Sacre Coeur Paris is a magnificent Catholic basilica and one of the most popular Paris tourist attractions, dedicated to the sacred heart of Jesus.
Sacre Coeur, officially “Basilique du Sacré-Cœur”, is a design by Paul Abadie. The Romano-Byzantine style building was completed in 1914.
The church, at 35 meters (38 yards) in length, 85 meters (92 yards) in width, and (for its central dome) 83 meters (90 yards) in height, is situated on the highest naturally occurring point in Paris, at the top of the Montmartre hill.
PHOTO: Sacré-Cœur basilica, as seen from the steep stairs going up to the church. You can make the climb in three stages, as there are three platforms going up, each with benches to enjoy the views and for taking a breather.
PHOTO: As an alternative to walking up, there is the (pictured) Montmartre funicular. The funicular, in operation since 1900, takes you up to the church in about 90 seconds.
PHOTO: Closeup of Sacre Coeur Paris, built out of travertine stone from Château-Landon, France. This stone, also used to build the Getty Center, oozes calcite, ensuring that the basilica remains in its original color, despite weather and pollution.
PHOTO: As the church is located at the highest naturally occurring point in Paris, the place has wonderful panoramic views over the city. The pictured view is towards Montparnasse, where you’ll be able to spot Tour Montparnasse (in the distance)…at one time the tallest skyscraper in France.
PHOTO: Sacre-Coeur is partly dedicated to the 138,871 soldiers who died at the Franco-Prussian War, and thus contains many nationally important themes. One of these themes are the equestrian sculptures of national saints, including the pictured sculpture of King Louis IX by Hippolyte Lefebvre…located above (and to the left of) the main entrance.
PHOTO: Above (and to the right of) the main entrance, there is also the pictured equestrian statue by Hippolyte Lefebvre, portraying another central French national saint, Joan of Arc.
PHOTO: Central to the church, at the “heart” of the facade, you’ll find the pictured Jesus sculpture, blessing church visitors. Text above the statue reads: “Cor Jesu Sanctissimum” or “The Sacred Heart of Jesus”. The “sacred heart” is a concept in Catholic and Lutheran faiths, of the physical heart of Jesus as a representation of godly love for humankind.
Before its use as a place for a church, Montmartre hill had been a sacred place for Gallic pagan religions, and later, a Gallo-Roman temple for Mercurius was constructed on the location.
These earlier structures were replaced by Saint-Pierre church (in the 12th century), which was one of the oldest monastery churches in Paris (and commissioned to be built by King Louis VI).
The current church, which replaced the earlier structures, was made possible by donations from over 10 million believers (donating over 46 million French francs).
Sacre Coeur Paris is dedicated to three themes:
- the sacred heart of Jesus,
- those who died at the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), and to
- those who died during the Paris Commune (1871), including then-Archbishop of Paris, Georges Darboy.
Darboy’s successor, Joseph-Hippolyte Guibert, had a vision on top of the Montmartre hill in October 1872, as the clouds disappeared and revealed a magnificent view of Paris down below.
Guibert put his vision to words as:
“It is here, it is here where the martyrs are, it is here where the sacred heart shall rule, and beckon all to come to it.”
The architecture competition for building the church received 78 entrants, of which architect Paul Abadie’s plan for a basilica won…with the construction work getting underway in 1875.
At the time, the building’s Romano-Byzantine style was seen as a “counterweight” to the rich and extravagant Baroque Revival details used at the Opéra Garnier.
Due to being dedicated to the 1870-71 war, you’ll find many nationalistic themes within the church, including Hippolyte Lefebvre’s equestrian statues of national saints, King Louis IX and Joan of Arc, on both sides above the main entrance.
Even the church bell has nationalistic symbolism.
The 19 ton (and 3 meters (9.8 ft) in dimension) “Savoyarde” church bell, the world’s heaviest, manufactured in 1895 at Annecy, is allegorical to inclusion of Savoy to France in 1860.
On top of the impressive exteriors, the building also has richly decorated interiors…
….including Luc-Olivier Merson’s mosaic in the church apse from 1922, titled “Christ in Majesty“, which is one of the largest mosaics of its kind in the world, at 473,78 m2 (5,100 square feet).
The basilica’s dome is open to visitors, and due to the Sacre-Coeur’s hilltop location, you’ll be able to enjoy great views over Paris, especially towards south.
As you visit the church, take a look at the church organ by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
The church organ was originally built for Baron Albert de L’Espée’s private villa in Biarritz, with inspiration taken for the construction from Sheffield’s (now-demolished) Albert Hall organ (destroyed at the fire of 1937).
In building Sacre Coeur church, many famous churches provided inspiration, including Saint-Front cathedral in Périgueux.
In turn, Sacre Coeur Paris inspired the building of many other churches, including Saint Thérèse de Lisieux basilica in Lourdes, completed in 1951.
Over 10 million visitors come to see the Sacre Coeur basilica annually, making it the 2nd most popular religious tourist attraction in France…after the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral.
Sacre Coeur Paris
Address: 35, Rue du Chevalier-de-la-barre, 75018 Paris, France
Official website: Sacre-Coeur-Montmartre.com
Alternatively, you can use the Montmartre funicular or RATP Montmartrobus bus for the trip.