When open, Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, which was engulfed by flames one year ago today, attracted about 13 million visitors a year. It is easy to understand why. The stunning piece of medieval Gothic architecture is home to hundreds of priceless paintings and religious artefacts, but it also has a colourful history, featuring Napoleon Bonaparte, Joan of Arc and Charles de Gaulle.
Construction on Notre-Dame – or 'Our Lady' – began in 1163, during the reign of King Louis VII, and was completed in 1345. The building was desecrated in the 1790s during the French Revolution but, following the publication of Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, restoration began on the building. The spire, which collapsed during the April 15, 2019 fire, was added in the mid-1850s.
It was in this building that Henry VI of England was made King of France in 1431, while Napoleon Bonaparte’s coronation as emperor of France took place there in 1804. Later, in 1909, Joan of Arc was beatified in the cathedral by Pope Pius X.
Along with the spire, the roof was destroyed in the fire, but the two bell towers and main building remain intact. Many relics were saved after a hasty evacuation effort, including the Holy Crown of Thorns, believed to have been placed on Jesus’s head during the crucifixion, and the Tunic of Saint Louis, a linen garment from the 13th century.
Most of the cathedral’s stained-glass rose windows are intact, including the north window, La Rosace Nord, which was considered to be at the greatest risk. The windows have been removed so they can be restored.
Here are some of the most important relics housed in the Notre-Dame Cathedral, and their current status.
The Great Organ
One of the most famous organs in the world, the Great Organ has five keyboards, 109 stops and nearly 8,000 pipes, some of which date back to the Middle Ages. Paris’s deputy mayor, Emmanuel Gregoire, confirmed that the organ was saved from the fire and Pascal Quoirin, a specialist who restored the Notre Dame organ in 2017, later revealed it was undamaged.
Madonna and Child
Nearly two metres tall, this statue was created in the 14th century and depicts the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus. It was moved to Notre-Dame in 1818, and survived the 2019 blaze.
The cathedral’s three impressive stained-glass circular rose windows were built in the 13th century and were renovated several times. They show prophets, saints, angels, kings and scenes of the daily lives of holy figures. At the centre of each is an image of the Virgin Mary, Christ as a baby or Christ as king reigning over heaven. They all survived the fire, though are in need of restoration.
The Cathedral’s High Altar
The high altar at the cathedral features a sculpture by Nicolas Costeau, Descent from the Cross. The sculpture is flanked by a statue of Louis XIII on the right and Louis XIV on the left. It was mostly unharmed in the fire; photos taken after the blaze show it intact, but covered in ash.
The largest and oldest of the cathedral’s bells is known as the Bourdon Emmanuel. Cast 300 years ago, it weighs 13 tonnes, its clapper alone being 500 kilograms.
The tenor bell, considered one of the finest examples in Europe, is chimed only on special occasions and important Catholic events, and was joined in 2013 by nine new bells.
It only just managed to avoid being melted down during the revolution and rang out to announce the liberation of Paris from German occupation in 1944. It was not destroyed in the fire.
Between 1630 and 1707 the Paris goldsmith guild presented the cathedral with a painting on May 1 every year. Of these 76 works, called The Mays, 13 were displayed in various chapels in the cathedral.
On the west wall of the Chapel of Saint-Guillaume is one of the most beautiful paintings in the cathedral, the Visitation by Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet (1716). The artworks were not destroyed in the fire, though have been removed from the building to undergo restoration.
The Gallery of the Kings
A series of stone figures of Old Testament kings that stand above the entrance to the cathedral. Some of these were taken from the cathedral during the French Revolution and beheaded with a guillotine. They are believed to have survived the fire.
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus
Carved in 1934 by Louis Castex, this limestone statue of St Therese of Lisieux shows the saint with a cross and a bouquet of roses. It is not listed among the treasures destroyed by the fire.
Additional reporting: AFP