25 Amazing Facts About Notre Dame Cathedral

Posted by , Updated on January 18, 2024

Today we present a honorary list of 25 Amazing Facts About Notre Dame Cathedral. The bells all over France toll in solidarity with Notre Dame. One of the world’s most iconic monuments is not the same anymore.

The flames of the catastrophic fire, demolished several parts of the beautiful cathedral. But the good news is that many of its most important treasures were saved. The imposing bell towers and its gorgeous rose windows remain intact.

Local authorities in France plan to investigate and find the causes behind this tragedy. They also announced that they are going to rebuild the cathedral and repair everything the flames destroyed. They say what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger and this could be true for Notre Dame.

So, regardless of your position on organized religion, here follow
25 Amazing Facts About Notre Dame Cathedral that will totally fascinate you.


Etymology of the Cathedral's name


Notre Dame translates to “Our Lady” and refers to the Virgin Mary. Several churches and chapels in France, refer to the Virgin Mary as Our Lady. Notre Dame of Paris is just the most famous of them.


French architecture at its best


Experts from around the world, consider Notre Dame one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture. The University of Notre Dame School of Architecture in Indiana, US, took its name from the iconic French Cathedral.

It was the first Catholic University in America to provide a degree in architecture, back in 1898.


Centuries of work


Workers started to build the cathedral in 1160 under Bishop Maurice de Sully. They completed most of it a century later in 1260. The French kept modifying it until 1345 that the cathedral took its final look.


Damaged severely during the French Revolution


The French rebels hated the religious authorities of 18th Century France more than anything. As a result of this sociopolitical phenomenon, Notre Dame suffered severe desecration during the French Revolution.

Many religious images were either damaged, or completely destroyed.


Napoleon restored its former glory


Napoleon was a big fan of Notre Dame though. So big, that he used the cathedral for his coronation as Emperor of France in 1804.


Victor Hugo's "contributions"


In 1831, Victor Hugo published his novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The book did extremely well in France and led to a major reconstruction of Notre Dame between 1844 and 1864.

During that restoration, the French added the cathedral’s iconic spire. Unfortunately, the spire collapsed in the recent massive fire.


The cathedral has an impressive size


Notre Dame’s size is truly impressive. To get an idea of what we’re talking about, keep in mind that the twin towers go as high as 69 meters (387 steps). The south tower’s home to the vast Emmanuel bell.



1,300 trees were chopped down for its roof


The French chopped down not one, not two, but 1,300 huge trees to construct the cathedral’s roof between 1160 and 1170. Experts suggest that there are not so many tall trees in France today.

To put it simply, the new roof of the cathedral probably won’t look the same with the original.


A temple of Zeus lies below Notre Dame


Beneath Notre Dame lies an ancient Gallo-Roman city known as Lutetia (52 BC). During an excavation under the choir, workers found chunks of a sculpted shrine dedicated to Zeus.

Archaeologists found more ancient ruins there during the 1960s and 1970s, which verified their original speculations.


It follows the golden ratio


There’s another link between Notre Dame and classical antiquity. The cathedral’s dimensions follow the golden ratio, which represents perfection in architecture and art.

The ancient Greeks were the first to design and build a temple – the Parthenon – following the golden ratio (1:1.61).


Home of the "Holy Crown of Thorns"


Notre Dame is undoubtedly home to many treasures of incredible religious and historical value. One of them is the “Holy Crown of Thorns.” Some historians suggest that it’s the authentic relic Jesus wore when he was tortured.


Home to even more Holy relics


Furthermore, Notre Dame houses more artifacts connected to the “Passions of Christ.” There’s also a piece of the Cross and a nail, which was supposedly used in the Crucifixion of Jesus.


The chimeras aren't as old


Gothic architecture is famous for the excessive use of chimeras and grotesques. However, the most famous chimeras of Notre Dame aren’t as old as you may think. For that matter, none of them comes from the Middle Ages.

They were added in the 19th century, during the restoration that took place from 1844 to 1864.


The rose windows aren't just decorative


Many people falsely think that the three rose windows only have a decorative role. That’s far from the truth though. In reality, they symbolize the “Holy Trinity.” They are designed in a way to give a sense of divine presence and light pouring in the cathedral from above.


The TEN bells of Notre Dame


The average church usually has a bell. Maybe two. However, the Cathedral of Notre Dame isn’t your average church. For that reason it has ten bells. Its biggest and heaviest bell, Emmanuel, weighs an unbelievable 13 tons.


All bells have a name (of a Saint)


Emmanuel isn’t the only bell that has a name at Notre Dame. The rest nine bells have their own names as well. Here they are: Marie, Gabriel, Anne Geneviève, Denis, Marcel, Etienne, Benoit-Joseph, Maurice, Jean-Marie.


The original bells became cannons

French Cannonhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_bells_in_Notre-Dame_de_Paris

Sadly, the rebels sacked the original bells from the cathedral during the French Revolution. Believe it not, they melted them and created cannons from their material. To commemorate the original bells, each of the current bells bears the name of a saint.


The towers are not twins really


Even though we all call them twin towers, the truth is that they are not twins. Look closely and you’ll notice that the north tower is a little bigger than the other.


Notre Dame is a "compass"

point zero landmarkhttps://www.atlasobscura.com/places/paris-point-zero

Believe it or not, the Cathedral of Notre Dame is a compass in a strange way. In front of the church, you will see a tiny plate that nobody really notices. It’s inscribed with a compass, which is known to locals as “Point Zero.”

To make a long story short, Point Zero specifies where all distances to and from Paris are calculated from. Cool huh?


The Liberation of Paris from Hitler was signed there


The liberation of Paris from the Nazi forces took place within Notre Dame in 1944, with the singing of the Magnificat. France was again a free and democratic nation.


The 850th anniversary of Notre-Dame


In 2013, Notre Dame celebrated its 850th anniversary. The local authorities improved the lighting of the cathedral and erected a new viewing platform to highlight its Gothic facade. They also renovated the church’s organ and replaced the old bells with new ones.

Six years later, they will have to reconstruct and improve the cathedral again. Unfortunately, it won’t be for festive reasons this time.


Live and Die in Notre Dame

Tombstone of a famous composerhttp://philosopherswheel.com/vierne.htm

In 1900, Louis Vierne became organist of Notre-Dame. To do so, he went head to head with 500 other excellent organ players. On 2 June 1937, Louis Vierne died at the cathedral organ, near the end of his 1750th concert. He had a heart attack.

The greatest organist in the cathedral’s history, died a happy man. As he had stated many times before, his lifelong wish was to die at the console of the great organ of Notre Dame.


Home of the biggest organ in France


Since we mentioned Notre Dame’s great organ, we have to mention that it’s the biggest pipe organ in all France. It involves around 8,000 pipes and you need five keyboards to play it. As you understand, to be someone like Louis Vierne, you must have tons of talent.


Notre Dame's 18,000 Bees


More than 18,000 bees live on the cathedral’s roof. A monk named Brother Adam put them there in 2013. He did that as part of a bigger effort to protect biodiversity and prevent bee die-off in France.

Nobody knows yet if the beehive survived the flames.


Most popular spot in Paris


We will confess that we didn’t know that either. Well, until we do research for this list. Apparently, the Eiffel Tower isn’t the number 1 monument in Paris. Notre Dame attracts nearly 13 million people each year. The Eiffel Tower only 7 million.

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