The building is currently closed to the public
due to severe damage from a fire in 2019 that
destroyed the roof of the cathedral, but it is
being restored, and so I've left most questions
and answers here intact, as if the building were
open. It will reopen soon, probably in 2024.
Notre-Dame is a Roman Catholic cathedral
(church) in Paris, France. It was built in the
twelfth century, and is considered a textbook
example of the monumental Gothic style of
architecture of the period. It is also one of the
world's most famous tourist attractions.
No. The roof was destroyed by a disastrous
fire in 2019, but the rest of the building
survived. The roof was constructed of lead
sheeting attached to an oak framework, and it
burned like a matchbox. The rest ofthe building
is made mostly of stone and survived. The
buiding is currently undergoing restoration. It
is closed to the public but should reopen in
2024—just in time for the Olympic
The full name is the la
Cathédrale de Notre Dame de
Paris, and is pronounced /la katedʁal də
nɔtʁə dam də
paʁi/. It means “the
Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris”; in other
words, it is the cathedral dedicated to the
Virgin Mary (“our lady”) in
Paris. It is usually just called Notre-
Dame for short.
Bishop Maurice de Sully conceived the
idea of a superlative cathedral for Paris (in
part to compete with the massive contemporary
cathedral in Chartres), and was by far the
person most responsible for its construction.
He was very good at organizing people,
motivating them, and raising funds. He died
before it was completed (which he no doubt
expected, since he knew it would take many years
to complete it). He left a cash gift behind in
his will to pay for the lead roofing of the
structure, and he was not a rich man. The roof
he paid for was destroyed in the fire of 2019.
Yes, five of them, and four of them are
still rung regularly (several times a day). The
largest is rung only for special occasions, such
as Easter. The largest bell—named
“Emmanuel”—was recast by Louis
XIV from the original, and weighs about 13 tons.
The clapper alone weighs half a ton. The other
four were cast in 1856, to replace bells that
were removed during the Revolution in 1791 and
melted down in order to make weapons. All of the
bells are run via a remote-controlled electrical
system today. Prior to that, they were rung
with pedals, and originally they were rung with
ropes. Contrary to what you might read in
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (a work of
fiction), however, there was never a hunchbacked
The bells in the towers survived the fire.
Some smaller bells under the spire did not. Some
speculate that the electrical system used
to remotely ring these latter bells might have
started the fire, as it violated fire codes.
We'll probably never know.
Judge for yourself: click on the play button
of the player on the upper right of this page to
hear them ringing for nine minutes to announce
the evening service on Christmas Day of
This MP3 is 21 MB in size, and includes all
the bells ringing. I recorded it myself and I've
released it to the public domain, so you can do
anything you want with it. You can download a
copy of it from Freesound.
It was recorded with professional equipment in
digital stereo about 50 meters west of the south
tower, at ground level. The bell with the lowest
tone is the huge, 13-ton "Emmanuel" bell in the
south tower. The recording was made at about
6:15 PM, and the bells are announcing evening
Mass for Christmas.
(Note: The bells were replaced in 2013 and
rang for the first time on Holy Saturday of that
year. I'll update the recording as soon as I
can. The new ones sound a lot like the old ones,
When the French government officially
separated itself from the Roman Catholic Church
early in the 20th century, it took ownership of
all cathedrals owned by the church, and they
became public buildings. This included Notre-
Dame. The cathedral is now technically managed
by the Caisse Nationale des Monuments
Historiques (the National Historical
Monument Trust), a government agency that is
responsible for most major landmarks. Services
are still held inside the cathedral by the
Catholic church, however, and it still manages
the cathedral in many respects as if it still
owned the structure. It is allowed to conduct
services in exchange for keeping up the interior
of the edifice.
The interior of the cathedral was normally
open every day from 7:45 AM to 6:45 PM;
presumably the hours will be similar when it
reopens.. Admission is free.
A small museum of relics and religious items
exists within the cathedral and may be visited
for a fee.
