Every year, approximately 13 million worshipers and tourists visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, or Our Lady of Paris. The cathedral attracts more visitors annually than the Eiffel Tower.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame was begun in 1163; construction continued for another 200 years. During the French Revolution, anti-Christian extremists looted and badly damaged Notre Dame. Repair and restoration of the church did not begin until 1844.
As the principal church of the Catholic archdiocese of Paris, Notre Dame is the spiritual heart of the French capital. It is also a shrine that preserves the Crown of Thorns, said to have been forced upon the head of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion.
In 1804 Napoleon invited Pope Pius VII to come to Paris to crown him emperor in Notre Dame. At the last minute, however, Napoleon seized the crown from the pope’s hands and crowned himself.
Under a law dating to 1905, Notre Dame belongs to the French government, which maintains it, but the Catholic Church has the exclusive right to use the cathedral.
The largest bell in Notre Dame’s bell tower is named “Emmanuel.” It was cast in 1631, and weighs over 28,000 pounds.
Thomas Craughwell is the author of more than 15 books, including "Stealing Lincoln's Body" (Harvard University Press, 2007) and "Saints Behaving Badly" (Doubleday, 2006). He has written articles for "The Wall Street Journal," "U.S. News & World Report" and "The American Spectator." He has been a guest on CNN and the BBC. Craughwell has an M.A. from New York University.