15 things you probably didn’t know about Sacre-Coeur basilica in Paris
Originally written by Anna in December 2019 and updated by Natalie in June 2021
If you plan on visiting Montmartre, you probably also plan on visiting the Sacre-Coeur, which is also known as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris or the Sacre Coeur Basilica, as you prefer.
Anyway, this article has been written for whoever wants to know a little more about this stunning landmark of Paris. Located at the top of the hill of Montmartre, the majestic church offers one of the most amazing views over Paris.
Whether you’re an architecture enthusiast, or a believer, you will love the Sacre-Coeur where art and worship are mixed together.
This interesting church has a lot to discover and a lot of secrets kept to itself. If you’re curious and would love to know a few facts about the Sacre-Coeur, read on this article and find out my top 10 fun facts about the Sacre-Coeur!
Fun fact nº1: It was already a place of worship long before its construction
The Sacre-Coeur now stands on top of the hill of Montmartre, but, before its construction, this place was already a place of worship. Indeed, paganism used to be practised, and gallo-roman temples were once built there in dedication to Mercure and Mars.
Being the highest point of the city, this place has always been chosen by the believers, due to the feeling of being closer to the sky, which holds the idea of being closer to god, to heaven and forgiveness in catholicism.
Fun fact nº2: It is the second highest point of the city
Next on my top 10 fun facts about the Sacre-Coeur is the fact that it is the second highest point of the city. You probably which one is first: it is the iconic Eiffel Tower.
The Sacre-Coeur comes rights after, because it was built on top of the Montmartre hill, at a height of 130 meters. Both the dome and the bell tower is 91 meters tall.
So, the total height of the Sacre-Coeur is of 213 meters above the sea level. Since the Eiffel Tower is 300 meters tall and the Montparnasse Tower is 210 meters tall, the Sacre-Coeur takes the second place in the highest points of Paris.
Fun fact nº3: It is the second most visited church
The Sacre-Coeur welcomes more than 10 millions visitors per year, while the Notre Dame welcomes about 13 millions visitors per year.
After the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Sacre-Coeur is the most visited church in France. You can visit the basilica for free, however if you want to visit the dome to enjoy a spectacular view over Paris, you have to buy the tickets on site. You can access the dome outside the church on its left side.
Fun fact nº4: It has a stunning architectural style
The architect Paul Abadie is the one who designed the Sacre-Coeur. The architectural style is romano-byzantine and was inspired by churches, like Saint Sofia in Constantinople and San Marco in Venice.
Both the exterior and interior architecture of the Sacre-Coeur are in romano-byzantine style. You will love the light and the details of this majestic place!
Fun fact nº5: It was financed by the Parisians
The construction of the church was financed by the faithful Parisians through generous donations. You will find the names of the people who invested in the construction engraved all over the walls of the church.
Fun fact nº6: The reason why the church was built
The French army was defeated by the Prussians army in 1870. Alexandre Legentil, a believer, wanted to relieve the French people from the pain and the humiliation it went through.
He wanted the French people to feel better and to rise again, giving them a new basilica. The purpose of the church was to protect the French, but also for them to be forgiven for all their sins since the French Revolution. Legentil managed to get a law from the National Assembly declaring that the construction of the Sacre-Coeur was of public interest.
Fun fact nº7: It has one of the heaviest bells
As you now know, many people, from all around France, contributed to the construction of the church. For instance, the Savoie, a French department located in the Alps, offered a gigantic bell called the “Savoyarde“, melted by the Paccard company.
They brought the bell to the Sacre-Coeur in 1895 with the help of 21 horses that dragged the bell to the top of hill of Montmartre. The “Savoyarde” is one of the biggest and heaviest bells in the world, it weighs about 19 tons.
Fun fact nº8: The origins of the name
While the basilicas that were built during that period were usually named after Marie, the mother of Jesus, the Sacre-Coeur was dedicated to the sacred heart of Jesus Christ, the symbol of the divine love Jesus had for the humans and of the sacrification he made for their sins, as it says in the Bible.
Fun fact nº9: The church that cleans itself
One of the most impressive things about this church is its whiteness. You can see it from a distance due to its shiny look. But there’s a reason it stays that white all through the years.
Paul Abadie chosen a very specific stone for the construction of the Sacre-Coeur. The white stone came from the quarries in Souppes, in the Seine-et-Marne French department.
It is the same stone that was used for the Arc de Triomphe and the Alexandre III bridge in Paris. It is very resistant and the water does not infiltrate. In fact, in contact with water, when it rains, the stones releases a substance, called “calcite”, that cleans the stone and enables it to keep its white color.
Fun fact nº10: It is one of the most peaceful places of the city
While visiting the Sacre-Coeur, you will quickly notice that there are plenty of locals, simply sitting, talking to each other while enjoying the view. You will often see street artists, and other amazing performances.
At the top of the hill of Montmartre, you need to stop for a while and appreciate the fact of being alive. For a few moments, you will feel light-hearted. I’ve been to the Sacre-Coeur several times, but everytime I get there, the same feeling takes hold of me.
A feeling of freedom and dedication, because you come to realize that you need to dedicate yourself to what really matters. At the Sacre-Coeur, you will find your inner peace.
How to visit Montmartre?
