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The Madeline Connection

This illustration of Notre Dame comes from the first book, Madeline, where we see Miss Clavel and the 12 little girls walking past the cathedral in the rain, each with a black umbrella – "They left the house at half-past nine, in rain or shine". The square in front of the cathedral that you see them walking through is called the Place du Parvis, which means "Place of Paradise".

Another illustration of Notre Dame is in the book Madeline and the Gypsies. In this drawing the cathedral stands in the background of a scene of confusion at a taxi stand as everyone tries to get out of a violent storm that has suddenly hit the Gypsy Carnival that they’ve gone to. The line of text is "The big wheel stops; the passengers land. How fortunate there is a taxi stand!"

Historical Stuff For Grown-ups to Know

The Ile-de-la-Cité is not the only island in the Paris region of the Seine River, but it is easily the largest. It is situated in the middle of the Seine, at the point of the easiest crossing to the riverbanks on either side. It was the perfect refuge for the Parisii, a small group of Celts who settled on the site in the 3rd century B.C. and built a village with wooden bridges to link to the riverbanks.

Later, the Romans invaded and built a settlement which grew into a center of shipbuilding and trading. At this time the town was called "Lutetia" and by 200 A.D. it had spread from the island to both banks of the river. Lutetia was re-named Paris in about 212 A.D., and was later invades by Germanic tribes ("Franks") which eventually gave the area the name of France.

During the years after 200 A.D. a Christian bishop named Denis worked to convert the people of Lutetia to Christianity. He was eventually beheaded by Roman authorities, who felt threatened by his activities. Legend has it that after he was killed, his still-living body picked up his own head, washed it in a stream and walked five miles before dying. He was sainted in the Middle Ages and an abbey was built on the site of his grave.

Things Kids Might Like to Know

Outside of Notre Dame, in the pavement of the Place du Parvis, is Point Zéro. This is a compass point, made of brass, which is used as the center point for measuring distances throughout the entire country of France!

In the nineteenth-century a Frenchman named Victor Hugo wrote a very famous novel called The Hunchback of Notre Dame – maybe you’ve seen a Disney movie of the same name? If you have, do you remember the gargoyles? When the church was built more than 600 years ago, people believed that the frightening statues of demons, gremlins and gargoyles would keep evil spirits away. Some of the little statues do other work, too – they serve as downspouts, catching the rain from the roofs and squirting it out of their mouths!

On the Ile-de-la-Cité in Roman times there was a temple dedicated to their god Jupiter. In 1163, Pope Alexander III laid the cornerstone for a new cathedral on the same site. The incredible medieval structure would take almost two hundred years to complete, and employ thousands of quarry workers, stonemasons, ironsmiths, construction workers and carpenters. Master stonemasons sculpted the more than 1,200 statues that decorated the exterior and glassworkers toiled to create the enormous and intricate stained-glass windows that illuminated the interior. Construction on the cathedral was completed in 1345 and it became an important place in the lives of Parisians and of people from all over France who came to worship there.

The large square in front of Notre Dame was important as well. Theater groups performed plays that told the stories of the lives of the saints and other Biblical figures to entertain and educate people. (Remember, there wasn’t any television and many people were still unable to read.)

Some of the facts for this section were taken from a book called Daily Life in Ancient and Modern Paris, by Sarah Hoban. You can find it in your library and read it to learn more about the amazing and exciting history of Paris.

Location: The Notre Dame is at the eastern end of the Ile-de-la-Cité. It is bounded by the River Seine to the south, the Rue Chanoinesse to the north, and the Rue d’Arcole across the front (western side) of the building. The Pont de l’Archevêché, connecting to the Left Bank and the Pont Saint-Louis, connecting to the Ile- Saint-Louis are behind the church (the eastern side).

Métro: Cité and Saint-Michel, both #4 line

RER: Châtelet-Les Halles or Saint-Michel stations

Bus: 21, 24, 27, 38, 47, 85 or 96

Hours: Daily between 7:45am and 6:45pm, except during Sunday services which commence at 8.30am, 10am, 11.30am, 12.45pm and 6.30pm. The towers open daily 10am to 6pm, except on Mondays. The Crypt opens between 10am and 6pm (closed on Mondays). The museum is open on Wednesday and weekends 2.30pm to 6pm; Admission: Admission to the cathedral is free. Towers €5.40, crypt €3.40, museum €2.30