The fireplace that destroyed two-thirds of the roof of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris on Monday did greater than injury a beloved historic landmark: It additionally endangered the huge assortment of Christian relics and art work housed each inside the constructing and on its grounds.
One of the cathedral’s most valuable treasures — a relic of the crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ on the time of his crucifixion — was saved from the flames, in accordance with the rector of the cathedral, Msgr. Patrick Chauvet.
But the situation of a lot of its different treasures — together with sculptures, work, stained glass home windows and liturgical artwork and relics — remained unclear, Monsignor Chauvet stated. He stated the primary threats to the art work had been fireplace, smoke injury and falling materials like melted lead.
Bernard Fonquernie, who labored in cathedral administration from 1978 to 2001, stated water used to battle the hearth may additionally injury its stonework and no matter wooden survived the blaze.
Here are a number of the treasures about which students and the non secular devoted are most involved.
The crown of thorns
Among essentially the most prized relics at Notre-Dame is a relic of the crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ in the course of the crucifixion. Stephen Murray, a professor emeritus of Gothic structure and medieval artwork at Columbia University, stated the crown at Notre-Dame purportedly incorporates fragments of the unique artifact.
The cathedral additionally incorporates a bit of wooden believed to be a bit of the cross and a nail believed to have been used within the crucifixion.
“Most of these great cathedrals become destination points through the treasury, what they hold that you can come and worship or that you can come and see,” stated Nora Heimann, a professor of artwork historical past on the Catholic University of America.
Monsignor Chauvet stated Monday that the crown of thorns was in secure palms. He stated the tunic of Saint Louis, a spiritual relic, and a group of chalices held within the cathedral’s treasury had additionally been saved.
It was unclear what occurred to the piece of wooden and the nail some consider to have been used within the crucifixion.
The rose home windows
The cathedral is devoted to the Virgin Mary, from whom the church takes its identify, which suggests “Our Lady of Paris,” Ms. Heimann stated.
The cathedral incorporates three rose home windows whose stained-glass panes, formed like flower petals, each tell a religious story, including scenes from the Old and New Testaments, stories from the lives of the Twelve Apostles, and the resurrection of Christ.
“When you’re facing the cathedral, there is a big window devoted to the Virgin Mary, the rose window, and she is in the center of it, enthroned,” Ms. Heimann said.
The status of the three windows was unclear on Monday, but the prognosis seemed troubling. Benoist de Sinety, a bishop of the Archdiocese of Paris, said high heat had damaged the windows, melting the lead that held their panes in place.
Relics of the patron saints of Paris
The spire of the cathedral, which collapsed on Monday, contained the relics of St. Denis and St. Genevieve, the patron saints of Paris. Laurent Ferri, a curator in the Rare and Manuscript Collections at Cornell University, said an archbishop placed them there in 1935 to protect the building.
According to legend, St. Denis, a third-century Christian martyr, was decapitated and died later while carrying his own head. St. Genevieve is often credited with saving Paris by using the power of group prayer to divert Attila, king of the Huns, away from the city in 451.
Gregory Bryda, an assistant professor of Western medieval art and architecture at Barnard, said the relics included bones, teeth or hair from both saints.
The Gallery of the Kings
The status of those statues was unclear on Monday night. But they have been through hard times before.
During the French Revolution, forces hostile to the monarchy mistook the statues for kings of France, not Ancient Judea. Driven by revolutionary zeal, they dragged the statues into Cathedral Square and beheaded them using a guillotine in 1793.
Twenty‐one of those heads, which were sculpted in the 13th century, were discovered in 1977 inside a wall in another neighborhood of Paris, according to a report at the time in The New York Times.
The cathedral itself
But a sacred space is more than the sum of its parts. Ms. Heimann said “the church itself is its own treasure because it is a place of so much history.”
The grounds were once the site of an Ancient Roman temple that became a church after the Roman Empire embraced Christianity. Construction on the cathedral began in 1163 and was completed in 1345.
“It is a place that single-handedly tells us the story of Paris and of France itself and its evolution,” Ms. Heimann said. “I don’t think there is any one thing inside of it that is more valuable than the thing as a whole. And I say that as an art historian that weeps for that lost art.”
Besides the paintings, architecture and statues, scholars also pointed to the cathedral’s musical instruments as an endangered artwork. That includes the church bells — the largest of which date to 1681 — which had been rung at important moments in French history, including the French Revolution and both world wars.
Dr. Murray said one of the greatest treasures in the cathedral was a pipe organ known as the Great Organ.
“It was a magnificent instrument,” he said. “I doubt if it survived.”
It was unclear what happened to the bells or the organ on Monday. But Bishop de Sinety said the fire had badly damaged the organ too.