The basilica of Sacré-Cœur, located in the 18th arrondissement, is one of Paris’ most visited monuments. The sanctuary stands like a whipped-cream edifice atop the hillock of Montmartre, sharing more resemblance with the Taj Mahal in India than the neighbouring Notre-Dame cathedral.
1. Architectural style
The basilica was built between 1875 and 1914 by architect Paul Abadie in Romanesque-Byzantine style. Abadie was an architect also known for restoring the cathedral of Périgueux which design looks similar to that of the basilica in Montmartre.
2. Before the Christian era
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 Patron Saint was beheaded there by the Romans. 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.
4. The name of the church
‘Sacré-Cœur’ means ‘Sacred-Heart’ in English and is a reference to the heart of Jesus, which is the representation of his divine love for humanity.
5. The reasons behind the construction of the church
The project to build the basilica was triggered by a group of influential people who 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 Prussians army in 1870-1871.
- Secondly, the defeat of the French army in 1871 was interpreted as a moral condemnation of the sins of Paris.
Authorised by the National Assembly in 1873, the project was to build an imposing Christian church visible from all over Paris.
6. About the peculiar White Stone
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 a bleacher to give the church a definite chalky white appearance.
7. The Dome’s fantastic views of Paris
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 the binoculars.
8. The Height of Sacré-Cœur
The church was built atop the hill of Montmartre at an altitude of 130 metres above sea-level. The bell tower and the dome both reaches 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 enormous Savoyarde Bell
The largest bell of France is installed in the campanile. 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 could be heard 10 km away.
10. Millions of visitors each year
Welcoming more than 11.5 million visitors (tourists and pilgrims alike) each year, the Sacré-Cœur basilica is France’s second most visited church after Notre-Dame cathedral. Access inside the church is free but there is a charge for entry to the crypt and the ascent to the dome.
Read more about the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre.