The basilica of Sacre Coeur or Sacred Heart, occupies the hill of Montmartre, the highest point in the city of Paris. Construction was started in 1874 by Paul Abadie and completed in 1910 by Lucien Magne. Its massive walls and Byzantine-inspired domes constitute an outstanding example of late 19th century historicism. Abadie chose for his model the 12th century Romanesque church of Saint Front, Perigueux, which he had earlier restored. Although the artistic merit of Sacre Coeur has long been a subject of debate, the white exterior has become a striking feature on the skyline of Paris.
Sacre Coeur was constructed using travertine stone quarried in Chateau Landon, Seine-et-Marne, France. Calcite is continually exuded from the stone, and it is this which ensures that the basilica remains white despite the effects of weathering and pollution.
The main dome, after the Eiffel Tower, is the second highest point in Paris. The church bell weighs 19 tons and as such is one of the heaviest in the world. As you approach the main entrance you can see above you a statue of Christ, on either side there are statues both executed in bronze by Lefebvre of horses being ridden by Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc), a French peasant woman who led a rebellion against the English, and King Louis the Blessed who was the first in a long line of French kings to be named Louis.
The original idea of constructing a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart developed in France after the Franco-Prussian War (1870). Architect Paul Abadie designed the basilica after winning a competition over 77 other architects. Not long after the foundation stone had been laid in 1884, Abadie died and other architects continued with the work. The overall style of the building displays a heavy Romano-Byzantine influence. Many design elements of the basilica are said to be based on nationalistic themes.
Golden mosaics glow in the dim, echoing interior of the Sacre Coeur. A climb to the top of the dome gives a great view of Paris, and the walk around the inside of the dome is worth the climb in itself. Since 1885, the Blessed Sacrament 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. The crypt contains a relic that some believe to be Christ's Sacred Heart, which gives the basilica its name. The mosaic of Christ in Majesty in the apse is one of the world's largest and there is a striking mural of Christ's Passion at the back of the altar.
Construction costs, amounting to some 40 million French francs, were originally funded by a national subscription, but the state ultimately assumed responsibility for funding. Construction began in 1875 and was completed in 1914, although consecration of the basilica was delayed until after the First World War.
There is no charge to enter the church, but there is a box for donations. Once you are inside please do not take photographs and keep as quiet as possible so as not to disturb those who wish to pray. There is an entrance through a separate door on the side for access to the crypt, an underground place of worship, or the dome, which has about 300 steps to the top. For both of these there is a small entrance fee, and they close earlier than the church itself.