Sacre Coeur Paris - Church of the Sacred Heart

When you visit Paris, there are a few monuments that the city has to offer, that you can not help but notice. Located on a hill in Montmartre, at one of the highest points in the city, the Sacre Coeur Basilica (Church of the Sacred Heart) is one of these.

This magnificent building is one of the most instantly recognisable and prominent landmarks in Paris. You can see it from almost as many places in the city as you can see the Eiffel Tower. Its majesty is almost overwhelming the closer you get to it. No matter how grand it is there is one other thing that this sight has been, that was polemical.

What we intend to discuss here is the history of this building. How it came to be, including some of the inevitably controversy that ensued on the way to getting it built. The building was discussed and debated for many years before anything actually began. This was after all the same period in which the fledgling state of new France, post revolution, was finding its feet.


Building of the Sacre Coeur

Even before its foundation stone was laid in 1875 there were apparent concerns over its contractors' motives. The recently founded Third French Republic seemed to package the project as recompense for the blood shed during the Commune and defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. While this was being promoted politically, the Catholic Church urgently needed a talisman that would reassert "the spiritual side of France". There can be little doubt that this would also promote the church itself during a period where its power could be judged to be waning. Whatever the overriding factors, the public certainly concurred with the thoughts of the Catholic church. Money from the public flooded in from across the country, to aid in the Basilica's construction. It was finally completed in the year 1914, according to records.

Picture of the Facia of the Sacre Coeur in Paris with views of the two statues that gaurd the entrance.

Controversy over the design

Once completed, the Sacre Coeur's design came under closer scrutiny from all who could not help but see it, as it seems to dominate the Paris skyline. Insults about it were commonplace, like "the basilica of the ridiculous", apparently leveled by Emile Zola. This was par for the course of its early stages of life. Yet, like the Eiffel Tower, it shrugged off initial derision to become one of the capital's most loved icons. And iconic certainly is the word.

Design Characteristics

Its characteristic white, Byzantine domes dominate the city's skyline. The external architecture is unashamedly nationalistic. There are equestrian statues of the French legends, Joan of Arc and King Louis XIV. These are guarding the entrance atop the portico. They were both built in bronze by Lefebvre. Even the Savoyarde, the 19 tonne bell (one of the heaviest in the world), can be understood to have a patriotic message. With its name it references Savoy, which had been annexed to France in 1860.

Picture of the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre Paris from the steps below the front.

Inside the Basilica

The interior of the Sacre Coeur in Paris is decorated with some stunning golden mosaics. Pride of place inside, goes to one of the world's largest, Christ in Majesty. Located in the apse, it depicts Jesus overhead, arms outstretched. The mural of his Passion, located at the back of the altar, is smaller, but also worth seeking out. It's the crypt that contains the basilica's most cherished item. Some devout Christians are said to believe Christ's sacred heart is here. Held in a tomb surrounded by candles. It's from this that the name Sacre Coeur comes. The stained glass windows are another impressive feat, having been completely restored after German bombardment in World War II. While entry to the basilica is free, there's a charge to go up to the dome. However, once you see the view from the top, you will soon see why so many are prepared to pay for the experience.

Why visit the Sacre Coeur?

The edifice's lofty position naturally means there are some wonderful panoramic views to be had from its grand steps and terraces. The steps are often on a nice day full of the public and tourists alike partaking of these views. On a clear day, it is said that you can see for up to 20 miles. The atmosphere is also has something very special special about it. This is particularly so in the evenings, when young couples sit and watch the sunset. Guitar wielding minstrels can be heard some days serenading passers-by with their Christian paeans. Although many come here just to gaze and laze, a look inside the basilica (preferably a lengthy one) should not be passed up.