Historic Churches & Cathedrals of Paris – Places for Classical Music

Spires and towers pierce the sky of Paris in every quartier. You may know that they're attached to the famous and historical churches and cathedrals that are scattered throughout the city. But you may not know that, besides their spiritual significance, the historic churches of Paris are one of the most-loved venues for classical music.

The oldest church is found in the quartier of St Germain des Prés, or St Germain of the Meadows, so named because, at the time it was built the church was set beyond the walls of the city. A church of that name has been on the same site since the mid-6th century. During the French Revolution (remember that?) the churches were secularized and used for meeting places or even warehouses. Napoleon (remember him?) re-established the churches and cathedrals to religious use, with a few exceptions such as The Panthéon, which has remained a secular shrine to great men (and a couple of women) of France.

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Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Paris

One of the great churches of the world, the Notre Dame Cathedral 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. The cathedral wars and revolutions but almost succumbed to a fire in 2019. Luckily, much of it was spared and restoration is now underway.

La Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle

La Sainte-Chapelle, or The Holy Chapel, on Île de la Cité was built in the courtyard of the Royal Palace by Louis IX. Unusual for Paris churches, it was completed in a relatively short period; construction started in 1240 and finished in 1248. Inside, the church appears weightless and airy, and is one of the most amazing examples of Gothic architecture to be found. The stained glass walls are among the most magnificent anywhere in the world.

La Sainte-Chapelle is also visitors' favorite venue for classical music in Paris. Learn more about this stunning church and how to reserve seats for a concert.

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Église de la Madeleine

Eglise de la Madeleine

L'Église de la Madeleine owes its existence to some of France's last kings and also its first emperor. In the end it was Napoleon who decreed that a memorial to his Grand Army would be built on the place at the top of Rue Royale, modeled on Greek temples of antiquity.

The history of La Madeleine was by no means straightforward after that. It took years and a few political upheavals to complete. Today, as well as a church, it's a favored venue for classical music.

Sacre-Coeur – White Domes on the Hill

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. 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).

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, where for centuries butchers, fishmongers, shops, restaurants, and ordinary Parisians bought their food. In fact, the church is still sometimes referred to as Saint-Eustache Les Halles.

The market is long gone, replaced now by a sort of meeting center, but the church remains, as majestic as ever. 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 original magnificence. Rarely, but occasionally, classical music is performed here.

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Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Saint-Germain-des-Pres

In the heart of the lively Parisian district of the same name is the historic church, Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It's one of the oldest churches in Paris, with roots going back to the 6th century. It was once part of an extensive Benedictine monastery whose landholdings now form much of the 5th and 6th Arrondissements. Let's take a look at Saint-Germain-des-Prés, from the beginning up to the 21st century.

Église Saint-Sulpice

Église Saint-Sulpice Paris

In the heart of the busy 6th Arrondissement quartier of Saint-Germain is this unexpected oasis of calm. Église Saint-Sulpice is huge, with an architectural history that stretch over three centuries. Here you'll find Delacroix's only major mural, Jacob Wrestling the Angel, an 18th century gnomon (sort of a sundial), and a lovely place with one of the most pleasing fountains in the city.

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Église Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs

Église Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs

Just steps away from Musée des Arts & Metiers in the busy 3rd Arrondissement, yet little-known and under-visited by both Parisians and visitors, Église Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs is nonetheless a fascinating example of the Flamboyant Gothic architectural style of the fifteenth century. Find out what you've been missing!

Other Historic Churches of Paris

Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre

There are other fascinating historic churches in Paris — many of them from the Gothic era of architecture, and some of those also host classical music concerts on a regular basis. Let's explore Saint Ephrem, Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, and Église Saint-Sulpice with its two mismatched towers and its magnificent fountain.

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