Our Lady of Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral | Courtesy of Architectural Excellence: 500 Iconic Buildings

Winner of the Fall 2016 StMU History Media Award for

Best Featured Image

Whenever we hear the name Notre Dame, one of two things might come to mind: the movie that we all watched and loved, about a man who rang the bells at a church, called “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” or the notorious Fighting Irish football team in Indiana from Notre Dame University. Well, if you were hoping that this was an article on Quasimodo or the Division I football team, I am sorry to disappoint you. But do not be too discouraged because, instead, you will read about one of the most beautiful cathedrals that has ever been built (and it is in the film the “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” so that is relatively close). The Notre Dame de Paris, or as we call it in English, the Notre Dame Cathedral, is a massive Gothic cathedral that represents the times and art of medieval Europe.

The architectural style of Gothic came into existence in Europe in the mid-twelfth century and lasted until the sixteenth century.1 The idea of the Notre Dame de Paris, which translates to “Our Lady of Paris,” was established by Maurice de Sully in 1160 who was the bishop of Paris at the time.

Notre-Dame de Cathedral | Britannica Concise Encyclopedia
Notre-Dame de Cathedral | Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

He wanted to build a cathedral church dedicated to the Virgin Mary; hence the name’s translation.  The first stone for the foundation was laid by Pope Alexander III in 1163.2 The Notre Dame Cathedral was built on the ruins of two previous churches in the eastern end of the Ile de la Cite, which is the “historical heart of the city.”3 The purpose for it being built, beside dedication to the Virgin Mary, was for it to be an education center. During the high middle ages, the increasing wealth and social complexity of the cities created the demand for educated individuals to deal with “political, legal, and theological issues.” The institution did not, however, hold classes inside of the cathedral. Instead, there was a school connected to the cathedral.4

Inside of the Notre Dame Cathedral | Architectural Excellence: 500 Iconic Buildings
Inside of the Notre Dame Cathedral | Architectural Excellence: 500 Iconic Buildings

Emerging from the Romanesque Era, the Gothic Age of architecture came along with its signature innovation: the flying buttress. You probably think I am joking with a name like that, but those types of appendages to the frames of Gothic cathedrals were what allowed for these cathedrals to be built so tall. During the Romanesque Era, cathedrals were much shorter due to the heavy stones that were used for building the walls, limiting how tall they could build. The classic Roman arches could not evenly distribute the weight with the dome shape they took.5

Now if we take a look at the cathedrals during the Gothic Age, the difference in height can be readily noticed. The cathedrals during this time seemed to tower over those of the previous era. For that, we can thank the flying buttresses that were mentioned earlier. These buttresses were able to absorb the weight displacement of the walls, allowing them to be made taller, and allowing them to have large spaces for stained glass windows, which were not possible for Romanesque cathedrals. The weight of the stones could be easily supported by the thin intersecting arches. The architects discovered that the outward thrust of the vaults were concentrated in the small areas at the springing of the ribs and were also deflected downward by the pointed arches; the pressure could be counteracted by the narrow buttresses. Rows of carved flying buttresses created the signature look for Gothic masterpieces such as the Notre Dame de Paris, Amiens, and Beauvais.6

The Notre Dame de Paris is a model cathedral for the era of Gothic Architecture. The multipurpose cathedral created an environment of religious and secular education that helped shape the minds of the world. I know that there was no mention of a “Hunchback” in this article of the Notre-Dame, but I can guarantee that Quasimodo was proud to ring the bells of such a monumental cathedral.

  1. Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. “Gothic Architecture.”
  2. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition s.v. “Notre-Dame de Paris.”
  3. Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. Notre-Dame de Paris.
  4. Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church (Zondervan, 1996), 234.
  5.  Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, 2016, s.v.  “Romanesque Art and Architecture.”
  6.  Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, 2016, s.v.  “Romanesque Art and Architecture.”
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90 Comments

  • The Norte Dame AKA the lady of Paris, is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, it is so cool how it was built to represent the Virgin Mary. I completely loved the article. I personally hadn’t heard of the Norte Dame Cathedral and it is a gorgeous place by looking in the pictures selected this place looks amazing.

  • I really wish I would have read this article as a child. I have always had an interest in the Notre Dame Cathedral, however, I never knew that much information about it. I never knew that it was in dedication to the Virgin Mary. I thought it was interesting that buttresses were the one way that the cathedral could have been built. Overall, I really like Gothic architecture. This was a very good article with a great image selection.

  • I had no idea that the foundations for Notre Dame had been built on top of the ruins of another church; much less two. Clearly, Notre Dame has a long history. Architecturally speaking, it is the stamp of an art style lost long ago and showcases the grandiosity of gothic designs. Along with this, I never imagined the actual Cathedral being a place of intellectual study, like the college named after it.

  • The Notre Dame Cathedral is very beautiful, from what I have seen from pictures. It is a place that I would like to travel to some day. I did not previously know that there was a school connected to the cathedral, that was interesting to learn. I think an architecture student would enjoy this article, because it talks a lot about the building and the structure of the beautiful building. I enjoyed learning that the cultural aspects of the Cathedral, such as the stained glass and the bell tower, were able to be built so high because of the architectural style. Very informative.

  • This article was very well written. I love how cathedrals have changed and have become gradually more beautiful throughout the gothic era. I did not realize there was so much more to Notre Dame. This article made learning about a topic I would usually find mundane and unenjoyable very interesting. I hope to one day visit the beautiful Our Lady of Paris.

  • I really liked how this article introduced and hooked the reader to continue to read. I enjoyed the referenced of the movies and the history of the architecture of the buildings. I was hooked and captured and loved the images you used throughout this article. I liked the references of the cathedral and connected school as well as the football team of the university.

  • After reading this article I can truthfully say that I was not disappointed by the article and the lack story on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and the Irish football team, mostly because I have never really paid any attention to either. In fact the architecture aspects of this article attracted me more than anything, which makes sense because this article did win “Best Featured Image.” I can’t say that I know a lot about architecture, but I can say that I am extremely fascinated by it, especially with ancient buildings. This article expands my fascination with architecture by introducing the idea of building with meaning. All around, great article material and great sources.

  • I really enjoyed reading this article, not only because of the topic or the new things I learned, but also the way it was structured. It had a sense of humor by bringing up the football team from the University and the children’s movie. It also brought interaction between the reader and the author, especially when the author used the “I”. It was fascinating to hear that a school was attached to the Cathedral and I wished there was more about the school, and what it taught.

  • I love the semi-casual and fun movie references throughout this article. It was a perfect mix of astounding information, that can relate to something some of us readers enjoy. I love the description of the buttresses and the history behind them. One of the things I loved about this article was the connection to Rome’s dome architecture versus this one’s. Truly a beautiful topic, the cathedral is amazing.

  • Great article! I really enjoied your introduction, and how you used it to hook the reader to reader to continue to rest of the essay. I also found your insight on the Cathedral very informative. I have been to several in my life, but not one as outstanding as this one. The Notre Dame de Paris is a perfect example for the era of Gothic Architecture, and the explanation of it’s features and history was great as well. To conclude, the ended was great as well, because it again tied to the nice intro, which is what stood out to me the most. Overall, with such a short brief article, I fell you captured everything you needed to very well, and would love to read another one of your articles.

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