His father was organist in the St-François-de-Sales church and his grandfather was a builder of organs for the Callinet firm, and so the young Charles-Marie received organ lessons from an early age. He did so well that at the age of 11, he could already replace his father at the church organ. In 1863, he moved to Brussels to study with Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens at the request of the French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
Widor moved to Paris in 1870, where he became the titular organist of the Saint-Sulpice, again aided by Cavaillé-Coll, who built the organ, and requested Widor for a trial period; a trial period which ended up lastig 64 years. Widor succeeded Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély, who died earlier.
With this new state-of-the-art organ, Widor thought it called for a new kind of organ music, and so he invented the so-called organ symphony. He wrote ten of them, of which the last two were called the "Gothic" and the "Roman" symphonies. He made particular clever use of Gregorian theme's to give them a religious character.
With his symphonies, he drove both the organist and the organ to its furthest corners. And as a renowned musician, he also attracted a group of followers. Being a teacher himself, he was more than happy to transfer his skills and knowledge. His most famous students are Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, Henri Mulet, and Marcel Dupré. The last of whom succeeded him at the Saint-Sulpice.