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Last Updated: 7 January 2020

Who has never seen this picture postcard view of Notre-Dame with a curtain of ivy lining the walls that plunge towards the Seine? The garden that extends from the South side to the chevet of the cathedral is called square Jean-XXIII. The garden offers some fantastic views of the chevet of Paris cathedral, particularly on the series of flying buttresses and the 90 m high spire. From there you will also marvel at the impressive South rose window and the series of pinnacles and gargoyles.

ATTENTION! Following the Great Fire of Notre-Dame (15 April 2019) Square Jean-XXIII is closed until further notice!

Square Jean-XXIII: a bit of history

Originally the site was occupied by a number of buildings and look different as we see it today. There were houses and chapels, and the Archbishop’s Palace. The archbishopric, built in 1697, was demolished in 1831 after being vandalised by rioters.

Palais de l'Archevêché Paris
Palais de l’Archevêché in the Middle-Ages
Palais de l'Archevêché Paris
Palais de l’Archevêché in 1756 Painting by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet

French writer and poet Nicolas Boileau (1636-1711) resided and died in a house on rue de l’Abreuvoir. It used to stand on the site of today’s Virgin Fountain. The street disappeared in 1840s to give way to a public garden. In 1843, the site was opened as a formal garden by Prefect Rambuteau. It was then the first public district garden created in Paris. The garden was enlarged in 1911.

The Virgin Fountain or Fontaine de la Vierge

square Jean-XXIII Paris
The Virgin Fountain and chevet of Notre-Dame © French Moments

Situated just behind the chevet of Notre-Dame, the neo-Gothic fountain was designed in 1845 by architect Alphonse Vigoureux and sculptor Merlieux.

At that time, Romanticism was in fashion and thus led to the elevation of many neo-Gothic style buildings throughout Paris and France. The fountain and its statue blend perfectly with Notre-Dame as they were created in the same architecture style. Its shape echoes the pinnacles of the neighbouring cathedral.

square Jean-XXIII Paris
The Virgin Fountain and chevet of Notre-Dame © French Moments

On the lower part of the fountain are three archangels victorious over the allegorical figure of heresy. Water flows from their pedestals onto an octogonal basin. The upper part is a spire contains a statue of the Virgin and child.

Square Jean-XXIII today

The garden was formerly known as square de l’Archevêché (Archbishopric Square). The site was later renamed in honour of pope John XXIII. Today the park extends over one hectare.

square Jean-XXIII Paris
The bank of the River Seine, square Jean XXIII © French Moments

The square contains a number of remarkable trees: linden trees, spruces, Byzantian hazel, laburnum, yews in the shape of a cone, horse chestnut trees, and the last elm trees in Paris.

I particularly love strolling in the park in Spring when the trees are in blossoms. The first trees to flower are the apple blossoms and prunus trees. Late April, beginning of May, tamarisks are in flowers along the Quai de l’Archevêché. Look for the sandbox surrounded with Japanese wild cherries.

Pansies followed by tulips grow in the many flowerbeds of the park.

Square Jean XXIII Paris
Flowerbeds in Square Jean XXIII © French Moments

There is a small playground for children to play under the trees.

square Jean-XXIII Paris
Playground in square Jean XXIII © French Moments

The Liberty Tree

square Jean-XXIII Paris
Liberty Tree, Square Jean XXIII © French Moments

An oak tree was planted on Saturday 27 June 1998 by the Archbishop of Paris Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, in the presence of Jean Tibéri, Mayor of Paris. The Liberty Tree bears the memory of Denys-Auguste Affre (1793-1848), Archbishop of Paris. The priest was struck by a stray bullet on Sunday 25 June 1848 while trying to negotiate peace during the June Days uprising of 1848. Affre died in the morning of 27 June at his home, 51 rue Saint-Louis en L’Île.

The statue of John-Paul II

square Jean-XXIII Paris
Statue of John-Paul II, square Jean XXIII © French Moments

In 2014 a bronze statue of the late pope was raised in the square. The monument is 3.6 m high and weighs 1.5 tons, the statue was designed by Russian sculptor Zourab Tsereteli. It was built at the instigation of the Polish Catholic Mission in Paris. Represented with the hands folded in prayer, his face is facing the Seine. John-Paul II, born Karol Józef Wojtyła, was the leader of the Catholic church from 1978 to his death in 2005. Pope John-Paul came to Notre-Dame cathedral in 1980 and 1997.

How to get to the square Jean-XXIII

square Jean-XXIII Paris
Entrance to square Jean XXIII from Quai de l’Archevêché © French Moments

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Gems of Paris by French Moments
About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of Discovery Courses and books about France.

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