What Makes Notre Dame Cathedral So Important as a Work of Architecture? #NotreDame #Architecture #Design #History

Notre Dame Cathedral is a medieval Catholic cathedral on the Île de la Cité located in Paris, France. The cathedral is considered to be one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture. The innovative use of the rib vault and flying buttress, the enormous and colorful rose windows, gothic arched windows and doorways, and the naturalism and abundance of its sculptural decoration all set it apart from earlier Romanesque architecture.

Notre Dame Cathedral is considered to be of the most well-known church buildings in the world. Construction started in 1163 and finished in 1345. It is devoted to Virgin Mary and it is one of the most popular monuments in Paris. The cathedral underwent many changes and restorations throughout time.

The location of this cathedral has a long history of religious cult. The Celts celebrated rituals there before the Romans erected a temple devoted to Jupiter. It was also the place were the first Christian church, Saint Étienne, was built. It was founded by Childeberto I in 528 AD. In 1160 the church was deemed and in 1163 the construction of the cathedral started. Opinions differ as to whether Sully or Pope Alexander III laid the foundation stones of the cathedral. Several architects took part in the construction, so differences in style are clearly seen.

There are around 13 million people who visit the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral every year, which means this is an average of 30,000 people every day, growing to around 50,000 pilgrims and visitors who enter the cathedral on peak days.

History

Construction began in 1163 after Pope Alexander III laid the cornerstone for the new cathedral. By the time of Bishop Maurice de Sully’s death in 1196, the apse, choir and the new High Altar were all finished, while the nave itself was nearing completion. In 1200, work began on the western facade, including the west rose window and the towers, all of which were completed around 1250, along with a new north rose window. Also during the 1250s, the transepts were remodeled in the latest style of Rayonnant Gothic architecture by architects Jean de Chelles and Pierre de Montreuil, and the clerestory windows were enlarged. The last remaining elements were gradually completed during the following century.

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris was built on a site which in Roman Lutetia is believed to have been occupied by a pagan temple, and then by a Romanesque church, the Basilica of Saint Étienne, built between the 4th century and 7th century.

Notre-Dame Cathedral suffered damage and deterioration through the centuries, and after the French Revolution it was rescued from possible destruction by Napoleon, who crowned himself emperor of the French in the cathedral in 1804. Notre-Dame underwent major restorations by the French architect E.-E. Viollet-le-Duc in the mid-19th century. The cathedral is the setting for Victor Hugo’s historical novel Notre-Dame de Paris (1831).

Gothic Cathedral Builders

With the aid of only elementary drawings and templates, master stone masons meticulously directed the construction of the great medieval cathedrals of Europe. The practices of intuitive calculation, largely based on simple mathematical ratios and structural precedent, were closely guarded and passed between successive generations of masons. Specific site conditions and the insatiable demand by church authorities for higher and lighter buildings provided the impetus for continual development.

The Spire

Symbolically, spires have two functions. Traditionally, one has been to proclaim a martial power of religion. A spire, with its reminiscence of the spear point, gives the impression of strength. The second is to reach up toward the skies. The celestial and hopeful gesture of the spire is one reason for its association with religious buildings.

Holy Christian Relics

The Relics of Sainte-Chapelle are relics of Jesus Christ acquired by the French monarchy in the Middle Ages and now conserved by the Archdiocese of Paris. They were originally housed at Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and are now in the cathedral treasury of Notre Dame de Paris.  Relics believed to be a piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, as well as the Crown of Thorns he wore, have been kept at the cathedral for centuries. The braided circle held together by golden thread has about 70 or so thorns attached. The relics were obtained from the Byzantine Empire in 1238 and brought to Paris by King Louis IX.

Wood Construction

The framing of Notre-Dame de Paris is certainly one of the oldest structures in Paris with that of Saint-Pierre de Montmartre (1147).

It is poetically and endearingly called the Forest because of the large number of wood beams that had to be used to set it up.  Each beam coming from a different tree. It is a framework of oaks. Its measurements are very impressive: More than 328 feet (100 meters) long, 43  feet (13 meters) wide in the nave, 130 feet (40 meters) in the transept and 33 feet (10 meters) high.

In the choir, there existed a first frame with woods felled around 1160-1170 (it is estimated that some could have 300 to 400 years, which brings us to the 8th or 9th centuries !!!). This first frame has disappeared, but woods were reused in the second frame installation in 1220.