Visitors are expected to not make too much
of a racket if services are in progress during
their visit. There is a tiny bookshop inside,
and small counseling booths for people who would
like to speak to a priest. Flash pictures are
discouraged inside the cathedral, and
photographing or filming services is frowned
upon (I guess God doesn’t like
photographers). There are also other bizarre
requirements, such as a requirement to remove
any hats and to keep shoulders covered (for
women), but with the huge traffic through the
cathedral, these requirements are not really
enforced. Be sure to turn your cell phone off
while you're inside, a ringing cell phone will
practically wake the dead inside a cathedral.
You can also visit the towers of the
cathedral, via an entrance on the outside of the
cathedral at the base of the north (left)
tower), but it's not free and there is usually a
long line (more than an hour of waiting during
much of the year). The cost is €7 for
adults (April 2005). Visiting the towers
involves climbing a tiny stone spiral staircase
with 255 steps, and negotiating a tiny open
balcony at the base of the towers that is barely
more than a foot wide (40 cm or so) at some
points. It's not for people with health
problems, obesity, claustrophobia, or a fear of
heights. From the balcony you can also visit the
largest of the bells and optional go up into the
south tower, which doesn't cost extra but
involves another 147 steps in an even tinier
staircase. The views of the city from both the
balcony and the top of the south tower are
excellent. Only 20 people at a time are allowed
up into the towers (there isn't much space), and
the last admissions are at 6:45 PM. The towers
are open from 9:30 AM to 7:30 PM.
cathedral is constantly filled with tourists,
even during services, so it's p erhaps not the
most solemn place to attend Mass, but you can if
you want. You can also go to confession in
multiple languages, thanks to priests on duty in
the cathedral during opening hours. You don't
have to be Roman Catholic to do any of these
things, although I suppose they aren't of much
interest to non-Catholics.
Before the fire, there were services every
weekday at 8:00, 9:00, noon, and 6:15 PM, on
Saturdays at 6:30 PM, and on Sundays at 8:30,
10:00, 11:30, 12:45, and 6:30 PM (the 10 AM
service includes Gregorian chants, and the 11:30
and 6:30 PM services include the choir).
Generally speaking, no. The Roman Catholic
church, which holds services in the cathedral,
prefers that marriages be performed in local
parish churches rather than in large cathedrals.
So while nothing technically prohibits a
marriage at Notre-Dame, unless you're a
princess or something like that, it's unlikely
that you'd be able to p ersuade the diocese to
set it up there. Note also that, no matter where
you marry, you need to be married under law
first (either in your home country or in
Nobody is quite sure, but there is no doubt
that it was very expensive. Maurice de Sully
had a gift for fundraising and somehow managed
to come up with funds regularly enough to keep
the cathedral continously under construction.
The royal family apparently contributed nothing
to the funding of the construction, but some
people left money behind in their wills, and
others made outright gifts. The bulk of the
funding remains a mystery, though, since few
records were kept.
There is no doubt that the cathedral was
paid for, in any case. It was not build by
devout Catholics eager to work for free, but by
skilled contractors and engineers who were paid
for their services. Building materials were
also purchased, not donated, in general. In
fact, the cathedral was the state of the art at
the time, and some of the best engineers and
craftsmen of the period worked on its
construction (Paris was already an excellent
place to find skilled carpenters, masons, and
other workers, so talent was easy to find). The
materials used for construction were very
carefully selected for their structural
properties and were the best that could be had.
The project was probably something like what Hoover
Dam represented in the 20th century.
Yes. One book I really like is Notre Dame de
Paris, by Alain Erland-
Brandenburg and Caroline Rose, a
large and beautiful book with lots of pictures
and text. I have a review of it here
if you’d like to know more.
Unfortunately, it's already out of print. There
are many other books on Notre-Dame, however.
It has been remodeled at various times, but
not in significant ways after construction was
completed. Overall, it is quite faithful to the
original concept (unlike many other Gothic
A significant refurbishment was undertaken
in the mid 19th century, which included
restoration of the spire over the nave (which
had been removed some centuries earlier). The
lead architect, Viollet-le-Duc, was
extremely faithful to the original design of the
cathedral in his restoration, with one small,
deliberate exception—which I won’t
reveal here (if you are interested, you can
learn more here).
