Sacré-Cœur, Paris

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Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Basilique du Sacré-Cœur
Le sacre coeur.jpg
The Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, as seen from the base of the butte Montmartre
AffiliationRoman Catholic
ProvinceArchdiocese of Paris
Ecclesiastical or organizational statusMinor basilica
Year consecrated1919
LocationParis, France
Geographic coordinates48°53′12″N 2°20′35″E / 48.88665°N 2.34295°E / 48.88665; 2.34295Coordinates: 48°53′12″N 2°20′35″E / 48.88665°N 2.34295°E / 48.88665; 2.34295
Architect(s)Paul Abadie
Length85 metres (279 ft)
Width35 metres (115 ft)
Height (max)83 metres (272 ft)
MaterialsTravertine stone

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica and often simply Sacré-Cœur (French: Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, pronounced [sakʁe kœʁ]), is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica in Paris, France, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. It is a popular landmark, and the second-most visited monument in Paris.[1] Sacré-Cœur Basilica has maintained a perpetual adoration of the Holy Eucharist since 1885. The basilica was designed by Paul Abadie.[2] Construction began in 1875 and was completed in 1914. The basilica was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919.

It is considered as both a political and cultural monument, representing a national penance for the defeat of France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and for the actions of the Paris Commune of 1871. The church was constructed close to the site of the beginning of the Paris Commune where, on March 18, 1871, Communard soldiers killed two French army generals and seized a park full of artillery.[3] [4] There was (and remains) a feeling of resentment on the French left that the massacre of the Communards was commemorated by a temple of a fundamentally conservative religion.[5][6] So great was the dislike of Sacré-Cœur at the fin de siècle that the Montmartre group of artists, including van Gogh, Matisse, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, decamped en masse to Montparnasse.[citation needed]


Gable above the main entrance
Sacré-Cœur, seen from the Arc de Triomphe

The inspiration for Sacré-Cœur's construction originated on 4 September 1870, the day of the proclamation of the Third Republic, with a speech by Bishop Fournier. He considered the defeat of French troops during the Franco-Prussian War as a divine punishment following "a century of moral decline" since the French Revolution.

In the decades following the Revolution, a division in French society arose, between devout Catholics and legitimist royalists on one side, opposed to democrats, secularists, socialists and radicals on the other.[citation needed] In 1870, a French military garrison, which had been protecting the Vatican in Rome, was withdrawn and sent to the front of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 by Napoleon III.[7] This was followed by the defeat of France in that war and the subsequent secular uprising of the Paris Commune of 1871.

Though today the basilica is asserted[when?] to be dedicated in honor of the 58,000 who lost their lives during the war, the decree of the Assemblée nationale 24 July 1873, responding to a request by the archbishop of Paris and voting its construction, specifies that it is to "expiate the crimes of the Commune."[8]

Montmartre was the site of the Commune's first insurrection, and the Communards executed Georges Darboy, Archbishop of Paris, who became a martyr for the resurgent Catholic Church. His successor Guibert, climbing the Butte Montmartre in October 1872, was reported to have had a vision as clouds dispersed over the panorama: "It is here, it is here where the martyrs are,[9] it is here that the Sacred Heart must reign so that it can beckon all to come."[10]

Following the resignation of the government of Adolphe Thiers, 24 May 1873, François Pie, bishop of Poitiers, expressed the national yearning for spiritual renewal— "the hour of the Church has come".[11] This would be expressed through the "Government of Moral Order" of the Third Republic, which linked Catholic institutions with secular ones, in "a project of religious and national renewal, the main features of which were the restoration of monarchy and the defense of Rome within a cultural framework of official piety,"[12] of which Sacré-Cœur was the chief lasting, triumphalist[13] monument. For anarchists in particular, the basilica became a "symbol of counter-revolutionary repression."[14]

The 24 July decree voting its construction as a "matter of public utility"[15] followed close on Thiers' resignation. The project was expressed by the Church as a National Vow (Vœu national) and financial support came from parishes throughout France. The dedicatory inscription records the basilica as the accomplishment of a vow by Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury, ratified by Joseph-Hippolyte Guibert, Archbishop of Paris. The project took many years to complete.


