Churches & Cathedrals –
Spiritual and Musical

The city is filled with historic churches, here are the top picks. The spires and towers of Paris churches and cathedrals rise above every part of the city. The most familiar of them also have great historic significance.

The oldest church is found in the neighbourhood of St Germain des Prés, or St Germain of the Fields, so named because, at the time, the church was well beyond the walls of the city. The church of that name has been on the same site since the mid-6th century.

In the following centuries many other churches and cathedrals were built. During the French Revolution (remember that?) the churches were secularized and used for meeting places or even warehouses.

Napoleon (remember him?) re-established the Catholic Church in France and most of the city's churches and cathedrals were returned to religious use and restored, with a few exceptions such as the Pantheon, which has remained a secular shrine to great men (and a couple of women) of France.

Paris Insiders Tip

A great Insiders way to visit Paris churches and cathedrals is to attend a concert at one of them! And it's easy to buy tickets online.

Notre Dame Paris

Notre Dame Paris

One of the most famous churches in the world, Notre Dame Paris dates back to 1160 when Bishop de Sully began construction on the "Parisian church of the kings of Europe".

Two hundred years and a half-dozen architects later, the cathedral as we know it today was completed. The flying buttresses and gargoyles are familiar to millions of visitors. Learn all about this magnificent cathedral, the best times to visit, how to beat the line-ups and how to attend a concert.

La Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle

La Sainte-Chapelle, or The Holy Chapel, is on Ile de la Cité and was built in the courtyard of the Royal Palace by Louis IX.

Unlike many other Paris churches, it was completed in a relatively short period. Building started in 1240 and finished in 1248.

But, like other city churches, it sustained considerable damage during the French Revolution. The steeple was torn down and Louis IX's religious relics were removed. The church as we see it today is a faithful restoration completed in 1855.

Inside, the church appears weightless and airy, and is one of the most amazing examples of Gothic architecture. The stained glass walls are among the most magnificent anywhere in the world.

La Sainte-Chapelle is our readers' favourite venue for classical music in Paris.

Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Saint-Germain-des-Prés

The church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was once the richest in France.

The roots of the place go back to Clovis I, the first king of all the Franks, whose son Childebert built an abbey in what were then fields outside the gates of the medieval city, in about the year 550.

This was in the days when French rulers had all the great names. None of that Nicolas or Jacques or François, but kingly monikers like Chlothar the Old, Chlodio the Longhair, and Clovis the Lazy. The abbey is long gone, replaced by the current church, parts of which date from the 12th century.

It remains a prominent landmark today as it towers above the 6th Arrondissement. You can find the tomb of Descartes in the church. Located at Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 75006

Église Saint-Sulpice

Saint-Sulpice

This 17th-century church, very near Jardin du Luxembourg, is located on a place with a beautiful fountain.

Like other Paris churches, construction took place over a long period – 140 years – using a number of different architects.

Saint-Sulpice has a number of points of fame. It contains the largest fresco painted by Delacroix – Jacob Wrestling with the Angel. The church also has a fascinating giant sundial, or gnomon, built right into the structure and casting its light on the tiled floor.

The church's massive pipe organ was originally built by noted organ builder François-Henri Clicquot in 1758 and rebuilt 100 years later using the original materials. Located on Place Saint-Sulpice, 75006

Église de la Madeleine

The Madeleine

L'Église de la Madeleine owes its existence to some of France's last kings and alsoits first emperor.

When Place Louis XV (known today as Place de la Concorde) was built in 1755, a suitable monument was needed at the north end of Rue Royale. The king commissioned a church but, after a few false starts and after going through a few architects, in 1789 the French Revolution stopped any plans for a church.

Use of the site was debated and a library and a market were suggested. But in 1806 Napoleon, by then emperor, decreed that a memorial to the Grand Army would be built on the site, modeled on Greek temples of antiquity. Work was not completed while Napoleon reigned and it was Louis XVIII who declared that the building would be completed and become a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene.

In the tradition of the grand churches of Paris, it took nearly a century from initial planning to completion in 1842. Located at Place de la Madeleine, 75008

Saint-Eustache

Saint-Eustache

L'Église Saint-Eustache is another church that took a century to build.

Completed in 1632 this Gothic masterpiece was located in the midst of the famous Paris food market, Les Halles. In fact, it's sometimes referred to as Saint-Eustache Les Halles.

The south facade is a mind-boggling example of Gothic design and engineering. The interior arches seem to touch the sky. During the French Revolution Saint-Eustache found use as a barn and storage shed. Today it's restored to its magnificence and next to it you'll find Parc Les Halles, which has been undergoing a massive rebuilding since early 2012.

Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre

Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre

Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre shares a similar history with other Paris churches, in that construction started, stopped, and then, over the centuries, modifications were made.

It was begun in about 1167 but construction halted about 70 years later. It wasn't until the mid 17th century that more work was undertaken. Some parts were demolished, a new facade was built.

The building was almost razed during the Revolutionary Period, but underwent considerable renovation in the mid-1800s. So, the church is a mix of styles and periods, including the use of materials taken from other churches. On Rue Galande, 75005

Église des Billettes

Eglise des Billettes

First built in 1294, Église des Billettes is among the oldest Paris churches.

In 1299, Philip IV, King of France, turned the church over to the Brothers of Notre Dame Charity Hospital and the church became a place of pilgrimage.

With money from the donations of pilgrims, the Brothers rebuilt the church in 1405 and added a monastery twenty years later. Today, only the monastery remains. The current church was built in the mid-18th century, just in time, it seems, for the French Revolution!

Though the church was sold to private individuals by the Revolutionaires, it was acquired by the City of Paris in 1808, under orders of Napoleon. At that time it was given to the Lutheran Church, who still owns the building today. Most of the interior is the result of mid-19th century renovations. Found at 24 Rue des Archives, 75004.

Église Saint Ephrem

Eglise Saint Ephrem

Église Saint-Ephrem-le-Syriaque is the third church built on this site.

The first was built around 1335, by the Bishop of Arras, for Italian students at the nearby College of the Lombards. The college changed hands in 1677 and Irish priests built a second church on the site.

The present church was built in 1733, but ceased religious activities in 1825. It was finally purchased by the City of Paris one hundred years later and granted to the Syrian Catholic Church.

Today it is the site of many classical music concerts, and it's easy to buy tickets online. 17 Rue des Carmes, 75005.

Sacre-Coeur

The newest church on this list, Basilique du Sacré-Cœur was completed in 1914 and has become one of the best known Paris churches due to its prominent location and brilliant white color.

It was built in the period when France was still suffering the psychological after-effects of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, and the Paris Commune that followed. Basilique du Sacré-Cœur was built to "atone for the crimes of the Commune" and was dedicated to the 58,000 French citizens who lost their lives during that period.

The church maintains its white color because it is built of travertine stone that constantly exudes calcite, a whitening agent.

There's no better view of Paris than from atop the steps of Sacre-Coeur. In fact, because it's built on the hill of Montmartre, it's the highest point in Paris (higher than the Eiffel Tower). If you want to avoid the climb, catch the funicular lift near Rue Tardieu.

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