You don’t need to be a Catholic to admire the stunning beauty of Notre Dame Cathedral. This icon of the Parisian skyline is among the most recognized buildings in the world.
Despite this, many don’t realize that Notre Dame is also home to some relatively famous graves and memorials, at least in Catholicism.
Just who is buried at Notre Dame, though? It’s worth noting that, contrary to what some might expect, Notre Dame Cathedral is not the burial spot for many members of French royalty. Basilica of Saint-Denis historically served as the primary burial spot for France’s kings and queens.
However, Notre Dame Cathedral is home to the remains of several important Catholic figures. The following are among the more noteworthy examples:
1. Denis-Auguste Affre
Denis-Auguste Affre began serving as Archbishop of Paris in 1840. Although his tenure was relatively short, due to his death in 1948, he remains a noteworthy figure in French history for several reasons.
The nature of his death is actually among those reasons. In June of 1948, during an insurrection, Affre was trying to calm a crowd of insurgents. Someone in the crowd shot him. After others brought him back to his palace, he died shortly after. His final resting place is the Chapel of Saint-Denis at Notre Dame Cathedral.
Historians also remember Affre for his unique views. During his time as Archbishop, Affre firmly advocated for academic freedom, despite King Louis Phillipe I’s opposition. Affre also sympathized with the proletariat and believed the economically downtrodden deserved more freedom and power.
2. St. Hugh of Champagne
St. Hugh of Champage’s modest origins wouldn’t have given anyone reason to believe he would go on to play a major role in the Catholic Church. However, today many devout Catholics revere him for doing just that.
St. Hugh's first job relating to the Church was that of caretaker of Jumièges Abbey. At the time, he was a layman, but his experiences in this position inspired him to officially become a monk at Jumièges in 718.
This would not mark the full extent of St. Hugh’s involvement in official Catholic institutions. Just a few years later, in 722, the important diocesan seat in the city of Rouen became vacant. St. Hugh stepped in to become the Archbishop. He would then go on to manage three additional Archdioceses: Fontenelle Abbey, Bayeux, and Paris.
This is the main reason many Catholics admire St. Hugh. Managing four Archdioceses at one time was a demanding role that required tremendous energy and devotion to Catholicism. St. Hugh’s work demonstrated such devotion. Thus, upon his death in 730, the Church selected Notre Dame Cathedral as his burial site.
3. Pierre de Gondi
Pierre de Gondi earns a spot on this list in part because the entire Gondi family played a significant role in French history. Many noteworthy figures in the Gondi family were successful bankers and diplomats, but as you might have expected, Pierre de Gondi dedicated his life to the Church.
Specifically, Pierre served as Bishop of Paris. Henry IV also sent him to be an ambassador to Rome in 1595, and he was a significant advisor to Louis XIII. His connection with one of France’s wealthiest and most influential families, as well as his work with various kings, serves as a strong reminder of just how substantial a role Catholicism played in overall French society centuries ago.
Although other members of the Bondi family were also involved in the Church in various roles, Pierre’s story represents how politics, economics, and religion overlapped for the Bondis and those they worked with.
4. Jean-Marie Lustiger
Jean-Marie Lustiger is a fairly important figure in recent Catholic history. This is at least partially because he’d converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism when he was 13 years old. His parents had been Polish Jews, but his family sent him to live with Catholics before the German occupation. It was during this time that he received the sacrament of baptism. He would eventually become Archbishop of Paris. Despite this, he never completely forgot his Jewish roots.
In fact, he put them front and center in his career, insisting that although his religion was Catholicism, his identity was that of a Jew. This willingness to strike a personal balance between his faith and his cultural background may have been what inspired him to consistently work towards Jewish-Catholic reconciliation. His mother had died in the death camps, and he prioritized the importance not only of reconciliation between Catholics and Jews, but also the importance of the French government acknowledging its role in deporting Jews to concentration camps.
There was even a time in his life when he considered finishing up with his work in the Catholic Church and then moving to Israel. Anti-Semitism was on the rise in France, causing him to experience a spiritual crisis. However, he changed his mind when Pope John Paull II anointed him bishop of Orleans. On top of all that, he helped organize a 1997 World Youth Day in Paris, part of his ongoing efforts to reinvigorate the Church in France.
When he died in 2007, Jean-Marie Lustiger remained an unconventional Catholic, with a funeral and burial at Notre Dame that symbolized his desire to see Catholics and Jews come together. He’d previously requested that his funeral include both Catholic and Jewish elements. Thus, unlike virtually any other traditional Catholic funeral service, his began with the reading of the Kaddish, a prayer for the dead common in Jewish funerals. His cousin, Arno Lustiger, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, led the reading in loving memory of his famed relative.