Construction of Sacré-Cœur, 10 March 1882

A law of public utility was passed to seize land at the summit of Montmartre for the construction of the basilica. Architect Paul Abadie designed the basilica after winning a competition over 77 other architects.[2] With delays in assembling the property, the foundation stone was finally laid 16 June 1875. Passionate debates concerning the basilica were raised in the Conseil Municipal in 1880, where the basilica was called "an incessant provocation to civil war" and it was debated whether to rescind the law of 1873 granting property rights, an impracticable proposition. The matter reached the Chamber of Deputies in the summer of 1882, in which the basilica was defended by Archbishop Guibert while Georges Clemenceau argued that it sought to stigmatize the Revolution. The law was rescinded but the basilica was saved by a technicality, and the bill was not reintroduced in the next session. A further attempt to halt the construction was defeated in 1897, by which time the interior was substantially complete and had been open for services for six years.[16]

Plan of the roofs; the darker the background colour, the higher the level of the roof

Abadie died not long after the foundation had been laid, in 1884, and five architects continued with the work: Honoré Daumet (1884–1886), Jean-Charles Laisné (1886–1891), Henri-Pierre-Marie Rauline (1891–1904), Lucien Magne (1904–1916), and Jean-Louis Hulot (1916–1924). The basilica was not completed until 1914, when war intervened; it was formally dedicated in 1919 after World War I, when its national symbolism had shifted.

Construction costs, estimated at 7 million French francs and drawn entirely from private donations, were expended before any above-ground, visible structure was to be seen. A provisional chapel was consecrated 3 March 1876, and pilgrimage donations quickly became the mainstay of funding.[17] Donations were encouraged by the expedient of permitting donors to "purchase" individual columns or other features as small as a brick.[18] It was declared by the National Assembly that the state had the ultimate responsibility for funding.

Muted echoes of the basilica's "tortured history" are still heard, as noted by geographer David Harvey.[19] In February 1971 demonstrators, pursued by the police, took refuge in the basilica and called upon their radical comrades to join them in occupying the church "built upon the bodies of communards in order to efface that red flag that had for too long floated over Paris" as their leaflets expressed it.[citation needed]

Architectural features[edit]

View from the southwest

The overall style of the structure shows a free interpretation of Romano-Byzantine features, an unusual architectural vocabulary at the time, which was a conscious reaction against the neo-Baroque excesses of the Palais Garnier cited in the competition.[20] Many design elements of the basilica symbolize nationalist themes: the portico, with its three arches, is adorned by two equestrian statues of French national saints Joan of Arc (1927) and King Saint Louis IX, both executed in bronze by Hippolyte Lefèbvre; and the nineteen-ton Savoyarde bell (one of the world's heaviest), cast in 1895 in Annecy, alludes to the annexation of Savoy in 1860.

Sacré-Cœur is built of travertine stone quarried in Château-Landon (Seine-et-Marne), France.

Night view

The mosaic in the apse, entitled Christ in Majesty, was created by Luc-Olivier Merson, H. M. Magne and R. Martin. Dedicated in 1923, the artwork measures 475 square meters, and is one of the largest mosaics in the world. It portrays the risen Christ in white robes, arms extended, displaying a golden heart. At the base of the mosaic is a Latin inscription, stating that the Basilica is a gift from France. "To the Sacred Heart of Jesus, France fervent, penitent and grateful.” The word grateful was added after World War I.[21]

The basilica complex includes a garden for meditation, with a fountain. The top of the dome is open to tourists and affords a spectacular panoramic view of the city of Paris, which is mostly to the south of the basilica.

The use of cameras and video recorders is forbidden inside the basilica.

Pipe organ[edit]

Interior of Sacré-Cœur

The basilica contains a large and very fine pipe organ built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Originally constructed for a private home in Bidart, the organ is composed of 109 ranks and 78 speaking stops spread across four 61-note manuals and the 32-note pedalboard (unusual before the start of the 20th century; the standard of the day was 56 and 30), spread across three expressive divisions (also unusual for the time, even in large organs).