Now that you know everything about the Sacré-Coeur and Montmartre, I’m sure you want to visit it! Many ways to discover this fantastic landmark and its area:
- The “free” way: you give yourself the freedom to wander in the neighborhood, without any guide or explanation. You still need some information about how to get there: read our practical article.
- The “walking tour” way. Many companies run fun and interesting walking tours in Paris. Discover Walks launched a brand new Montmartre Night Tour and it runs 3 times a week. You will see the Moulin Rouge, the Sacré Coeur and other major landmarks with a native guide.
Fun fact nº11: The Sacre Coeur is the Youngest Church in Paris
A lot of people assume that the Sacre Coeur is as old as the hill upon which it stands. This is not the case, and most of Montmartre was already a functioning village prior to the construction of this marvelous basilica.
The idea for the Sacre Coeur only came up in 1870. Construction only began five years later, in 1875, and the church took an astounding 39 years to be built. To many at the time, this was an entire lifetime, and the basilica was unveiled to the public in 1914.
Fun fact nº12: In Spite of the Above, the Location of the Sacre Coeur…
…had been considered holy for quite some time. Long before the Christian era ever reigned through Paris, it is believed that this hilltop was a much loved place of worship for Parisian pagans.
When the Romans eventually invaded, they started building churches to spread the Christian faith. One was built right in this very spot where the Sacre Coeur now stands, and was made in honor of the Bishop of Paris called Saint-Denis.
Fun fact nº13: The Basilica Holds One of the Biggest Mosaics in the World
The ceiling of the entrance hall in the church boasts an extraordinary mosaic called the “Apse Mosaic”. It’s one of the largest known works of mosaic on the planet, and it depicts Christ in all his glory.
The mosaic was inaugurated into the church in 1923, and is estimated to span 475 square meters. The creators of this work were Luc-Olivier Merson, H. M. Magne and R. Martin.
Fun fact nº14: There are Two Sacre Coeur Churches in French Territory
The original is right here in Montmartre, and is the grander, more renowned rendition by far. But on the very small island of Martinique, a French territory in the Caribbean, there is a Sacre Coeur replica that the local community enjoys.
The similarities are uncanny, though the island version is much, much smaller in scale. The church is called “Sacré-Coeur de la Balata”, and was built to honor the people who were rendered homeless after the great volcano eruption in 1915.
Fun fact nº15: The Outdoor Statues Are Worth Looking At
If you’re standing outside the Sacre Coeur, its only natural to want to look out over the exceptional panoramic view of Paris. If you take a minute to look back at the church, you’ll notice two oxidized green statues on either side of the basilica.
The seem to depict individuals riding horses into glory. The one on the left is actually King Louis IX, who was the only king to ever be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church.
The statue to the right is none other than Joan of Arc who, as we know, was recognized as a saint by the same church in 1920.
A few tips for your visit to the Sacre-Coeur Basilica and additional fun facts
- The Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris is open everyday from 6 am to 10.30 pm.
- Located in the eighteenth arrondissement of Paris, you can get there by metro. Take the metro line 12 and hop off at the Jules Joffrin station. Then, take the Montmartrobus and get down at the Place du Tetre stop. At 35, rue du Chevalier de la Barre, in the back of the Basilica, a ramp and a lift are available for disabled persons to access it.
- Several masses happen everyday. From Monday to Friday, masses take place at 7 am, 11.15 am, 6.30 pm and 10 pm. On Fridays, there is an additional mass at 3 pm which is followed by a period of adoration. On Saturdays, the masses happen at 7 am, 11 am and at 10 pm. So if you’re a practicing Catholic, while in Paris, take the time to attend a mass at the Sacre-Coeur Basilica.
- If you want to have a quiet and peaceful moment with the Lord and pray along with other believers, you can join the night adoration. With prior registration, you can spend a night in the Sacre Coeur Basilica. At 35, rue du Chevalier de la Barre, you can register for the night at the reception. You pray after the closing of the Basilica for the general public and then spend the night at the Ephrem Guest House.
From 7.30 am to 8.30 am, continental breakfast is served for six euros per person. You only have to pay six euros for the night if you’re sharing the dormitory with other people. Four euros, if you bring your own sleeping bag. But, if you want a single room, it will cost you sixteen euros. At the Sacre-Coeur, a continuous relay of prayer is ensured. People pray from 10 pm until 7 am when the Basilica re-opens. You can read further information about the Night Adoration on the official website. You have to book 48 hours in advance to ensure your place for the night of praying.
- It is not allowed to film or take picture inside the Basilica.
- Wedding and baptims are not celebrated at the Sacre Coeur Basilica, because it is not a parish church.
- If you’re spending Christmas in Paris, seize the opportunity to attend the Christmas’ eve mass at the Sacre Coeur Basilica. It happens at midnight, but you need to come earlier if you don’t want to miss the Organ concert at 10 pm and the Sung Christmas vigil at 11pm. It gets a bit crowded, so seated seats are not guaranteed.
- The least crowded times of the day are from 7 am to 11 am and from 7 pm to 11 pm. So if you want to take photos with very few people on them, these are the best hours!
You now know my top 10 fun facts about the Sacre-Coeur! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need further information about anything. Also, if you have some fun facts about the Sacre-Coeur you’d like to share, feel free to tell them. Share your own experiences and thoughts about the city of Paris, so we can grow as a community.
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