You can hardly miss it when visiting Paris. The basilica of Sacré-Cœur (18th arrondissement) attracts high numbers of visitors. They come to admire the view from the parvis, to enter the sanctuary or, for the most courageous, to climb the stairs to the dome. Indeed, the church commands a strategic position at the top of Montmartre Hill. In this article, find out more about the iconic Parisian landmark with interesting facts about the Sacré-Cœur.
A few facts about the Sacré-Cœur
When I organised guided tours in Paris for English-speaking clients, I’d often be asked the Montmartre walk. Interestingly enough, people had heard of the village atmosphere of Montmartre… and not much about Sacré-Cœur. Maybe they’d have seen it on a few postcards or images. I remember that Wow expression some visitors had on their faces.
And that’s why I thought I should write a little article about 10 facts about the Sacré-Cœur. I hope you’ll find it entertaining!
1. Look at its surprising architectural style!
The sanctuary stands like a whipped-cream edifice atop the hillock of Montmartre. And to be really frank, it shares more resemblance with the Taj Mahal in India than the Gothic Notre-Dame cathedral!
French architect Paul Abadie built the basilica between 1875 and 1914 in Romanesque-Byzantine style. Abadie was the architect that led the restoration of Périgueux Cathedral. And not surprisingly, the design looks similar to that of the basilica in Montmartre. Yep, Abadie was very fond indeed of Romanesque-Byzantine style…
2. Before the Christian era… a Pagan shrine!
The top of the hill of Montmartre where the church now stands has been a sacred site where druids were thought to have worshipped there. The Romans had built temples dedicated to gods Mars and Mercury.
3. The first Christian sanctuary
The first Christian chapel was built on the site circa 270 AD in honour of Paris’ first bishop, St. Denis.
According to the legend the Romans beheaded the Patron Saint on the hill of Montmartre. After his execution, the body of Denis would have picked its head up and started to walk while the mouth was delivering a complete sermon.
The body stopped its stroll somehow and at the site where he fell completely dead was later erected a small shrine: the present-day St Denys-la-Chapelle.
The name was eventually anglicised as Sydney. Crazy or what?
4. What’s in the name?
‘Sacré-Cœur’ means ‘Sacred-Heart’ in English. This is a reference to the heart of Jesus, which is the representation of his divine love for humanity.
5. When the Republic builds a church!
A group of influential people triggered the project to build the basilica. They had two good reasons to do so.
- Firstly, a National Vow was made to build a church if Paris escaped untouched from the war with the Prussian army in 1870-1871.
- Secondly, the defeat of the French army in 1871 was interpreted as a moral condemnation of the sins of Paris.
In 1873, the National Assembly authorised the project to build an imposing Christian church visible from all over Paris atop the hill of Montmartre. Yes, the French Republic had built a church!
6. As white as whipped cream!
The whipped-cream look of the edifice is mainly due to its stone which came from the Château-Landon quarries.
In wet weather, the calcite contained in the stone acts like bleach to give the church a definite chalky white appearance.
7. Paris from above… I believe I can fly!
From the top of the dome of Sacré-Cœur (accessible to the public by stairs), a breathtaking view of Paris extends to La Défense, the Eiffel Tower, the Montparnasse Tower, the Panthéon, the Bois de Vincennes, the Buttes-Chaumont and the basilica of Saint-Denis.
Nearly all the monuments of Paris can be seen with binoculars.
8. The highest point of Paris (after the Eiffel Tower)
The church stands atop the hill of Montmartre at an altitude of 130 metres above sea level.
The bell tower and the dome both reach 83 m high, which makes it the second-highest point in Paris (213 m) after the Eiffel Tower (324 m) and just before the Montparnasse Tower (210 m).
9. The largest bell of France… comes from the Alps!
Did you know that the campanile holds the largest bell of France? Cast by the Paccard bell-foundry in Annecy in 1895, it was given as a present by the four dioceses of Savoie.
It is known as ‘La Savoyarde’ because of its origins, but its real name is “Françoise Marguerite”. The bell has a diameter of 3 metres and weighs 18,835 kg. It can be heard 10 km away.
10. The biggest facts about the Sacré-Cœur
This is one of the biggest facts about the Sacré-Cœur! The church is France’s most visited church with more than 11.5 million visitors (tourists and pilgrims alike) each year. That title went to Notre-Dame de Paris until the Great Fire of April 2019 devastated the cathedral.
Access inside the church is free but there is a charge for entry to the crypt and the ascent to the dome. And photographs are not allowed unless you get special permission from the church!
For more facts about the Sacré-Cœur!
- I published an article on the blog with more descriptive facts about the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur.
- The official website of the church (with details of opening hours and access to the Dome).
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