An all-female religious order in the late 17th century, the Ladies of the Assumption (Dames de l’Assomption), were the first occupants of the building, which was constructed between 1670-76. It continued to be used by wealthy women as a sort of religious refuge through the Ancien Régime. However, this changed when the French Revolution, which opposed both royalty and the Catholic Church, tore through Paris in 1789.
As the revolution raged on and change ran rampant across Paris, the church building became military barracks in 1793. After the French Revolution ended and France returned to royalty, Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption’s original religious use was restored. The Church of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption played an important part in an often-overlooked, but still quite important historical event- the Great Emigration of Polish exiles to Paris.
Political turmoil in Poland and Lithuania led to the emigration of over 50,000 Poles and Lithuanians that peaked in 1830 and 1831. Many of these émigrés- especially those of Polish Catholic origin- migrated to Paris, where the Polish Catholic Mission had been recently established. Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption soon became an important centerpiece of Paris’s Polish Catholic community and, just as it did when it was a women’s convent, acted as a sort of refuge and an important community establishment. Throughout the world in ethnic communities, churches have long been the centerpiece, with Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption being no exception!
After its reestablishment as a church and the “demographic shift” to Polish Catholic émigrés, Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption retained its religious use and remained intact even as Paris grew and changed around it (i.e. industrialization and World Wars I and II). As tourism in Paris grew because of the city’s history and architecture, Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption gained another use- as a tourist attraction for those interested in the church’s rich past and/or Roman Catholics who visited the church as a connection to their faith. Despite the city changing around its Polish Catholic community since its founding nearly two centuries ago, Mass is still said in Polish every week and it remains a home parish for many.
In conclusion, Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption has changed quite a bit since its founding during the Ancien Régime, but, yet, it hasn’t. The church has weathered many storms and seen many changes- revolution, a demographic shift brought by the Great Emigration, industrialization, World Wars I and II, modernization- but, since its earliest days as a convent, it has served as a refuge in one way or another- a refuge in the City of Light.