Notre Dame de Paris is turning 850 years old! One of Paris’ most celebrated icons, Notre Dame’s tall, imposing Gothic façade has come to be a well recognisable and familiar feature, thanks in part to its knack of finding its way into a range of works of literature, poetry, songs and movies across time. From starring in Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris, to guest appearances in popular French movies such as Le Fabuleux Destin d’ Amélie Poulain, the cathedral has gradually come to be remembered and associated as a monumental representation her home city.

Of course, Notre Dame de Paris is more than just a pretty backdrop made famous. Perhaps reason why the cathedral has been given so much exposure in the first place is because of its historical significance. Since her first construction in 1163, Notre Dame has stood the test of time to witness countless political and military upheavals, from religious wars in the 16th century that ravaged her interiors to the ground-breaking 1789 French Revolution, and has played host to significant events such as the coronation of kings and emperors, the most famous of which was that of Emperor Napoleon I. Besides, Notre Dame is known to be one of the oldest cathedrals in Paris, home to treasures and holy objects such as the Holy Relics of the Passion of the Christ. For so many reasons is Notre Dame de Paris remembered and loved, it is hence little wonder so much attention is paid to celebrating her 850 years.

From 12th December 2012 to 11th December 2013, a series of projects and events have been lined up. Large-scale projects are to be undertaken to spruce up the grand dame; these include the building of nine new bells to replace the old church bells, a cleaning and restoration of the old pipe organ, and an improvement of interior lightings in the naïve of the church. Besides, works will also be undertaken to expand the treasury, introducing a new museography section.

In addition to the makeover, the Notre Dame will also be hosting a series of concerts and music performances*. In line with commemorating 850 years of history, performances will trace the development of music and compositions from within the cathedral, featuring works of famous composers such as André Campra, leading French opera composer between the 17th and 18th century, and Antoine Brumel, renowned French composer and member of the Franco-Flemish school of the Renaissance. Genres are wide ranging, spanning from Gregorian Chants (Spiritus Domini) to the polyphony tones of the Renaissance (Vox Sonora). This vibrant tradition of music development since the Middle Ages and Renaissance continues to the present day; concert performances will bring us up to stead with this progression, bringing modern day repertoires by the catholic choirs (Puer is natus and Assomptio Surrexit Christus) and closing on a high note with Philippe Hersant’s Vespers of Our Lady.

Apart from music performances, Notre Dame will also be putting up a series of exhibitions relating to Notre Dame and the Catholic Church, displaying art, music and literature**. Likewise, these exhibitions aim to reflect the development of culture and the arts with Notre Dame and the Catholic Church in general. Held in the Carnavalet Museum, the art exhibition will bring together a collection of about 120 pieces of work on 17th-century Parisan Churches, including noteworthy works such as Adoration of the Shepherds by Hiéronymous Francken, Nativity of the Virgin by Matthieu le Nain, and Virgin of Pity by Lubin Baugin. The music exhibition in Cathedrale de Notre Dame on the other hand will showcase two important works dating from the 17th to 19th centuries, tracing music development from within Notre Dame. Finally, the literature exhibition held at La Bibliothèque Mazarine will feature an array of manuscripts and rare books, detailing activities and shedding light on life within Notre Dame from the Middle Ages to the Revolution. Through following the literary works, trends in writing styles may also be of note, in observing changes over the different periods in time.

In summation of the 850-years commemoration, Notre Dame will further be publishing a book, tracing the construction, rich history and detailed description of the edifice. Much effort was put into the publication of this literary project, borrowing the endeavours of about 50 authors to write 500 over pages, which are richly illustrated with close to 600 images and pictures. The final product is an important source of information and knowledge, tapping on the rich expertise of respected experts.

*Most music performances fall on one or two Tuesdays of the month throughout 2013. More information on music performance schedules and write-ups can be found at the Musique sacrée à Notre-Dame de Paris website.

**Notre Dames’ Art Exhibition: The Colours of Heaven, Paintings from XVII Century Parisian Churches. Exhibited in Musée Carnavalet till 24th February2013; Notre Dames’ Music Exhibition: Volume I of Graduel de Notre-Dame de Paris and Lutrin monumental pour le chœur de Notre-Dame de Paris. Exhibited in Notre Dame de Paris and ended 6th January 2013; Notre Dames’ Literature Exhibition: Books of Notre Dame, XI-XVIII Century. Exhibited in la Bibliothèque Mazarine till 15th March 2013.