By far the most sigificant work done to date
has been the repairs now underway of the damage
done by the disastrous fire of 2019, whuch
destroyed the entire roof of the cathedral.
They are being rushed to completion by cutting
some corners and should be done sometime in
2024—in time for the Olympic$.
There are two, in fact, the larger of which
happens to be the largest pipe organ in France.
The main organ is located in front of the
rose window at the western end of the cathedral.
It dates originally from the 14th
century, although only twelve of the pipes in
the modern-day instrument (all in the
Principal 32 stop of the pedal organ)
survive from that first incarnation. It has
been restored, repaired, and rebuilt many times,
but the most recent restauration was also the
most complete, and took place during the period
1990-1993, with the work being performed by
organ builders Jean-Loup Boisseau,
Bertrand Cattiaux, Philippe
Emeriau, and Michel Giroud, and
computer engineers Christian Roussel and
Miguel Ruiz of Synaptel, with
assistance from IBM. The instrument
today is practically brand new, although it
retains most of the features of the last major
restoration, completed by the famous organ
builder Cavaillé-Coll in the
The main organ today comprises 128
stops and five manuals plus pedals.
It has incorporated electric blowers
since 1924 (prior to that, air pressure was
provided by human beings). The modern organ is
computerized, with full computer control
of combinations and couplers and the like that
allows each of the organists of the cathedral to
define a personal configuration of the
instrument for his preferences. The organist
can also alter the way the keyboard responds to
touch to suit his liking. The instrument also
incorporates a MIDI interface (now that
must be fun to use!), two video displays
to show system status, a token-ring
network to allow communication between the
several Intel-based computers that operate the
instrument, and an audible annunciation
system to aid blind organists in configuring the
instrument. Finally, the organ uses a smart
card keying system to prevent unauthorized
use (each organist has his own access card). It
has come a long way since the 1300s!
This organ survived the fire mostly
unscatched, except for soot and dust.
The “small” organ in the choir
is a separate instrument with two manuals
plus pedals, 33 stops, and about 2200
pipes. It dates from 1865 (although an
earlier instrument dated from the 1400s), and
was fully restored in 1990, including the
addition of computerized combinations for the
keyboards. It suffered water damage in the fire
but should survive.
The choir organ is used for routine stuff.
The main organ is used for special events, some
services, and for the free organ recitals every
Sunday at 5:45 PM. Several organists play the
instruments in rotation.
The Pont de
lArchevêché, a bridge
connecting the southeastern corner of the
Île de la Cité with the
Left Bank, is the classic spot for taking
a picture of the cathedral. The southwest
corner of the bridge on the Left Bank side is
the best vantage point, and it was the point I
used for my main picture of the cathedral.
Taking photos inside the cathedral is
permitted (except during services), as long as
you don’t have a tripod and don’t
use flash (this latter rule is not strongly
The cathedral is very dark, as all
cathedrals tend to be. With most ordinary
films, you’ll have to use long exposures
or flash (but remember that using a flash might
attract angry attention from guards). For long
exposures, brace yourself against something and
hope for the best, and turn off the flash.
Photographing the stained glass is a special
case: Since sunlight is streaming through the
glass, it’s a lot easier to get a decent
picture of it. For the southern rose window
using ISO 400 film, I recommend, say, 1/50 sec
at f/5.6 or the equivalent. Most cameras can do
this. For the picture I took for my photo gallery, I went
with f/2.8 at 1/50 sec, on Fuji Provia 100F film
(ISO 100); you can check out the results for
yourself. Use higher shutter speeds (and larger
apertures) and maybe a half-stop less exposure
if you want to recover as much detail in the
glass as possible.
ɪ̯l̩z/ are sculptures
of animals that conceal rainwater spouts on the
cathedral. These spouts direct rainwater away
from the walls of the cathedral when it rains,
in order to reduce erosion of the stone in the
ɚəz/ are grotesque
sculptures composed of body parts from several
different animals that serve a purely decorative
purpose on the cathedral.
Many people refer to all of the surrealistic
sculptures on the cathedral as gargoyles, but in
fact only those that are waterspouts are truly
gargoyles. The word gargoyle comes from
the French word gargouiller/gaʁguije/,
which means “to gurgle”.