Built at the end of the 19th century, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is a religious building located at the top of the Montmartre hill, in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. Known for its stunning architecture and works of art, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Paris, like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre Museum . Declared of public utility by the National Assembly in 1873, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart attracts nearly 10 million visitors each year. In this article, we will take a look at the history of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and discover this exceptional stone architecture and the riches it houses.
The history and construction of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre
Following the events that occurred in the commune of Paris at the end of the 19th century, the desire to build a basilica to reconstitute the sacred power of religious practices was considered. The Montmartre site is chosen for its geographical location and also for its height culminating at 130 meters, allowing a breathtaking view of the city of Paris. The hill of Montmartre has always been a place of worship, the most famous of which is Christian worship after the martyrdom of Bishop Saint-Denis in the 3rd century. Construction work on the Basilica of the Sacred Heart was voted in 1872 by the National Assembly, which offered the Archbishop of Paris, Mgr Guibert, the possibility of acquiring land located on the hill of Montmartre, in exchange of his assignment to the public exercise of Catholic worship. In 1873, the committee for the work of the national vow and the Archbishop of Paris offered a competition to choose the architect in charge of the construction. Paul Abadie was selected for his project to build a basilica in the Romano-Byzantine style with a dome, pinnacles and campanile. Construction work began on June 16, 1875 with the laying of the first stone by the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Guibert. It will take several months to consolidate the foundations of the basilica, requiring the creation of 83 wells with a depth of 33 meters filled with stones and cement, in order to fill the underground galleries present under the building. A temporary chapel was inaugurated in March 1876 near the site, construction work on the crypt began in 1878 and on the basilica in 1881. It will be necessary to wait 10 years to inaugurate the interior of the nave in 1891. Following the death of the architect Paul Abadie, many architectural changes were made during the construction of the church and its elevation to the title of Minor Basilica was celebrated in 1919, at the end of the First World War. The annexes consisting of sacristy, offices and dormitories intended to accommodate pilgrims, began in 1930. Finally, it will be necessary to wait until the end of the Second World War to see the completion of all the work on the building, nearly half a century after the laying of the first stone.
Exterior architecture of the Basilica
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is built in the shape of a Greek cross adorned with four domes. Its central dome measures 16 meters in diameter and its height under the keystone culminates at almost 55 meters. The central dome of the basilica culminates at 83 meters, making the Basilica of the Sacred Heart the highest point in Paris, before the construction of the Eiffel Tower. The dome of the building is surmounted by a skylight formed by a colonnade and is accessible by a spiral staircase made up of 237 stone steps. This staircase provides access to the two galleries, one indoor and one outdoor, while offering a breathtaking panoramic view of Paris. Unlike most churches with an East-West orientation, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is oriented North-South, in order to be visible from the center of Paris. Its construction is made with the same stone as that used for the Arc de Triomphe and its self-cleaning properties in contact with the rain. The facade of the Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre has two floors:
- The lower floor consists of a porch and a staircase, all divided into 3 arcades. On the left, a statue of Saint-Louis brandishing his sword in one hand and the crown of Jesus Christ in the other. On the right, a statue of Joan of Arc.
- The upper floor is pierced by 3 bays crowned by a pediment with a statue of Christ at the top.
The campanile is the huge monument in the form of a square tower located behind the Basilica. This building serves as a bell tower and houses the largest bell in France of spectacular dimensions. Called “La Savoyarde”, this bell was cast in Annecy in 1895 by the foundry of the Paccard brothers.
The interior architecture of the Sacred Heart
Inside the basilica, there are mainly chapels:
- The chapel of Saint-Michel.
- The Chapel of Saint Louis.
- The forum of trade and industry.
- The Chapel of Blessed Margaret Mary.
- The 7 apsidal chapels (the chapel of Saint-François d’Assise, the chapel of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, the chapel of Saint-Joseph, the chapel of the Virgin Mary, the chapel of Saints Luke, Cosmas and Damian, the chapel of ‘Ignatius of Loyola and the chapel of Saint-Ursule).
- The chapel of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul.
- The Farming Tribune.
- The Chapel of the Queens of France.
- The Chapel of Our Lady of the Sea.
The cul-de-four of the apse of the heart is decorated with a mosaic, the largest in France and made of Briare enamels. It represents the Sacred Heart, a devotion to the heart of Jesus Christ.
The furniture of the Basilica of Montmartre
Statues of Saint-Michel, Joan of Arc and Léon Fagel surmount the altar of the Saint-Michel chapel. The crown of ears and the mosaics of Saint-Louis are visible inside the Saint-Louis chapel. A luxurious bronze altar can be seen in the Chapel of Blessed Margaret Mary. The two galleries of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica each have a glass roof. The Chapel of the Queens of France, in homage to the diocese of Poitiers, is adorned with a Carrara marble altar. The great organs of the basilica date from 1898 and consist of 70 stops, spread over 4 keyboards of 61 keys and a pedalboard of 32 steps. The furniture of the Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre is mainly made up of statues of angels, animals or saints, as well as symbols, stained glass windows, and Latin scriptures engraved in the form of ribbons in the stone of the building.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart in figures
- You have to climb 222 steps to reach the Basilica from the Square Louise-Michel located below. The Montmartre funicular provides access to the building in 1 minute 30.
- La Savoyarde, the huge bell located in the Campanile, weighs 19 tons and measures 3 meters in diameter. 28 horses were needed to deliver the bell from Annecy to Paris.
- The huge dome culminates at 83 meters in height and the cupola at 55 meters.
- Financed by donations, the construction of the basilica required the participation of more than 10 million French people.
- The mosaic decorating the vault of the heart of the basilica extends over 475 square meters.
- Every year, 10 million tourists visit the Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre, i.e. 27,000 people per day or 1,000 people per hour.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is open every day of the year, from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Entrance is free, except for the dome and the crypt. All information is available on website www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com