850th anniversary for Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is to start celebrating its 850th anniversary next week. Its first stone was laid in 1163 in the presence of Pope Alexander III.

The 12th-century church on an island in the Seine river has survived the Hundred Years War, the French Revolution and World Wars I and II. Napoleon crowned himself emperor and Joan of Arc was beatified there.

A series of concerts and religious and cultural colloquiums are planned throughout the year and architectural and other renovations have been timed for the anniversary.

The cathedral has raised 6.5 million euros ($US8.44 million) from private donors for these projects.

Eight new bells are being created to replace four that have been in place since the mid-19th century.

"Notre Dame, which is France's greatest church, don't forget, has never had a bell which did justice to the building," said Paul Bergamo of bellmakers Cornille Havard of Normandy.

"It took a great event, in the form of the 850th anniversary, to be able to put such a project in place."

The bells, which are in the process of being poured, will be displayed at Notre Dame in February before being rung for the first time in March.

The cathedral bells and Quasimodo the bell-ringer were immortalised in The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo in 1831.

Up to 20 million pilgrims, tourists and others are expected to visit from 12 December - 24 November, 2013. The usual average is 14 million per year.

The cathedral has required constant upkeep throughout the centuries. An upgrade of the lighting system has been completed, as well as the first stage of a renovation of the organ, some of whose parts date from the early 18th century.

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