In fact, despite being on vacation in the U.S. at the time, then President of France Nicolas Sarkozy took a jet to Paris to attend the funeral. Some believe this wasn’t merely a traditional sign of respect from a politician, but a more personal choice. Sarkozy had a Catholic upbringing, but a Jewish grandmother, and may have appreciated the way Jean-Marie Lustiger strived to bridge a gap between the two religions.
5. Louis-Antoine de Noailles
Louis-Antoine de Noailles served as Bishop of Cahors, Bishop of Châlons, and Archbishop of Paris before finally becoming a cardinal in 1700. However, his impressive series of duties in the Catholic Church isn’t the only reason we remember him.
Louis-Antoine de Noailles was active during a time of controversy in the Church. Jansenism, a philosophical and theological approach to Christianity in general, was on the rise. It involved rejecting certain popular Christian and Catholic teachings of the time regarding such topics as free will and universal redemption.
Many in the Catholic Church opposed the Jansenists, but Louis-Antoine de Noailles approved of them to a degree, and perhaps more importantly, strongly disagreed with the Jesuits, who were the most fervent anti-Jansenists at the time. That said, in 1728, a year before he died, he would eventually accept Pope Clement XI’s official condemnation of Jansenism, despite previously claiming he wouldn’t.
Along with earning a Notre Dame burial, Louis-Antoine de Noailles also earned a statue/monument in his honor at the cathedral. This may be because he very generously donated large sums of money to help restore the cathedral during his lifetime.
6. Maurice Feltin
Cardinal Maurice Feltin is another noteworthy figure in the history of Catholicism in France. This is due to his support of the “worker-priest” movement.
In the 1940s and 50s, several Catholic priests attracted a degree of negative attention from the Vatican due to certain actions and lifestyle choices that conflicted with tradition. Specifically, instead of wearing cassocks, they opted for overalls and worked in factories directly alongside other workers. This caused Pope Pius XII to suggest some of them had given in to “waywardness” and Marxism. However, Cardinal Feltin successfully defended the movement, although the Church modified it somewhat.
7. Marie-Dominique-Auguste Sibour
Marie-Dominique-Auguste Sibour had a relatively eventful career in the Catholic Church. Specifically, he was able to achieve a degree of cooperation from the imperial government that allowed him to more easily provide economic support to financially struggling churches in his diocese. He even officiated the wedding of Napoleon III. However, he didn’t get to finish his work in the Church, as an interdicted priest assassinated him before he could introduce the Roman Rite in Paris, which he’d been attempting to do.
Buried at Notre Dame: A Catholic Honor
Like the Parisian Catacombs, Notre Dame Cathedral is home to its fair share of deceased individuals. In many cases, their stories expose moments from history many of us have forgotten.
- BASILIQUE CATHÉDRALE DE SAINT-DENIS, Centre des Monuments Nationaux, www.saint-denis-basilique.fr/en/
- “Cardinal devoted to multifaith healing buried.” NBC News, NBCNews.com, 10 August 2007, www.nbcnews.com/id/20218772/ns/world_news-europe/t/cardinal-devoted-multifaith-healing-buried/#.Xz_eCZNKhXQ
- “Cardinal Feltin of France Dead; Archbishop Led Worker‐Priests.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 28 September 1975, www.nytimes.com/1975/09/28/archives/cardinal-feltin-of-france-dead-archbishop-led-workerpriests.html
- “Cardinal Louis Antoine de Noailles.” Church Catholic in Paris, the Diocese of Paris, www.paris.catholique.fr/louis-antoine-de-noailles-1695.html
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- “Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/biography/Jean-Marie-Cardinal-Lustiger
- “Kaddish for a Cardinal.” NPR, NPR, 11 August 2007, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12712167
- “Louis-Antoine de Noailles.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-Antoine-de-Noailles
- “Louis-Antoine de Noailles.” New Advent, Kevin Knight, www.newadvent.org/cathen/11085b.htm
- “Marie-Dominique-Auguste Sibour.” New Advent, Kevin Knight, www.newadvent.org/cathen/13769a.htm
- “Pierre Cardinal de Gondi.” Catholic Hierarchy, David M. Cheney, www.catholic-hierarchy.org/bishop/bgondp.html
- “St. Hugh of Champagne.” FaithND, University of Notre Dame, faith.nd.edu/s/1210/faith/interior.aspx?sid=1210&gid=609&pgid=45336&cid=87244&ecid=87244&crid=0&calpgid=61&calcid=53508