Decapitated and Guillotined Heads from Notre-Dame
The west facade of Notre-Dame de Paris is adorned with statues of twenty-eight Kings of Judah. Unfortunately, the heads of the original figures were decapitated during the French Revolution. In 1977, 21 of those 28 original heads were unearthed and are now on display along with other fragments from the cathedral’s portals.
In 1793, the same month that Marie Antoinette was beheaded, a Paris mob collected in front of Notre Dame Cathedral and cried for the heads of more kings. The sculptured figures, dating back to 1230, above the portals of the Cathedral, represented the kings of Judea. Unfortunately, the mob, thinking they were French kings, tied rope around the statues, pulled them down and guillotined them in the square in front of the Cathedral. The figures were replaced in the early 19th century, but the original sculptures disappeared.
Two hundred years after the king’s heads had disappeared, workers were working at a building site discovered twenty-one of the heads. They also found three hundred other statuary fragments buried within a wall of plaster in underground foundations.
For over 500 years, these faces had witnessed Paris history from their perch on Notre Dame Cathedral. Then they disappeared for 200 years. Today we can once again see the original “Heads of the Kings of Judah” and reflect on the lesson of history and hysteria.
Notre-Dame de Paris
Notre-Dame de Paris, which means “Our Lady of Paris,” also known as Notre-Dame, is a medieval Catholic cathedral on the Île de la Cité in Paris, France. The cathedral is considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. The innovative use of the rib vault and flying buttress, the enormous and colorful rose windows, set it apart from the earlier Romanesque style.
On 15 April 2019, the cathedral caught fire and suffered significant damage, including the collapse of the roof and the central spire and substantial damage to the rose windows. Plans are underway to rebuild.
Relics stored in the cathedral include the supposed crown of thorns that Jesus wore before his crucifixion. Also, a piece of the cross on which he was crucified, a 13th-century organ and stained glass windows.
Surviving the French Revolution
In 1793, during the French Revolution, the cathedral was rededicated to the Cult of Reason. Later is was again rededicated to the Cult of the Supreme Being. During this time, many of the treasures of the cathedral were either destroyed or plundered. The twenty-eight statues of biblical kings, mistaken for statues of French kings, were beheaded. All of the other giant sculptures on the facade, except for the figure of the Virgin Mary on the portal of the cloister, were destroyed.
For a time, the Goddess of Liberty replaced the Virgin Mary on several altars, and the cathedral came to be used as a warehouse for the storage of food and other civil purposes. In 1801, the new ruler, Napoleon Bonaparte, signed an agreement to restore the cathedral to the Church. It was the setting of Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor on 2 December 1804, and of his marriage to Marie-Louise of Austria in 1810.
Notre-Dame de Paris
- Historic Site: Notre-Dame de Paris
- Alternatives: Our Lady of Paris or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris
- Location: Parvis Notre-Dame – place Jean-Paul-II, Paris, France
- Denomination: Roman Catholic
- Architecture Style: French Gothic
- Groundbreaking: 1163
- Completed: 1345 (182 years later)
- Dimensions: Length 128 metres (420 ft); Width 48 metres (157 ft); Tower height 69 metres (226 ft)
- Number of towers: 2
- Number of spires: 1 (destroyed by fire, 15th April 2019)
- Bells: 10
The Heads of the Kings of Judah
- Title: The Heads of the Kings of Judah
- Date: 1230
- Destroyed: 1793
- Rediscovered: 1977
- Material: Limestone
- Museum: Musée National du Moyen Age
Explore Notre Dame Inspired Art
- “The Quai Saint-Michel and Notre-Dame” by Maximilien Luce
- “The Seine and Notre-Dame in Paris” by Johan Jongkind
- “Notre Dame Seen from the Quai de la Tournelle” by Jean-François Raffaëlli
- “Fragment of the interior of Notre Dame in Paris” by Konrad Krzyżanowski
- The Heads of the Kings of Judah from Notre-Dame de Paris
Explore Musée National du Moyen Age
Facts about Notre Dame Cathedral
- Notre Dame is 128 meters long, 48 meters wide, 35 meters high.
- The rose windows have a diameter of 10 meters.
- The cathedrals pillars have a diameter of 5 meters.
- Notre Dame de Paris was built between 1163 and 1345.
- The cathedral was one of the earliest structures built with exterior flying buttresses.
- Notre Dame’s twin towers have 387 steps to climb.
- The largest bell in Notre Dame is the Emmanuel Bell and was created in 1681.
- The Emmanuel Bell is rung to mark the hours each day and on special occasions.
- The Notre-Dame organ has almost 8000 pipes, some dating back to the 18th century, which is played with five keyboards.
- The stained glass windows in Notre Dame are original to its construction in the 1200s.
- In 1793, during the French Revolution, 28 statues of biblical kings in the cathedral were pulled down with ropes and decapitated by a mob.
- Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831, was popular and significantly increased interest in the building.
- The Île-de-la-Cité on which Notre-Dame de Paris now stands was once a Gallo-Roman city known as Lutetia.
- The cathedral may have been built over remnants of an ancient temple.
- In 1710, pieces of a sculpted altar dedicated to Jupiter and other deities were discovered during excavations.
- The cathedral has one of the oldest surviving wood-timber frames in Paris, consisting of around 52 acres of trees that were cut down in the 12th century.
- Each beam in the cathedral wood-timber frame is made from an individual tree.
- During the French Revolution, the cathedral was transformed in the late 18th century and rededicated to the Revolution’s new Cult of Reason.
- During the French Revolution, all 20 of its bells, except for the colossal Emmanuel, were removed and melted down to make cannons.
- Notre-Dame’s gargoyles or chimaera, the carved monsters that don’t act as waterspouts, were added between 1843 and 1864 during a radical restoration.
- Outside the Notre-Dame is a circular marker with a bronze star embedded in the cobblestones. It is point zero, from which the distances are measured from Paris to other cities in France.
A Tour of the Musée National du Moyen Age
A Tour of the Museums and Historic Sites in Paris
- The Louvre
- Musée National du Moyen Age – Thermes De Cluny (National Museum of Medieval Art)
- Musée d’Orsay
- Musée Rodin
- Musée Carnavalet
- National Archaeological Museum, France
- Les Invalides
- Musée Marmottan Monet
“To taste the sweet, you must taste the bitter.”
– French Proverb
Photo Credit: 1) By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France (Têtes de rois (Musée de Cluny)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons 3)Moonik [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]