Despite not looking a day over 700, the famed French cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris Wednesday began a year of celebrations to mark the 850th anniversary of its founding.
Dignitaries, tourists and Parisians gathered in the thousands Wednesday for a ceremony and Mass to celebrate the history of the Gothic landmark, which was begun in 1163 during the reign of Louis VII. Construction did not finish until the middle of the 14th century.
To mark the jubilee year, the cathedral features new, improved lighting, a viewing platform and a renovated organ. Officials expect an additional five million individuals to visit the church in the coming year, according to Agence France-Presse.
Over the centuries Notre Dame has been witness to much history:
- In 1185 Heraclius of Caesarea, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, sounded the call for the Third Crusade from the still-incomplete cathedral.
- In 1431, English monarch Henry VI was crowned King of France. Not only did he not keep his hold on France for long, but he eventually lost his title to England, as well.
- In 1548, rioting Huguenots caused extensive damage throughout the structure.
- In 1558, Mary, Queen of Scots, was married to the future King Francis II, son of Henry II of France.
- In 1909, Joan of Arc was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in a ceremony at the cathedral. She was canonized 11 years later.
One of the most harrowing periods for the cathedral was that of the French Revolution, when many churches were vandalized or even demolished during the anti-clerical fervor that gripped the nation.
Notre Dame was subject to physical abuse during the period of upheaval but managed to escape complete destruction because it was turned into a warehouse for food, effectively saving it for generations to come, according to Agence France-Presse.
However, just a few years later, Notre Dame was back in state favor as Napoleon selected it as the site for his coronation as Emperor in an elaborate ceremony officiated by a reluctant Pope Pius VII.
And, of course, noted writer Victor Hugo used the Gothic structure as the backdrop for his 1831 masterpiece, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
Hugo highlighted the cathedral’s architectural value and its “countless defacements and mutilations,” and is seen by many as the savior of Notre Dame, according to Agence France-Presse.
“It was not until the second half of the 19th century that Notre Dame was fully restored to its pre-Revolution state, thanks to a 25-year program of renovation overseen by the architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc,” according to the wire service.
“Without it, the venerated cathedral might have sunk into the Seine, the river it overlooks from its position on the eastern half of an island, the Ile de la Cite, in the middle of the river that runs through the city,” it adds.
As part of the celebration, nine new bells are to be delivered during 2013, replacing four that were taken out of service at the start of last year.
The new bells will be joined with “Emmanuel,” the great bell that barely managed to avoid being melted down during the French Revolution and later rang out to announce the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation in 1944.
It will mark the first time since the revolution – more than two centuries ago – that Notre Dame will feature a full lineup of bells, Cathedral Rector Mgr. Patrick Jacquin told Agence France-Presse.