The basilica is a prominent landmark of the city with its 101 metre high dome, it was built between 1827 and 1875 on the site of the medieval cathedral of Boulogne: the basilica is still known locally as the “cathedral”, although the present church has never had that status.
Notre-Dame was built to a new design inspired by both Classical and Renaissance styles, and bears many similarities to St Paul’s Cathedral. The tall nave is dominated by its rows of slender Corinthian columns, with unusual features scattered throughout.
In 1567, on the creation of the Diocese of Boulogne, the church was elevated to be its cathedral, and flourished until the French Revolution, when the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 1790 brought it under government control. Worship in the cathedral was prohibited: the Convent of the Annonciades (Order of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary) became the centre of worship in Boulogne, and after a period as a military warehouse, the cathedral was sold to traders from outside the city. The building was then demolished in stages, and, in 1793, the celebrated miraculous statue of Our Lady of the Sea was burned. Only a small portion of the statue’s hand survived.
Of the original cathedral, only the impressive Romanesque crypt from the medieval building survives.
A local priest and self-taught architect, Benoît Haffreingue, vowed to rebuild the destroyed cathedral to restore the honour of Our Lady of the Sea
When Haffreingue began work on the new church in 1827, the workmen discovered a crypt that had lain unknown for centuries, having probably been filled in during the 1544 siege of Boulogne by Henry VIII of England. The crypt is 128 metres long in total, and is believed to be the longest in France. Its Romanesque columns date back to the 11th century.
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