The organ was ahead of its time, containing multiple expressive divisions and giving the performer considerable advantages over other even larger instruments of the day. It was almost identical (tonal characteristics, layout, and casework) to the instrument in Sheffield's Albert Hall, which was destroyed by fire in 1937. However, when installed in Paris in 1905 by Cavaillé-Coll's successor and son-in-law, Charles Mutin, a much plainer case substituted for the original ornate case.[22]


The belfry of the basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre houses 5 bells, 4 small bells named from largest to smallest: Félicité, Louise, Nicole and Elisabeth, that were the original bells of the church of Saint-Roch and moved to the basilica in 1969.

Below the 4 bells is a huge bourdon called "The Savoyarde", the biggest bell in France, The real name of the bourdon is actually “Françoise Marguerite of the Sacred Heart of Jesus". It was cast on May 13, 1891 by the Paccard foundry (Dynasty of Georges, Hippolyte-Francisque and Victor or "G & F") in Annecy-le-Vieux.

The Savoyarde itself only rings for major religious holidays, especially on the occasion of Easter, Pentecost, Ascension, Christmas, Assumption and All Saints and can be heard from 10 km away. The presence of a crack would explain that it only rings exceptionally, as for example in 2010 for the celebration of 150 years of the attachment of Savoy to France . Another explanation would be that its swing weakens the campanile of the Sacred Heart in which it is suspended

This bell is the fifth largest in Europe, ranking behind the Petersglocke of Cologne (Germany), the Olympic Bell of London, Maria Dolens of Rovereto (Italy), and the Pummerin of Vienna (Austria). It weighs 18,835 kg, measures 3,03 m of diameter for 9.60 m of outer circumference, with a base thickness of 22 cm and a leaf of 850 kg. With its accessories, its official weight reaches 19,685 kg. It was offered by the four dioceses of Savoy and the arrival of the fardier at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on October 16, 1895, pulled by a team of 28 horses. It was rung only for major religious holidays, such as Easter, Pentecost, Ascension, Christmas, the Assumption and All Saints' Day, and could be heard 10 km away. However, in the late 1990s, a crack has appeared on the bell.

Role in Catholicism[edit]

The interior of the north dome, Sacré-Cœur, Paris

In response to requests from French bishops, Pope Pius IX promulgated the feast of the Sacred Heart in 1856. The basilica itself was consecrated on 16 October 1919.

Since 1885 (before construction had been completed) the Blessed Sacrament (Christ's body, consecrated during the Mass) has been continually on display in a monstrance above the high altar. Perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has continued uninterrupted in the basilica since 1885. Tourists and others are asked to dress appropriately when visiting the basilica and to observe silence as much as possible, so as not to disturb persons who have come from around the world to pray in this place of pilgrimage, especially since the Blessed Sacrament is displayed. Photos are not allowed to be taken in the Basilica.

It is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was an increasingly popular devotion since the visions of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) in Paray-le-Monial.[23]


The basilica is accessible by bus or metro. Sacré-Cœur is open from 06:00 to 22:30 every day. The dome is accessible from 09:00 to 19:00 in the summer and to 18:00 in the winter.[24]

Panorama of Paris from the Sacré-Cœur Basilica

Copy in Martinique[edit]

