Paris's Top 5 Catholic Churches

Notre-Dame de Paris

Paris, the French capital, was the world's largest Catholic city at the beginning of the 20th century. The city has nearly 200 Catholic churches, 80 male and 140 female religious orders, and 110 schools today, and Parisians are still predominantly Roman Catholic.

France was one of Europe's principal Catholic countries for most of the last millennium. During the medieval period, the country was more famous for large cathedrals and, in some areas, even small churches than for its castles and palaces. There are 42,000 religious buildings in France now, 94% of which are Roman Catholic. It is worth noting that the country is secular, with religious freedom as a fundamental right, with the exception, for historical reasons, of the Alsace-Lorraine region and French Guiana.

Most vacationers in Paris or those just planning to visit the French capital are unlikely to know more than two of the city's churches: Notre-Dame and Sacré-Cour. Why? Because, in the 21st century, religious buildings are not particularly popular tourist attractions. Second, almost all travel brochures about Paris focus solely on these two churches. Third, many tourists don't have their own personal ideas. To be honest, I'm a curious traveler. Listed below are my five favorite Catholic churches in Paris, along with a brief description of each.

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Top 5 Catholic Churches in Paris

1. Notre-Dame

Paris's Top 5 Churches
The Cathedral before the 2019 fire

Located on an island in the Seine River in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, Notre-Dame Cathedral, known locally as Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, is one of the city's most visible and celebrated landmarks. Construction of the church began in 1163. It was mainly completed by 1260, with numerous transformations since then. The magnificent Cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary is the best example of French Gothic architecture. 

Stone and wood are the primary building materials. The main facade's towers are not identical; the north tower, closest to the Seine, is larger than the south. Inside the five-nave Cathedral, there are 29 chapels containing works of art from the 17th and 18th centuries. The building has 110 stained-glass windows through which light shines. The rose window on the north side dates back to 1255. The southern rose, which depicts Christ surrounded by angels and saints, is dated around 1260. The western rose, the oldest of the three, is from 1220. Every year, over 15 million tourists visit Notre Dame Cathedral.

Address: 6 Parvis Notre-Dame - Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris, France
Website: Notre-Dame de Paris

2. Sacré-Cœur

Sacred Heart Basilica
Southeastern view of the minor basilica

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, known as Basilique du Sacré-Coeur in French, is a Roman Catholic church dedicated to Jesus' Sacred Heart. It is the second most visited religious monument in Paris, after Notre-Dame de Paris, with nearly eleven million pilgrims and visitors each year. The minor basilica stands at the summit of Montmartre, the city's highest point, at 130 meters (426 feet). From here, where a wide multi-tiered staircase leads, a panorama of Paris opens up with a view of around 30 kilometers (20 miles) in clear weather.

Unlike most churches, which have an east-west axis, Sacré-Coeur has a north-south orientation. Paul Abadi, a French architect, designed it in the Roman-Byzantine architectural style. Built between 1875 and 1914 and shaped like a Greek cross, the church has four domes; the height of the central one is 83 meters (272 feet). When you enter the building through the main door, you will see radial chapels. France's most significant mosaic, measuring 475 square meters (5113 square feet), adorns the semi-dome of the choir's apse.

Address: 35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre, 75018 Paris, France
Website: La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre

3. Saint-Laurent

Église Saint-Laurent de Paris
Western view of the church from the Boulevard de Magenta

The Church of St. Lawrence, known as Église Saint-Laurent in the French language, is a Roman Catholic parish church in Paris's 10th arrondissement. Its architectural style is Flamboyant Gothic, evidenced by the ornamentation's exuberance. 

Except for its 11th-century bell tower, most of the building dates from the 15th and 16th centuries. The 19th century brought new wooden decorations and stained glass windows to the church. Its four-bay nave, with several extensive pointed arch arcades, is extended by a non-projecting transept. The entire structure has two levels. Saint-Laurent has been a historical monument since 1945 and is well worth seeing.  

Address: 68 Bd de Magenta, 75010 Paris, France
Website: Paroisse Saint-Laurent à Paris

4. Saint-Severin

Église Saint-Séverin
Southern view of the church from Rue des Prêtres Saint-Séverin

The Church of St. Severin, known locally as Église Saint-Séverin, was built in the 13th–15th centuries and is one of the oldest churches still standing on the Left Bank. If you want to see the building, you have to walk through the 5th arrondissement's narrow, winding streets. 

The church is a work of art in the Flamboyant Gothic architectural style, with rich external ornamentation: beautiful gargoyles, buttresses, and pinnacles. The interior is also Late Gothic. The vault is cross-ribbed. Many of the pillars are in the form of palm trunks. Its first three bays of the nave and first low southern side date back to the 13th century. The bell tower, which also comes from the same century, has the oldest bell in Paris, a 1412 bell.

Address: 2 Rue des Prêtres Saint-Séverin, 75005 Paris, France
Website: Paroisse Saint-Severin

5. La Madeleine

Église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine
Southern view of the church from Rue Royale

The Church of St. Mary Magdalene, officially known as Église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, is a Roman Catholic church in Paris that appears to be an enormous ancient Greek or Roman temple at first glance. The structure has 52 Corinthian columns that stand 65 feet (20 meters) tall, giving it a majestic appearance. 

Designed by Pierre-Alexandre Vignon, a French architect, at the beginning of the 19th century as a temple to Napoleon's army, the building has a Neoclassical architectural style. Its softly-lit interior consists of a single nave with three domes invisible from the outside. The large organ of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene makes it a special place for music, so attending a concert inside is undoubtedly an unforgettable experience in Paris for classical music enthusiasts.

Address: Pl. de la Madeleine, 75008 Paris, France
Website: Paroisse de la Madeleine

Notre-Dame, Île de la Cité & St. Severin Church Guided Tour

If you want to explore the heart of Paris, learn more about the rebuilding of Notre Dame, enjoy panoramic views of the Cathedral from various vantage points, and visit the Saint-Severin Church in the Latin Quarter, take this 5-hour guided walking tour. Have a good time in France's capital!

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