History of Sacre Coeur Basilica and Montmartre in Paris

When sightseeing in Paris there is so much more to visiting the Montmartre area in the 18th arrondissement of Paris than just the Sacre Coeur Basilica, as there is a lot of rich history that goes back through the centuries from the Gauls to the Roman temples that were dedicated to the gods of Mars and Mercury.

A bit of history of Montmartre in Paris

The name Montmartre translates to mount or hill of martyres, which stems back from the martyrdom of Saint Denis who was the first bishop of Paris back in the 3rd century, and many saints have visited this hill over the centuries including Saint Germain and Saint Joan of Arc.  And another by the name of Saint Francois-Xaviar arrived at Montmartre with his disciples and in the year 1534 he founded the Jesuits, which was the society of Jesus.
Sacre Coeur Basilica altar

Prior to the French Revolution there was a very large Benedictine Abbey that occupied the whole Montmartre hill, but unfortunately during the French Revolution the nuns were executed via the guillotine and the abbey was completely destroyed.

By 1870 war had broken out between Germany and France, called the Franco Prussian War in which France suffered military defeat from the united German and Prussian troops, and then there was the uprising of the French people.

It was during this time, Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury vowed to build a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Christ in penitence for sins committed and the misery of the French people.

The construction and design of Sacre Coeur Basilica

It was the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Guibert, who approved the building of this church, and the hill of Montmarte was yet again chosen as the most appropriate site.  And so, by 1873 Cardinal Guibert had obtained the authority to utilise the land for the new church.

The architect chosen was Paul Abadie and the Romano-Byzantine style was inspired by places like the Sain Marks church in Venice and was in complete contrast to the medieval style of Gothic churches like Notre Dame in Paris.
Sacre Coeur Basilica golden dome ceiling

Sacre Coeur Basilica seating
The laying of the very first foundation stone was in 1875, however the foundations themselves took several months to complete as underpinning was required and incredibly this needed to be 33m deep. Once these were dug and then filled up they became the main pillars to support the basilica and stopping the whole structure from sinking into the clay!

Then by the year 1878 work had began on the crypt and by 1881 work had begun on the basilica itself, but unfortunately, in 1884 the original architect Paul Abadie died, which was well before the completion of this famous monument in Paris, and in total there were six other architects that worked on the Sacre Coeur over the following years until its completion.

The stone they used to build the Basiliica was called travertine stone, which was quarried in the Seine-et-Marne area in the Ile de France region and it releases calcite, which is why the basilica has that unusual white look to it.  Also, incredibly the whole construction was funded from individuals and the private sector with many of the donors names being carved into the stone.
Sacre Coeur Basilica Paris

And to give you an idea, it is 85m wide and 35m long, yet the dome itself is 83m high and the Cupola is 55m high and 16m wide.

The interior of the Sacre Coeur Basilica was also designed in the Romano-Byzantine style and the mosaic in the apse called Christ in Majesty that depicts Jesus with outstretched arms, was started in 1900.  However, it ended up being one of the largest mosaics in the world and was not finished until 1922.

The very large organ made by Cavaille-Coll was installed in 1905 and the stained glass windows started to get installed in 1903 and again these were not finished until 1920, but unfortunately these were destroyed during World War II and had to be replaced in 1946.
Sacre Coeur Basilica organ pipes

Sacre Coeur Basilica stained glass windows
But by the year 1914 the Sacre Coeur Basilica was generally ready for its consecration, which included the tower and the Savoyarde bell that weighs in at 19 tons and is one of the worlds heaviest bells, which was cast in Annecy in the Rhone Alpes region of France in 1895.

However, as history dictates, things do not always go to plan and World War I broke out, which meant that things were put on hold, and eventually the Sacre Coeur Basilica was concentrated as a place of pilgrimage on 16th October 1919 after the war had ended.

Something else that is unusual, is the fact that whilst other basilicas were built at the same time, like that of the Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille within the Cote d’Azur region and were dedicated to Mary, the Sacre Coeur Basilica is dedicated to the Heart of Christ.
Sacre Coeur Basilica architecture
And so, to this day, this Roman Catholic basilica still remains a place of pilgrimage dedicated to the Heart of Christ, along with being a major tourist attraction in Paris that is visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year.