Cathedral of Notre-Dame
Saint-Etienne | Notre-Dame

100/300 500 1100/1300


decorative program

historical context

related objects

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Basic Info
Dates 1163-1330, construction
Material Ashlar, stained glass
Significance and Basic Concepts Just as the kings appropriated visual symbols of the church, the church invoked symbols of kingship. The west facade incorporates sculptures of kings, referencing Old Testament kings and French kings.

The physical evidence suggests that the twelfth century builders used flying buttresses for both the nave and choir. If this is indeed so, then Notre-Dame demonstrates a leap in building technology.
Patron Saint The Virgin Mary

Interactive Groundplan
Elevation Diagram
Animated Glossary


Notre-Dame was probably begun in sometime in the late 1150s and was consecrated by the pope in 1163. As illustrated in the diagram above, the construction of Notre-Dame began with the choir and involved several phases, the last one phase ending in 1330.

The last phase included the creation of more chapel space, the construction of a choir screen, the rebuilding the Episcopal palace, and structural repairs. Bishop Simon Matifas de Bucy oversaw the beginning of this work. Work began in 1296 with the foundation for the axial chapels of St. Marcel (later called St. Louis), St. Rigobert, and St. Nicaise, where de Bucy was buried in 1304. The choir walls were then pushed out, filling in the space between the buttresses. This new interior space was used for chapels for the clerical families and the upper classes. The chapel expansion finished in 1314. Master Pierre de Chelles directed the structural repair work and the construction of the choir screen.* (Jean de Chelles had worked on the North Transept.)

Viollet-le-Duc restored Notre-Dame in the 19th c. At that time he recreated Notre-Dame's initial four story elevation in the bays by the crossing. The elevation had changed to three stories when the upper windows had been enlarged. Viollet-le-Duc wanted to allow for a crossing tower and thought the four story elevation would provide more structural support.


Notre-Dame uses flying-buttresses for both the nave and choir. The ones we see today were rebuilt in the nineteenth century by Viollet-le-Duc. The buttresses date to the twelfth century, and the physical evidence supports Viollet-le-Duc's theory that the flyers dated from the twelfth century. When the buttresses of the choir and nave are considered in conjunction with the responds, they are of comparable mass. These buttresses were capable of bearing flyers and presumably intended to bear flyers. The choir buttresses were later extended approximately 1.5 m when the chapels were added.

Some of the flyers are decorated with chevrons; chevrons were an architectural motif common in the 12th, not the 13th or 14th centuries.

The upper story of the church does not show evidence of low-level flyers or murs boutants.* If the long span flyers are indeed from the twelfth century then Notre-Dame evidences not gradual but sudden technological advances.*

Interestingly, the choir roof, which was built before the nave roof, is at a steeper angle than the nave roof and is the better structural solution.

decorative program

The West Facade includes the "Gallery of Kings." These sculptures were removed during the French Revolution and now reside at the Cluny.

The statues refer to Old Testament Kings and French Kings. Just as the kings appropriated the attributes of the church, the church appropriated symbols of kingship.

Portal Sculpture

North Transept

South Transept

Virgin Mary Portal

Story of Theopholis with bishop enthroned

Nativity, Presentation in the Temple, Massacre of the Innocents

Story of St. Stephen

(Pierre de Montreuil)

West Facade





Coronation of the Virgin
Dormition of the Virgin
Patriarchs holding scroll, Ark of the Covenant

Trumeau: Virgin and Child, Adam and Eve

Resurrection of Christ
The saved and the damned, 19th c.
Tympanum smashed in 18th c. as part of Soufflot's improvements)

Apostles on sides

St. Anne Portal
Throne of Wisdom, Bishop Maurice de Sully, King Louis VII, 1160s
Nativity, 1160s
Joachim and Anna, 13th c.

Trumeau: St. Marcellus

center portal continued

The embrasures include motifs of the virtues and vices;
the column figures are now in the Cluny


The choir columns show systematic stone carving, presumably templates were used. The capitals are classicized

 The 14th century choir screen showed the life of Christ.

historical context

Bishop Maurice de Sully

King Louis VII

Pierre de Montreuil - South Transept Portal

related objects



  © k.staelin 2003; images are the property of their owner and may not be used without permission of owner.