It’s not the prettiest church we’ve seen. It’s the largest in Paris but we have seen many in Europe that are larger. It’s not even the oldest Gothic church around. St Denis is older. Hey, but it’s Notre Dame and it dominates the east side of Ile de la Cité and can be seen from most of the city. Napoleon was crowned emperor here. Henry IV and Margaret of Valois were married here. So were Mary, Queen of Scots and Francis II. The world’s greatest organ is here. Charles de Gaulle’s funeral was here. And we were here in May of this year.
Maurice de Sullly, Bishop of Paris, commenced the construction of Notre Dame in 1163 and the building was completed in 1345. Many modifications were made over several centuries.Then the church was desecrated in 1793 and for the next 50 years or so the building slowly deteriorated from neglect and began to crumble. A major restoration got underway in 1845 and most of the paintings and statues you see today are from the mid-19th century. Another major restoration project began in 1991 and was supposed to last ten years but 20 years later scaffolding could still be seen. But the church was basking in the sun when we saw it for the first time and there was no scafolding in sight.
After visiting the church’s interior I decided to walk around the building to get a better look at the famous Gothic architecture. I started walking around the south side of the building and when I got to the northwest corner I encountered a line even longer than the main line in front of the church. I walked to the front of the line and asked the man-in-charge how many steps to the top. “422′” he said (the Internet says it’s only 387) and I thought about it and then thought some more. 20 years ago, surely. 10 years ago, maybe. But today I didn’t think a slightly out-of-shape 74-year-old tourist from California could make it all the way to the top and so I walked on back to where I started my walk (and where my wife was waiting for me).
Central Paris is pretty level and conducive to walking and we walked over to Ile de la Cité and passed Notre Dame several times during our three-week stay. A couple of times we stopped by to visit. In my next posting we’ll check out the church’s interior.