A much smaller version of the basilica, Sacré-Cœur de la Balata, is located north of Fort-de-France, Martinique, on N3, the main inland road. Built for the refugees driven from their homes by the eruption of Mount Pelée, it was dedicated in 1915.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Paris monuments". Paris Digest. 2018. Retrieved 2018-09-07.
  2. ^ a b The competition was commemorated in Souvenir du Concours de l’Église du Sacré-Cœur (Paris: J. Le Clere) 1874.
  3. ^ Milza, Pierre, "L'année terrible: La Commune (Mars–Juin 1871) Milza, Pierre (2009a). L'année terrible: La Commune (mars–juin 1871). Paris: Perrin. ISBN 978-2-262-03073-5.
  4. ^ An amendment that would have specified that the undertaking "was not solely a protestation of the taking up of arms by the Commune, but a sign of appeasement and concord" was rejected. (David Harvey, "Monument and Myth" Annals of the Association of American Geographers 69 .3 (September 1979, pp. 362–381) p 377).
  5. ^ Insight Guide - "Explore Paris" page 68 - ISBN 978-178-919-147-9
  6. ^ Statements displayed in the Monmartre Museum, Paris
  7. ^ "The Origin of the Construction of the Basilica, A "National Vow"". Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  8. ^ "N° 1262 - Rapport d'information de M. Bernard Accoyer fait au nom de la mission d'information sur les questions mémorielles". (in French). Retrieved 2017-05-20.
  9. ^ General Claude Lecomte and General Clément-Thomas, shot by insurrectionists in the early days of the Commune, in the garden of 6, rue des Rosiers. (Harvey "Monument and Myth" 1979, P 370).
  10. ^ Reported in the history of the construction to 1890, written from a dedicated Catholic perspective, by R. P. Jonquet, Montmartre Autrefois et Aujourd’hui (Paris: Dumoulin) 1890; quoted by Harvey "Monument and Myth" 1979, P364.
  11. ^ Louis Baunard, Histoire du cardinal Pie 1886, vol. II:498, quoted in Raymond A. Jonas, "Monument as Ex-Voto, Monument as Historiosophy: The Basilica of Sacre-Coeur" French Historical Studies 18.2 (Autumn 1993, pp. 482–502) p. 483.
  12. ^ Jonas 1993:485
  13. ^ "The reaction to the communes of Paris and Lyon were triumphalist monuments, the Sacré-Cœur of Montmartre and the basilica of Fourvière, dominating both cities. These buildings were erected using private funds, as gigantic ex-votos, thanking God for the victory over the socialists and in expiation of the sins of modern France." (Bertrand Taithe, Citizenship and Wars: France in Turmoil, 1870–1871, chapter "Religious Identities and Citizenship" 2001:100).
  14. ^ Merriman, John (2019), Levy, Carl; Adams, Matthew S. (eds.), "The Spectre of the Commune and French Anarchism in the 1890s", The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism, Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 343–352, at p. 349, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-75620-2_20, ISBN 978-3-319-75619-6, S2CID 165457738, retrieved 2022-01-11
  15. ^ According to its minutes; 23 July according to the dedicatory inscription in the Basilica.
  16. ^ Harvey "Monument and Myth" 1979, pp 380–81 .
  17. ^ In 1877, its first full year of operation, visiting pilgrims dropped over 240,000 francs into the collection boxes; the figure doubled the following year. (Jonas 1993:495).
  18. ^ This fund-raising technique, originated at Sacré-Cœur, became standard practice for funding cultural institutions' building projects in Europe and the Americas after World War I.
  19. ^ Harvey "Monument and Myth" 1979, P381 .
  20. ^ Legentil had wanted to demolish the half-built opera house and build triumphantly on the site of that "scandalous monument of extravagance, indecency and bad taste" (Harvey "Monument and Myth" 1979, P376 ).
  21. ^ "The Apse Mosaic".
  22. ^ "Basilique Sacré-Coeur". Université du Québec. Archived from the original on 2 February 2009.
  23. ^ Raymond Anthony Jonas, France and the cult of the Sacred Heart: an epic tale for modern times, (University of California) 2000, ch. "Building the Church of the National Vow".
  24. ^ "Opening Hours for the Visit". Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  25. ^ Steve, Bennett. "Sacré-Coeur de la Balata, Martinique: Uncommon Attraction". Uncommon Caribbean. Martinique.

Further reading[edit]

  • Jacques Benoist, Le Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre de 1870 a nos Jours (Paris) 1992. A cultural history from the point of view of a former chaplain.
  • Yvan Crist, "Sacré-Coeur" in Larousse Dictionnaire de Paris (Paris) 1964.
  • David Harvey. Consciousness and the Urban Experience: Studies in the History and Theory of Capitalist Urbanization. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press) 1985.
  • Milza, Pierre (2009a). L'année terrible: La Commune (mars–juin 1871). Paris: Perrin. ISBN 978-2-262-03073-5.
  • David Harvey."The building of the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur", coda to Paris, Capital of Modernity (2003:311ff) Harvey made use of Hubert Rohault de Fleury. Historique de la Basilique du Sacré Coeur (1903–09), the official history of the building of the Basilica, in four volumes, printed, but not published.
  • Raymond A. Jonas. “Sacred Tourism and Secular Pilgrimage: and the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur”. in Montmartre and the Making of Mass Culture. Gabriel P. Weisberg, editor. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press) 2001.

External links[edit]