You might think, when you visit Montmartre and gaze at the beautiful church of Sacré-Coeur, perched on a hill in the highest part of Paris, that is has been there for centuries. There is something timeless about the iconic luminous domes, pure white walls and elegant lines. But this is a relatively modern church. The first stone was laid in 1875 and it was consecrated in 1918…
Fascinating facts about Sacré-Coeur
The site is old though the church is new
The hill of Montmartre has been a place of worship since long before anyone dreamed of the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur. Millennia ago, the Gallic druids claimed the top of Montmartre to practice their rituals. When the Romans arrived, they chose this spot to build temples honouring their gods Mercury and Mars. It’s not hard to understand why – it’s the highest natural spot in Paris.
If you pop to the church of Saint-Pierre de Montmartre, close to the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur you’ll spot four Roman columns. Far less well-known than its more modern neighbour, this church is in fact one of the oldest in Paris, 800 years older than Sacré-Coeur and often missed by visitors. Pop in to admire its medieval nave, Roman temple remnants and to stand where St Thomas A Becket once prayed. It’s also claimed that Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits took his final vows here in the 16th century.
Sacré-Coeur is one of the most popular sites in Paris
Notre-Dame is officially the most visited church in Paris, Sacré-Coeur is in second place. People visit to admire the beautiful architecture, the glorious interior and for the stunning views. From the steps in front you can gaze over Paris and on sunny evenings at sunset, it is quite spectacular. If you want to get a top deck view, to the left of the Basilica are steps to the top of the dome (you’ll need to buy a ticket) for 360˚ views over the city.
Built to inspire
The Prussian Army defeated the French army in 1870, and the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur was conceived as a symbol of penitence, trust, hope and faith. A public competition was held and architect Paul Abadie was appointed to create the Roman-Byzantine style church with the first stone being laid in 1875. The beautiful white stone used in the construction came from Souppes-sur-Loing quarry in Seine et Marne. It’s essentially a “self-cleaning” stone. The Arc de Triomphe and Pont Alexandre III are built from the same material.
Work went on for years, with the inauguration taking place in 1891. A giant bell was funded by the people of Savoie, at 19 tons, it’s still one of the heaviest in the world and was dragged up the hill by 21 sturdy horses in 1895. The church was finally consecrated in 1919. The name reflects that the church is dedicated to the “sacred heart of Jesus”. It was listed as a historical monument in 2020.
The basilica is a “Sanctuary of Eucharistic Adoration and Divine Mercy”. Pilgrims come from all over the world to pray here in “silent adoration”. Each evening after the doors close at 10.30, the prayer relay continues. Those that wish to join the prayers can register to take part. Accommodation is offered (a contribution is welcomed) and you’ll receive a pass to participate in the nighttime adoration which includes mass, song and the chance to pray for an hour or more to ensure continuous relay of prayer through the night. You’ll find details on the Sacré-Coeur website: www.Sacré-Coeur-montmartre.com/english/night-adoration
There are several masses throughout the day and whether you’re a believer or not, there is something majestic and moving as the sound of song and prayer fills the vast interior.
On the ceiling above the alter is one of the largest mosaics in the world at 475m₂. Created in 1922 by Luc-Olivier Merson it depicts the risen Christ, clothed in white and revealing a golden heart. Surrounding him, a world of adorers is represented, including the Saints who protect France: St Joan of Arc, the Virgin Mary and Saint Michael.
The huge pipe organ of Sacré-Coeur is a national monument, built in 1898 and installed in the church in 1919.
The crypt is worth visiting and contains statues, religious artefacts and tombs.
The Guest house of the Basilica Sacré-Coeur
Of the 10 million or so people who visit this legendary church each year, just a handful are aware of the Maison d’accueil d’Ephrem, the guesthouse of the Basilica of Sacré Coeur. There are 180 beds – dormitory as well as bedrooms in a grand building next door. Rooms are available to those who wish to pray, visit as part of a pilgrimage or join in the eucharistic adoration, day and night. The guest house is run by Benedictine Sisters and it’s a unique experience for the faithful. Details: www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/english/guesthouse-and-pilgrimages/
There are several metro stations close by but not at the top of the hill. The nearest metro station is Anvers, Line 2.
If you’re a fan of metro stations then alight at Abbesses Station (line 12). If you’re very fit climb the winding staircase to the top (it’s the deepest metro station in Paris) and admire the art on the walls. Beware, it really isn’t for the faint-hearted.
You can climb the main staircase of Montmartre to reach the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur. Or, take the funicular railway using a metro ticket – it’s fun to do as well! There’s also a staircase to the side of the funicular and you can stop for a drink at a bar en route.
There’s also the Montmartrobus which traverses Montmartre. It doesn’t stop at Sacré-Coeur but at Place du Tertre very close by.