In the nave, the carpentry is set up between 1220 and 1240.  The work of the nave began between 1175 and 1182, after the consecration of the choir. The work stops after the fourth bay leaving the nave unfinished while the elevation of the facade is begun in 1208. The work of the nave will be resumed in 1218 to counter the façade.

On this frame rests a lead roof consisting of 1326 tables 0.20 inches (5 mm) thick weighing 210 tons . In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, roofs were covered with flat tile churches because of the abundant clay deposits. Paris, being far from such deposits, was preferred to lead. In 1196, Bishop Maurice de Sully bequeathed 5,000 pounds for the purchase of lead.

Although the carvings of the choir and the nave went through the centuries, those of the transepts and the spire were redone in the middle of the 19th century during the great restoration campaign of the cathedral under the direction of The Duke . Made according to the principles then in force, they differ from the framework of the choir and the nave, in particular as regards the dimensions of the beams which are much more imposing than those of the Middle Ages and more distant.

The Facade

Notre Dame’s iconic facade evokes a harmony of design based on nature and represents a level of detailed craftsmanship that no longer subsists in contemporaneous architecture. From Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s immense plaza the visitor is captivated by a stunning view of the facade’s three elaborately-decorated portals.

The left-side portal of the Virgin depicts the life of the Virgin Mary, as well as a coronation scene and an astrological calendar. The central portal depicts the Last Judgement in a kind of vertical triptych. The first and second panels show the resurrection of the dead, the judgment, Christ, and apostles.The pièce de résistance is the reigning Christ which crowns the scene.

The portal of Saint-Anne on the right features Notre Dame’s oldest and finest surviving statuary (12th century) and depicts the Virgin Mary sitting on a throne, the Christ child in her arms. Above the portals is the gallery of kings, a series of 28 statues of the kings of Israel.

The magnificent exterior of Notre Dame’s West rose window depicts the biblical figures of Adam and Eve on the outer rim. It measures an impressive 33 feet (10 meters) in diameter, which was the largest rose window constructed in its day.

The final level of the facade before reaching the towers is the “Grande Galerie” which connects the two towers at their bases. Fierce demons and birds decorate the grand gallery but are not easily visible from the ground.

The Cathedral Towers

Notre Dame’s ornate towers became a legend thanks to 19th-century novelist Victor Hugo, who invented a hunchback named Quasimodo and had him inhabit the South tower in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.

The towers are 223 feet (68 meters) tall offering remarkable views of the Ile de la Cité, the Seine River and the entire city itself.  After climbing 400 stairs you are rewarded with gargoyles of grimacing demons and menacing carrion birds. The South tower houses Notre Dame’s infamous 13-ton bell.

You can also admire the detail of Notre Dame’s magnificent spire, destroyed during the revolution and restored by Viollet-le-Duc.

The Magnificent Interior

Medieval architects represented their idea of human earthliness in relation to heaven through structures that were at once grandiose and ethereal–and Notre Dame’s interior achieves exactly this. The cathedral’s long halls, vaulted ceilings, and soft light filtered through intricate stained glass help us understand the medieval perspective of humanity and divinity. There is no access to the cathedral’s upper levels, obliging visitors to remain earthbound, gazing upward. The experience is breathtaking, especially on a first visit.

The cathedral’s three stained-glass rose windows are the interior’s outstanding feature. Two are found in the transept: the North rose window dates to the 13th century and is widely considered to be the most stunning. It depicts Old Testament figures surrounding the Virgin Mary. The South rose window, meanwhile, depicts the Christ surrounded by saints and angels. More modern stained glass, dating to as late as 1965, is also visible around the cathedral.

Notre Dame’s organs were restored in the 1990’s and are among the largest in France.

The choir includes a 14th-century screen which portrays the biblical Last Supper. A statue of the Virgin and Christ child, as well as funeral monuments to religious figures, are also found here.

Near the rear, Notre Dame’s treasury includes precious objects, such as crosses and crowns, made of gold and other materials.

Countless processions and historical moments took place inside the cathedral, including the crowning of Henry VI, Mary Stuart, and Emperor Napoleon I.

Sources:

http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/en/la-cathedrale/architecture/la-charpente

https://www.tripsavvy.com/notre-dame-cathedral-highlights-and-facts-1618863

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haussmann%27s_renovation_of_Paris

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notre-Dame_de_Paris

We would love to hear from you about what you think about this post. We sincerely appreciate all your comments – and – if you like this post please share it with friends. And feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss ideas for your next project!

Sincerely,

FRANK CUNHA III
I Love My Architect – Facebook



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