The story begins during the Renaissance in 1482, the day of the Festival of Fools in Paris. Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer, is introduced by his crowning as Pope of Fools.
Esméralda, a beautiful 16-year-old gypsy with a kind and generous heart, captures the hearts of many men but especially those of Quasimodo and his adopted father, Claude Frollo. Frollo is torn between his lust and the rules of the church. He orders Quasimodo to get her. Quasimodo is caught and whipped and ordered to be tied down in the heat. Esméralda seeing his thirst, offers him water. It saves her, for she captures the heart of the hunchback.
She is later accused of the murder of Phoebus, whom Frollo attempted to kill in jealousy, and is sentenced to death by hanging. Quasimodo saves her by bringing her to the cathedral under the law of sanctuary. Frollo rallies the truands (criminals of Paris) to charge the cathedral. The king, seeing the chaos, vetoes the law of sanctuary and commands his troops to take her out and kill her. When Quasimodo sees the truands, he assumes they are there to hurt Esméralda, so he drives them off. Frollo betrays Esméralda by handing her to the troops and watches while she is hanged. Quasimodo pushes him from Notre-Dame to his death. He then goes to where hanged dead bodies are thrown, lies next to her corpse and eventually dies of starvation. Two years later, excavationists find the skeletons of Esmeralda with broken neck and Quasimodo locked in an embrace.