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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
There is a small playground for children to play under the trees.
The Liberty Tree
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
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
- The square Jean-XXIII is accessible from the Parvis Jean-Paul II, Quai de l’Archevêché and rue du Cloître Notre-Dame. Check out google map for the exact location of the square.
- Closest métro stations: Cité (line 4), Saint-Michel (line 4, RER B and C).
- Other sites of interest in the neighbourhood: Paris cathedral Notre-Dame, Île de la Cité, Île Saint-Louis and the Bouquinistes of the Seine.
- More photos of the square/garden:
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