Yesterday afternoon an iconic piece of French architecture caught fire and blazed for a few hours. Many know this cathedral from the popularized Disney film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris was far more than just a setting for a fictional story. It draws about 13 million visitors every year and is a very fundamental part of the Parisian landscape and history, so it is understandable that today the citizens of Paris are in mourning.
The roof and the spire of the church, which took the brunt of the flames, were made of wood. Much of it was thought to be the original timber used during the building process in the Middle Ages. These wood beams were nicknamed “the forest” and were located above the interior vaulted stone ceiling and below the roof. Unfortunately, this wood was incredibly old and dry, which meant it was extremely vulnerable to any heat or sparks within its vicinity.
Thankfully, it is believed that the fire was not purposefully started with mal-intent, but rather was an accident that may have been caused by current renovation efforts. Scaffolding had gone up around the church for restoration work on Monday and this is thought to have led to the unfortunate fire that destroyed the roof and spire of the church. However, the investigation is still ongoing and since the investigators would like to be as thorough as possible, the actual cause of the fire will likely not be determined for quite some time.
The construction of the Notre Dame was started in 1163, during the reign of King Louis VII and wasn’t completed until 1345 — that’s over 180 years worth of work! The completed building has been standing in Paris for almost 675 years and was neglected and left in disrepair during some periods, including the French Revolution. In 1831, Victor Hugo published The Hunchback of Notre Dame and this spurred action. The architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine and Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc took it upon themselves to reconstruct the spire and flying buttresses during the period of 1844 — 1864.
Other notable historic events that took place within the walls were the crownings of Henry VI of England in 1431, and later Napoléon Bonaparte in 1804. In 1909, Joan of Arc was beatified in the cathedral by Pope Pius X. This is only the tip of the iceberg as the cathedral boasts an incredibly long history.
Looking Towards The Future
President Emmanuel Macron has promised that an international effort to raise funds for reconstruction will begin immediately for the landmark, but it’s unclear how long it will take to rebuild. Some wealthy French families have already pledged to donate funds to the rebuilding of the Gothic masterpiece, but this will likely be a very expensive and lengthy process.
Luckily, it seems that most of the ancient relics and cultural artifacts that were held in the church have been saved or were already being stored at other facilities. It seems that the stained glass windows, as well as the organ, have not sustained catastrophic damage and will be able to be restored.
Despite the grief and the damage, it is important to remember that this building has been through other destructive times and has been restored. Apparently, during the French Revolution, the revolutionaries mistook the statues of Old Testament kings from ancient Judea for kings of France and dragged them into the street and beheaded them with a guillotine. Following this tragedy, we can rest assured that the Notre Dame will be rebuilt and remain a beautiful emblem of France's cultural and historic past.