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The symbol of mediaeval Paris
Saint Etrienne basilica was already an old building when it bacame the cathedral of Paris in the 10th century. But in 1160, having become the "parish church of the kings of France", it was deemed unworthy of this role and demolished.
Great Gothic churches were springing up in the north of te country and when, in 1163, bishop Maurice de Sully laid the first stone of the new cathedral, Notre-Dame de Paris, a west front with two towers was already planned for the project. Construction of the west front only began in about 1200, before the nave had been completed. A succession of architects worked on the site, as is evident from the west front and the towers. It is the fourth architect, in the years from 1210 to 1220, that we owe the rose window level, flanked by two gemeled window openings, and the construction of the great halls of these towers. In the years 1220-1230, his successor added the colonnaded gallery running from one tower to the other. The towers were completed in about 1245. During the Revolution, the monumental and decorative statuary of the portals and towers was badly damaged. At the beginning of the 19th century, the towers, like the rest of the cathedral, were in very poor condition. The restoration work carried out by the architects Lassus and Violett-le-Duc from 1845 completely reconstructed the carved decoration.
Victor Hugo's Famous novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, first published in 1831, was an immediate and huge success. It coincided with a general reawakening of interest in the Middle Ages and its buildings. Victor Hugo's romantic and picturesque eloquence drew attention to the profoundly dilapidated condition of the cathedral in the early 19th century. He participated in the widespread campaign which resulted in the restoration of the building in 1845. A major part of the action of the novel takes place in the towers. Victor hugo set his reconstruction of the bustling life of Paris in the time of Louis XI around the cathedral. He did not fail to give the bells and their famous bellringer, Quasimodo, a major role.
The towers are the best place in the cathedral, which Victor Hugo described as "beautifully balanced parts of a magnificent whole".
The Sainte-Chapelle was above all a personal undertaking of St. Louis (king Louis IX), built in six years (1242-1248). It was designed to house the relics of Christs Passion, especially the Crown of Thorns, the possession of which put France, in this flourishing XIIIth century, in the forefront of Latin Christendom. In 1239, Louis IX acquired this most precious relic of the Passion from emperor Baudouin II of Constinople for the (at that time) outrageous sum of 135,000 Franks (by contrast, the Chapelle itself cost a 'mere' 40,000). Two years later, further relics were brought from byzantium. They were kept in one of the palace chapels, dedicated to St. Nicholas until a worthier setting could be prepared. The Sainte-Chapelle was dedicated on 26 April 1248. The upper chapel, for the kings use and the display of the relics, was dedicated by the papal legate Eudes de Chateauroux; the lower chapel, the palace's parish church, was dedicated to the Virgin Mary by Pierre Berruyer, archbishop of Bourges.
During the French Revolution, because it was a symbol of both the monarchy and religion, the Sainte-Chappel suffered terribly: the choir stalls and rood screen were destroyed, the organ carried off to the church of St. Germain-l'Auxerrois, the spire torn down, the tympana over the doors vandalizedand the relics dispersed. Most of the statues were saved by Alexandre Lenoir. Extensive restoration began in 1846 under the architects Duban, Lassus and Boeswillwald, returning the Sainte-Chapelle to its former splendour.
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