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The Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris

With more than 10 million visitors each year, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica is the third monument most visited in France after the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral.


The Sacré-Coeur Basilica (in French : Basilique du Sacré-coeur), which means “Basilica of the Sacred Heart”, is a Roman Catholic basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is located at the summit of the famous “butte Montmartre” (the Montmartre’s hillock), the highest point in the city.


The purpose of building a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart, with its origins in the aftermath of the French Revolution among ultra-Catholics and legitimist royalists, developed more widely in France after the Franco-Prussian War and the ensuing uprising of the Paris Commune of 1870-71. Even though it is asserted today that the basilica is dedicated in honor of the 58,000 who lost their lives during the Franco-Prussian war, the decree of the National Assembly, 24th July 1873, responding to a request by the archbishop of Paris to vote its construction, specifies that it is to “expiate the crimes of the communards”. Montmartre had been the site of the Commune’s first insurrection, and many hard-core communards were forever entombed in the subterranean galleries of former gypsum mines where they had retreated, by explosives detonated at the entrances by the Army of Versailles. Hostages had been executed on both sides, and the Communards had 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, it is here that the Sacred Heart must reign so that it can beckon all to come”.


In the moment of inertia 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”—that 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”, of which Sacré-Coeur is the chief lasting triumphalistmonument.

The decree voting its construction as a “matter of public utility”, on 24th July, followed close on Thiers’ resignation. The project was expressed by the Church as a National Vow (voeu 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.



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. With delays in assembling the property, the foundation stone was finally laid on 16th June 1875. Passionate debates about 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 stigmatise 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.


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 started; the basilica was formally dedicated in 1919, after World War I, when its national symbolism had shifted.

Construction costs, estimated at 7 million French francs and coming from private donations, were expended before any above-ground visible structure was to be seen. A provisional chapel was consecrated on the 3rd March 1876, and pilgrimage donations quickly became the mainstay of funds. Donations were encouraged by the expedient of permitting donors to “purchase” individual columns or other features as small as a brick. It was declared by the National Assembly that the state had the ultimate responsibility for financing the project. Construction began in 1875 and was completed in 1914, although consecration of the basilica was delayed until after World War I.

The Sacré-Coeur Basilica is made of travertine stones coming from a quarry in Château-Landon (Seine-et-Marne), France. This type of stone constantly exudes calcite, which ensures that the basilica remains white even with weathering and pollution.

A mosaic in the apse, entitled Christ in Majesty, is among the largest in the world.

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.

Role in Catholicism

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 the 16th October 1919.

Since 1885 (before the construction had been completed), the Blessed Sacrament (a consecrated host which has been turned into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ during 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. Because of this, tourists and others are asked to dress appropriately when visiting the basilica and to observe silence as much as possible, in order not to disturb people who have come from all around the world to pray in this special place.

In popular culture

The area around the basilica has been used to shoot many films, notably the 2001 film Amélie (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain).

The music video for “Two Hearts Beat As One”, by Irish rock band U2, was shot in the Basilica and around Montmartre.

Australian pop duo Savage Garden’s music video for “Truly Madly Deeply” was shot there in 1997.


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