The day of Napoleon’s coronation and consecration (Sacre), 11 Frimaire, An XIII (2 December 1804)

Period : Directory / 1st Empire
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The processions to Notre-Dame

This timeline forms part of our close-up on: the coronation of Napoleon I.

During the night of 1/2 December, 1804, there was some light snowfall, and workmen hurried to brush it away from the surroundings of the Tuileries Palace and the procession routes, covering the bare with salt.

At 6am, the first of those with invitations began to try to get into Notre-Dame. Unfortunately they had to be turned away as carpenters were still putting the last touches to the cathedral’s decorations.

At about 7am, the five hundred instrumentalists and singers were in place on the temporary grandstands placed at either end of the crossing.

At 9am, the Diplomatic corps arrived at the cathedral. Only the the Comte Cobenzl, chancellor of Austria, was absent as part of an attempt to mark the diplomatic disagreements between his country and France.

Circa 9am, the pontifical procession, accompanied by 108 dragoons, set out from the Tuileries Palace. Pius VII rode in the second carriage, one of Josephine’s carriages decorated specially for the ceremony. The procession was led by the nuncio Speroni riding an ass and carrying the cross. This piece of pontifical protocol greatly amused bystanders.

After 10am, the imperial procession, comprising 25 carriages, drawn by 150 hundred and escorted by six regiments of cavalry, cuirassiers, mounted chasseurs and mounted grenadiers, left the Tuileries Palace.

The cortège followed the route Rue Saint-Honoré, Rue du Roule, crossed the Pont Neuf, ran along the Quai des orfèvres, leading into the Rue Saint-Louis, the Rue du Marché Neuf and finally the Rue du parvis Notre-Dame.

At 10.30am, the pontifical cortège reached Notre-Dame. At the entrance to the archbishop’s palace (over which had been erected a reception tent for the carriages), the pope was met by the Archbishop of Paris, the Cardinal du Belloy. After donning the ceremonial robes and his celebrated tiara, the pope entered the cathedral to the sound of Le Sueur’s motet, Tu es Petrus, and took his seat on the throne set aside for him on the left-hand side of the choir near the high altar.

After 11am, the carriages bearing the imperial couple entered the tent/vestibule at the entrance to the archbishop’s palace. There they removed their ‘petit habillement’, or undress costume, for the coronation, to put on their ‘Grand habillement’, or formal robes.

Napoleon’s ‘Grand habillement’ comprised: “white silk pantaloons and stockings; white slippers with gold embroidery; a white silk tunic, bordered and embroidered with gold crepine at the base; a cloak attached at the shoulders, made of purple velvet spotted with golden bees, embroidered around the edges and lined with ermine; white gold-embroidered gloves, a lace cravate; open crown of gold, formed into bay leaves formée; gold sceptre and hand of justice; sword with gold handle, encrusted with diamonds, attached to a white sash worn around the waist and decorated with gold crepine.” (imperial decree, 29 Messidor, An XII).

Josephine’s ‘Grand habillement’ comprised: “a long-sleeved dress in silver brocade; a bodice with diamonds and lace gold-embroidered shoulder/collar piece; a velvet cloak spotted with golden bees, lined with ermine and decorated with olive-branch and oak-leaf embroidery surrounding the letter N. It is fastened at the shoulder and at the waist on the left-hand side. The crown for the ceremony is decorated with black pearls and shuold be attached by clips to the diadem worn with the ‘Petit habillement’.” (imperial decree, 29 Messidor, An XII).

Circa midday, Cardinal du Belloy greeted Napoleon and Josephine at the entrance to Notre-Dame and sprinkled them with holy water. They then entered the church to the sound of Le Sueur’s Coronation march. The cardinals Cambacérès and du Belloy preceded them and led them to their ‘petits trônes’ (low thrones) situated in front of the high altar in the centre of the choir, opposite the papal throne.

The ceremony

Napoleon prayed briefly and then gave the regalia he was carrying (hand of justice, sceptre, crown, necklace of the Légion d’honneur, sword) to the Grands dignitaires, during which the choir sang the Veni creator spiritus.

At the end of this plainsong, the pope received Napoleon’s religious oath. Pius VII then blessed the kneeling imperial couple with the triple benediction taken from the coronation rite of Rheims.

The imperial couple then moved towards the high altar where they received the sacred coronation unction, on the forehead and on both hands.

During this the choirs sang Le Sueur’s motet, Unxerunt Salomonem.

The mass proper then began, the choir singing the introit, the Kyrie, and the Gloria from the Coronation mass written by Giovanni Paisiello.

After the Alleluia, the ornaments were blessed, namely, the sword, the cloak, the ring, the crowns and the globe.

The imperial couple once again aproached the high altar and received the blessed ornaments, whilst the globe was given to Berthier.

During a prayer taken from the Rheims ceremonial pronounced by the pope, Napoleon handed the honours to Talleyrand and Caulaincourt, took up the crown from the altar and placed it upon his head.

Napoleon then took Josephine’s crown, made as if to place it upon his own head and then crowned the empress kneeling before him.

The imperial couple thus crowned sat down to wait for the formation of the procession which was to accompany them from the low thrones to the grand throne. The procession comprised: the pope, princes, Grands dignitaires, Grands officiers, princesses, ladies in waiting, pages, heralds and bailiffs bearing the honours of Napoleon and Charlemagne.

Napoleon then sat down upon the great throne. The pope blessed him and pronounced the words from the Rheims rite: “Que Dieu vous affermisse sur ce trône…” (‘May God strengthen you upon this throne…) and kissed the emperor upon the cheek.

The pope then turned towards the congregation and said in a loud voice Vivat Imperator in aeternum ; the choirs then sang the Vivat by the Abbé Roze.

The pope was then accompanied back to his throne.

The mass then continued with the Te Deum (Paisiello), and the Gospel (sung in both Latin and Greek); the choir then sang the Credo and Cardinal Fesch brought the gospel book to the emperor for him to kiss.

Although planned, the imperial couple did not receive communion after the Agnus Dei sung by the choirs.

Once the mass was finished, the pope retired to the sacristy.

Napoleon then pronounced the constitutional oath, his hand on the gospel held by Cardinal Fesch.

Finally the herald proclaimed: “the most glorious, the most august emperor Napoleon, emperor of the French, is crowned and enthroned emperor, Long live the Emperor!”

By this time it was 3.30pm when the cries of “Vive l’Empereur” rose inside the cathedral, echoed by canon salvoes outside marking the fact that the emperor had been crowned.

The emperor and the empress, and their cortège, returned to the archbishop’s palace to change their robes and to rest after the ceremony.

The pope then (according to the official account of the coronation ceremony) left the sacristy and returned to the cathedral to process out to the music Tu es Petrus (performed for a second time), heading for the archbishop’s palace.

The procession back to the Tuileries Palace

Slightly before 4pm, the imperial procession left Notre-Dame and headed towards the Place du Chatelet, going via the lower class boulevards, and finally returning to the Tuileries via the rue and the Place de la Concorde. They reached the palace at about 6.30pm.

At about 4pm, the pope also left Notre-Dame, arriving at the Pavillon de Flore (in the Tuileries Palace) where he was staying at about 7pm.

The imperial couple retired to their apartments and dined… alone.

During this time, took place the scrummage of the 20,000 invited guests trying to get out of the cathedral of Notre-Dame.


The festivities were not yet over. Find out more in this article about the fortnight of celebrations, entertainements, illuminations, fireworks, receptions and presentations that enlivened Paris in December 1804.

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