the church was during the Revolution years when it was ransacked and severely damaged. The insurgents turned it into a temple to reason, melted down the treasure and broke the 28 statues of the Kings of Judah from the western facade, believing them to be images of French sovereigns. To give you an idea of ​​how badly the poor cathedral was damaged, when Napoleon I chose it as the venue for his coronation they had to hang enormous tapestries on the walls to hide signs of the destruction it had endured.

Fortunately in the mid-1800s, as was the case with Sainte-Chapelle, an important restoration campaign got under way under the direction of architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who took the liberty of making some additions: a bell tower was constructed and the sculptures were replaced on the facade. These included the gargoyles- the grotesque figures that you're now looking at and which are looking back at you from the top of the towers.


FUN FACT: the "scales of justice" were once located where the bronze star now marks the "starting point of French streets". It was here that the condemned would kneel before God (the cathedral) and the court that was gathered in the square, to make amends for their sins and receive their sentence.

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