One of the great masterpieces of civilization, the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, suffered significant damage when a massive fire broke out on April 15, 2019. As a place of worship and architectural and artistic wonder, the 850 year-old-cathedral ranks among the greatest achievements of man, a testament to people’s faith, for the cathedral was built to glorify God and extol the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as Our Lady of Paris. Through the centuries, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, this hallowed and extraordinary monument to the faith, has also witnessed significant royal events:
1239 – King Louis IX of France – St. Louis – places the Crown of Thorns at Notre Dame
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King Louis IX/St. Louis of France
King Louis IX of France (1214-1270) belonged to the House of Capet, a dynasty that ruled France from the 10th to the 14th centuries. At the age of twelve, Louis succeeded his father, Louis VIII as king. King Louis IX was renowned for his piety and took part in the Crusades. He died in 1270 and was canonized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in 1297. King Louis IX is the only French monarch to be canonized as a saint. Numerous kings of France were named Louis in the saint’s honor.
It was thanks to King Louis IX of France that the Crown of Thorns, worn by Jesus Christ at His crucifixion, and one of Christendom’s most important relics, came to Paris. King Louis obtained the Crown from the Byzantine Emperor Baldwin. Upon the Crown’s arrival in France in 1239, King Louis received the precious relic at the town of Sens. A few days later, the Crown of Thorns arrived in Paris. Wearing only a simple, unadorned tunic and walking barefoot, King Louis took the Crown of Thorns to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The Crown was later housed in a special place, the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle, built on the orders of the King to house the Crown of Thorns. Several centuries later, in 1806, the holy relic was transferred to Notre Dame Cathedral. The Crown of Thorns, along with the simple tunic worn by King Louis IX as he accompanied the holy relic to Notre Dame, were both in the Cathedral when the devastating fire of April 15, 2019 broke out. Thanks to the heroism of Father Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, along with firefighters, the Crown of Thorns and the tunic of St. Louis were saved.
1431 – King Henry VI of England is crowned King of France at the age of ten
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King Henry VI of England
King Henry VI of England (1421-1471) reigned as King of England during the years 1422 to 1461 as well as 1470 to 1471. During Henry’s reign the Hundred Years’ War between France and England continued to rage. Henry VI suffered from bouts of insanity and his reign was marked by instability and an erosion of English territorial claims in France, so that by 1453, all that was left of Henry’s French territory in France was Calais. King Henry VI was a keen promoter of education and was the founder of All Souls College, Oxford (1438); Eton College (1440); and King’s College, Cambridge (1441).
In December 1431, England’s ten-year-old King Henry VI, accompanied by a retinue of courtiers, rode to Paris where he was crowned King of France in Notre Dame Cathedral. Though by tradition, France’s kings were crowned at Reims Cathedral, Henry VI was crowned at Notre Dame instead because the city of Reims was under the control of those who were not supportive of Henry VI’s claims to the French throne. Henry VI has the unique distinction of being crowned both King of England and King of France.
1537 – King James V of Scotland marries Madeleine of Valois
Corneille de Lyon creator QS:P170,Q720941, Portrait of James V of Scotland (1512 - 1542), marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons. Corneille de Lyon creator QS:P170,Q720941, MadeleinedeValois, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
King James V of Scotland Princess Madeleine de Valois
The wedding of King James V of Scotland (1512-1542) and Princess Madeleine of Valois (1520-1537) that took place at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris on January 1, 1537 was one of several events from the thirteenth century onwards that cemented the alliance between Scotland and France. There had been other suitable princesses who could have married King James V, but he chose Princess Madeleine, despite the objections of her father, King Francis I, who had indicated that Madeleine’s health was delicate and might not withstand the harsh Scottish climate. In the end, Francis I relented, thanks to James’s persistence. The couple was married in a lavish ceremony. King Francis I’s fears for his daughter’s health proved correct, for six months after her wedding at Notre Dame, Madeleine died in Scotland, aged only sixteen. She is known as the ‘Summer Queen’ of the Scots.
Soon after Madeleine of Valois’s death, the still childless King James V had to remarry. Keen to marry another Frenchwoman, King James took the advice of King Francis I who suggested as a bride, the recently widowed Mary of Guise. King James married Mary of Guise and they became the parents of the famous Mary, Queen of Scots.
1558 –Mary, Queen of Scots marries Francis, Dauphin of France
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Francis, Dauphin of France and Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) was only a week old when she succeeded her father, King James V, as the new monarch of Scotland. When she was five years old, Mary was sent to France where she was to spend the next thirteen years living at the French court. Mary consequently grew up as a Catholic French royal. Her marriage to the heir to the French throne, Prince Francis, the Dauphin, had been arranged. Mary and Francois were married at Notre Dame in a splendid ceremony; Mary was fifteen and Francis fourteen. Mary, dressed in white and bedecked in diamonds with a gold crown on her head, impressed witnesses with her beauty and regal bearing. A year after the wedding, Mary became Queen of France when her husband ascended the throne as Francis II. In 1560, Francis II died, leaving Mary a young widow. Mary returned to Scotland and her ensuing dramatic life eventually led to her being executed in 1587 under the orders of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. King James VI of Scotland, the only child of Mary, Queen of Scots, eventually succeeded Queen Elizabeth I and reigned as King James I of England, thus uniting the Scottish and English crowns.
