Notre-Dame de Calais
Historical background
Till the end of the 12th century, Calais was a petty
fishing village with a natural harbour at the mouth
of a stream, consisting of marshland.
Later on, the town was regularly fortified by the
Counts of Boulogne with ramparts surrounded by
canals that formed a moat.

Construction of the original church commanded by
Adrien de Wissant ,started in 1214,  for a town of
14,000 inhabitants. According to some documents,
it was named St Mary’s Church and was completed
in 1224.

The very first part of the church is believed to
have been the sandstone transept. At the time,
the building was rectangular with two towers on
the front. Loopholes (or arrow slits) and 1m60
thick walls clearly showed evidence of defensive
After 1224, it became a parish church and was subsequently enlarged. The nave dates back to
the 13th century and the church was completed during the English occupation (1347-1558)
The English decided to enlarge the existing church to such an extent that, by the late 15th
century, it had become the most important religious building in town.

Notre Dame  belonged to the archdiocese of Canterbury during that period.
Craftsmen from Flanders –allied to the English- were hired to enlarge the building. The higher
part of the nave, the chancel and the bell-tower were then built out of local sandstone, as
stone quarries were out of reach.
In 1558, French forces liberated the town and the Calais area was known as the Reconquered
Territory. And St Nicholas’ church being destroyed to become the Citadel later, Notre Dame
definitely became the most important church in town.
In the 17th century, the axial chapel, dedicated to Virgin Mary, was added. Measuring 88m in
length, the church could house as many as 6,000 parishioners.
During the French Revolution, the building was turned into a “Temple de la Raison” (Temple
dedicated to the Goddess Reason), and later on it was used as a warehouse, before being
handed over again to the church in 1802.

In 1863, the Dean of Calais, Archpriest de Lencquesaing started Gothic style interior
decoration work with plaster pointed vaults hiding the wooden vault. The main doorway
was also reconstructed at the time.

In the late 19th century, the inside walls were coated with plaster as well, and the Western
front was modified, giving the Church a Tudor style in the fashion at the time.

On 26 September 1944, just a few days before the Liberation of Calais, a mistaken allied
bombing destroyed most of the church. The bell-tower collapsed on the Northern transept.
Parishioners then used the Lady Chapel until a temporary church was granted in 1950.
Renovation started in 1945 for the bell-tower, the nave and parts of the furnishings.
In 1911 : a solemn mass service was held in homage to the victims of the submarine named
“Pluviose” that dramatically sank off Calais shore.
On 7 April 1921 : the wedding of the then “Captain” Charles de Gaulle with a young Calais
woman, Yvonne Vendroux, was celebrated in this church, where she had been christened
21 years before.