Sacré-Coeur Basilica history
The Sacré-Coeur Basilica is by many perceived to be an old basilica, much in the same way as the Notre Dame de Paris, but this is not the case. The Sacré-Coeur Basilica as actually rather young, considering it was built in late 19th- and early 20th century.
Founded in conflict
The Sacré-Coeur Basilica was constructed in order to honor the 58.000 who lost their lives in the Franco-Prussian war – a war which France lost disastrously.
It was also built to inspire faith into the French people who struggled during what was a very trying era. Not only had they been defeat in the war, but also with the turbulent time in Paris with the rule of the Paris Commune.
The Paris Commune was a worker’s party who ruled Paris for two months in 1871. It didn’t take too long before conflicts and fighting began between the Commune and ultra-Catholics together with royalists, the latter backed up by the French army.
After the Commune had lost the bloody battles, the archbishop of Paris ordered to build the basilica as a way to “expiate the crimes of the communards”.
This caused of course much controversy, as both sides in the fighting had committed horrible crimes. One Parisian called it “a lunatic’s confectionery dream” and an offended Zola declared it “the basilica of the ridiculous.”
Montmartre had been the site of the Commune’s first rebellion and the hill was a religious site for a long time, so the place for the new Sacré-Coeur Basilica was obvious. Even though the Sacré-Coeur Basilica has a somewhat troublesome history, it is today loved and adored by almost all Parisians.
The architect of the beautiful Sacré-Coeur Basilica was Paul Abadie, who won the architect competition after beating the other 77 architects.
By looking at the basilica, it’s pretty obvious that its architectural style is very different compared to other churches in Paris. Instead of being a Neo-classical-, or a Gothic church like Notre Dame de Paris, the Sacré-Cœur is inspired by eastern Byzantine architecture. The most obvious sign of this is the fact the Sacré-Coeur Basilica is dominated by three large domes.
Before construction started, a law public utility was passed to seize land at the summit of Montmartre and in 1875 the foundation stone was laid. The passing of a law to seize the ground further caused controversy to the construction project and the matter finally reached the Chamber of Deputies where the law was rescinded.
However, by this stage the construction of the basilica had come such a long way that it was allowed to be finished. The architect Abadie never got to see the Sacré-Coeur Basilica finished, as he died not long after the foundation stone had been laid. Five other architects carried on with his plans and the basilica stood finished 1914, 39 years after start of the construction. However, due to the interference of the First World War, the basilica was formally dedicated later in 1919.
The total construction cost of Sacré-Coeur Basilica was estimated at 7 million French Francs which were raised to a large degree by private donations, both from rich and poor. A large part of the money came from visitors and pilgrims, who visited the provisional chapel and the construction site.
Why visit Sacré-Coeur Basilica ?
Standing on top of the highest point in Paris, the hill of Montmartre, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica looks out over the beautiful city and has become one of Paris’s most characteristic landmarks.
In contrast to many other Paris churches, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica itself is very white. The Sacré-Cœur is built of travertine stone quarried in Château-Landon which gives it its shining color. This frost-resistant stone constantly exudes calcite, which ensures that the basilica remains white even with weathering and pollution.
The Sacred Heart
Even though the architectural style was not typically French at the time, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica has many design elements which symbolize nationalist themes. One example of this is the two statues that stand above the main entrance. If you stand in front of the church and look towards the entrance, you will have the French national saint Jeanne d’Arc to your right and King Saint Louis IX to you left.
Between and above the two bronze statues stands a statue of Jesus, welcoming you into the basilica. Below Jesus is the following Latin phrase inscribed; “Cor Jesu Sacratissimum” which translates to “The Sacred Heart of Jesus”. In French, Sacré-Cœur means just that, “Sacred Heart”. The Sacred Heart is a symbol of the love Jesus has for all of humanity.
While the outside of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica is beautiful, the same is true its inside. The inside is open to the public; just make sure you are dressed somewhat appropriately. The most prominent part of the inside is the mosaic in the apse, entitled “Christ in Majesty”. The mosaic is true majestic, being the largest one in the whole world. It pictures the Sacred Heart of Jesus, worshiped by the Virgin Mary, Jeanne d’Arc and St. Michael the Archangel.
The basilica can also boast about having one of the largest free-swinging bells in the world, as its bell “Savoyarde”, weighs an impressive 19 tons.
What many people do not know is that it is also possible to climb the main dome of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. On the same side as the King Saint Louis IX statue, the left side of the basilica, one will find the entrance to the crypt and a staircase to the top.
While the 300 steps are tough to make, it will provides visitors with a magnificent view over Paris. Many say it’s the second best view possible in Paris, only beaten by the top level of the Effiel Tower. On a clear day, you can see as far as 48km.
The trip to the stunningly beautiful Sacré-Coeur Basilica is a must when visiting Paris, as is a visit to the top. Visiting the Sacré-Cœur during morning is advised, in order to dodge the most of the crowds.
Sacré-Coeur Basilica location
The basilica is situated on the hill of Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement.
It is wise to take the metro to Montmartre, as the walk up the hill is quite tough on its own. Take line 12 and get off at Abbesses or line 2 and get off at Anvers. For the exact location of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, check out the location map to the right.