Notre Dame Cathedral 101 - from its gargoyles to its Rose Windows

Notre Dame Cathedral 101 - from its gargoyles to its Rose Windows

Dates and facts you need to know about the beautiful Paris landmark

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The spire and two towers were part of what made Notre Dame so recognisable.
Photo: AFP

Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris has long been one of the most amazing places of worship in the world. "Notre-Dame" means "our lady" in French. 

Here are some fascinating facts about the building that recently made the news due to a massive fire.

Everyone’s church

In the past, the head of the French Catholic church was a bishop in Paris. In 1160, that man was Maurice de Sully. He wanted a cathedral that Paris could be proud of.

King Louis VII agreed. And so work on the building began in 1163.

It seems everyone in Paris wanted to be part of the great project. They gave whatever they could - money, expertise, material and their time - to build the best church anyone had ever seen. It took 100 years to build it.

The building

Like most Christian cathedrals, Notre-Dame is built in the shape of a cross, with a 138-metre-long aisle.

The aisle is 138 metres long.
Photo: AFP

It’s built in the Gothic style, with two tall towers at one end. The towers are 69 metres tall. The single spire, which was burned down in this week’s fire, was 90 metres tall. 

Part of Frances history

The cathedral watched over many events in Frances history. Either Bishop de Sully or Pope Alexander III laid the cornerstone - no one is sure. But we know it was in this cathedral that the great leader Napoleon was made emperor in 1804.

In 1909, it saw Joan of Arc made into a saint. It survived two world wars. The funerals of many important people have been held inside.

Rose windows

Notre-Dame’s three rose windows are some of the greatest masterpieces. The North Rose, the South Rose and the West Rose are magnificent works of art made from stained glass.

The North Rose window was created in about 1250.
Photo: Shutterstock

The windows need to be looked after very carefully. The fact that something as fragile as glass supports so much stone is an amazing part of the cathedral's design.

Gruesome gargoyles

Notre-Dame's gargoyles are very famous. These ugly-looking statues are there for a good reason.

The gargoyles exist for a very good reason.
Photo: Shutterstock

If you look at them closely, you will see that their mouths are wide open. These half-man, half-beast creatures were built into the end of the cathedrals drains. That way, when it rains, the water flows through the drains and out through the gargoyles mouths. So the water falls away from the building. This protects the cathedral's walls from damage.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

There are 10 bells in the building. The biggest, called Emmanuel, weighs 13 tonnes and is always rung first.

If you’ve seen the Disney movie, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, you will know a little about the cathedral’s bells. The story tells of a deformed man, Quasimodo, who is a bell-ringer in the cathedral. It’s a love story that has been told many times.


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