1625 – The proxy wedding of King Charles I of England and Henrietta Maria of France takes place on the steps of Notre Dame
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King Charles I of England Henrietta Maria of France
King Charles I of England (1600-1649) also reigned as King of Scotland and Ireland and belonged to the House of Stuart. King Charles married Henrietta Maria of France (1609-1669) in May 1625, an unpopular choice of wife as the French princess was a Roman Catholic. England had embraced the Reformation in the sixteenth century and English monarchs since then professed the Protestant religion. Because Charles was Protestant, he could not marry Henrietta Maria in person in a Catholic ceremony and so the couple was married by proxy on the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral. King Charles’s close friend, the Duke of Buckingham, had stood in proxy for the King during the ceremony. The marriage was a happy one, but Charles I’s reign was marked by instability with the King becoming increasingly at odds with Parliament. By 1642 civil war broke out. In 1648 King Charles was tried for treason and executed in January 1649. Queen Henrietta Maria lived to see the Restoration of the monarchy in October 1660 when her son, King Charles II, ascended the throne. Henrietta Maria was a staunch Roman Catholic; she returned to France in 1665 where she died.
1804 – Napoleon crowns himself Emperor of France and crowns his wife, Josephine, Empress in the presence of Pope Pius VII
The coronation of Napoleon I by Jacques Louis David (1805-07), marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons.
The famous painting by Jacques Louis David of Emperor Napoleon I’s coronation
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) crowned himself Emperor of France on December 2, 1804, taking the name and title Napoleon I. The coronation of the thirty-five-year old First Consul took place at Notre Dame Cathedral in the presence of Pope Pius VII. The event was immortalized in the famous painting by Jacques Louis David that took two years to complete (completed in 1807), a painting that measures an impressive 20 feet in height and 33 feet in width. The painting depicts Napoleon about to crown his first wife, Josephine, as empress. Napoleon eventually abdicated twice and was banished in exile first to the island of Elba and then to St. Helena, where he died in May 1821, aged fifty-two.
1853 – The Emperor Napoleon III marries Eugenie de Montijo
The coronation of Napoleon I by Jacques Louis David (1805-07), marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons.
Emperor Napoleon III of France Empress Eugenie (née Eugenie de Montijo)
In a lavish ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral, Emperor Napoleon III married the Spanish Countess Eugenie de Montijo on January 30, 1853. The Empress Eugenie gained fame for her elegance and for a time the French court under the Second Empire (1852-1870) was the most glittering in Europe. The defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 dealt a fatal blow to the Second Empire. Napoleon III, Empress Eugenie, and their son, the Prince Imperial, lived for a time in exile in England. Napoleon III died there in 1873. Eugenie lost her only child when the Prince Imperial died in 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu War. Eugenie died in her native Spain in 1920 at the age of ninety-four.
The state coach which was used at the wedding of Napoleon III to Eugenie de Montijo. The coach can be found in the Autoworld Museum in Brussels, Belgium.
The famous façade and the two bell towers that survived the conflagration of April 15, 2019. The spire that was destroyed can just be seen between the two towers.
Plaque commemorating the founding of Notre Dame de Paris, 1163, located inside Notre Dame.
The plaque reads: In the year 1163 under the pontificate of Pope Alexander III and the reign of King Louis VII Maurice born at Sully on the Loire began the construction of this cathedral in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Paris.
Chapel of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre where the holy Crown of Thorns was kept.
The Crown of Thorns reputedly worn by Jesus Christ at His crucifixion was saved from the fire of April 15, 2019 by Father Jean-Marc Fournier and several Paris firefighters as they rushed into the burning cathedral. Father Fournier is quoted as saying, “I was both the priest and the firefighter when I worked on Monday night when I entered the cathedral when the spire was burning at its top point.” The priest said he invoked the help of Jesus in his mission to rescue the Crown of Thorns and the Blessed Sacrament. An emergency responder at the scene declared of Father Fournier: “He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the Cathedral, and made sure they were saved.”
The Crown of Thorns, tied with gold filament and wrapped into a wreath, was encased in glass at Notre Dame and displayed to the faithful to venerate during special holy days. On Good Friday 2019, the Crown of Thorns was publicly venerated at Paris’s St. Sulpice Church, not far from Notre Dame.
Inside the Cathedral: informative illustrations and texts on the building of Notre Dame through the centuries.
These illustrations with accompanying text were popular with tourists and faithful alike who visited Notre Dame Cathedral as they explained in vivid detail the evolution of the cathedral through the centuries.
Spectacular carvings inside Notre Dame from the 14th century depicting the life of Jesus Christ.
These intricately carved friezes were one of the great treasures of Notre Dame Catheral and are a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of the Medieval carvers who worked on them.
One of the famed Rose Stained Glass windows which miraculously survived the massive fire of April 15, 2019.
Among the most famous and spectacular treasures of Notre Dame Cathedral are the three large stained-glass windows, known as the Rose Windows, regarded as one of Western Civilization’s greatest masterpieces. Like the elaborate painted wood frieze depicting the life of Jesus Christ inside the cathedral, the elaborate three Rose Stained-Glass Windows are beautiful testaments to the ingenuity of the Medieval artisans who worked to make Notre Dame a magnificent Roman Catholic house of worship. These three windows also miraculously survived the inferno of April 15, 2019.