The terrible fire of 2019 certainly cost Notre-Dame its spire and its roof, but also made it possible to discover real scientific treasures that could have been hidden for years.
In April 2019, time stood still for a few hours as France and the whole world marveled at the horrific images of Notre Dame, devoured by a torrent of flames. But this somewhat traumatic event for heritage lovers will not only have had negative consequences; in an AFP publication, a group of archaeologists have just revealed details of the striking discovery of several ancient tombs hidden beneath the building.
These elements, all a “remarkable scientific quality”, probably wouldn’t have been discovered for a long time were it not for the tragedy that befell this jewel of French culture. Indeed, they were excavated as part of the preparatory work for the reconstruction of the spire, which collapsed in a sequence as sad as it is memorable.
An “exceptional” sarcophagus from the 14th century
These burial sites were more or less coincidentally located below the intersection of the nave and the transept. Indeed, here will rest the huge jetty whose craftsmen will rebuild the spire. As always with such historic sites, care therefore had to be taken not to damage anything underneath.
The National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) therefore started preventive excavations at the beginning of February. Well, it cost them because they hit the jackpot with these invaluable scientific burials.
Among the graves revealed by Inrap, an element described as “exceptional” especially impressed the staff. It is a beautiful lead sarcophagus, apparently deformed by the structure that has pressed all its weight on it for centuries.
Indeed, according to AFP, the researchers estimate that this coffin belongs to a high dignitary, likely a member of the clergy, buried around AD 1300. They were even able to see inside with a small camera.
†We can see pieces of cloth, hair and especially a pillow of leaves on the head, a phenomenon known when religious leaders were buried”, explains Christophe Besnier, head of the team of archaeologists interviewed by AFP. Sheets that especially enthuse Inrap’s troops, because they bear witness to thegreat work of body preservation.
A race against the clock
Such discoveries may give rise to additional excavations that may extend over a long period of time. But in this particular case, the archaeologists will have to work quite quickly, as their time is limited. The context is indeed very specific; the restoration of Notre-Dame is a project that is both very delicate and large-scale.
To execute it, it was necessary to set up a complex supply chain defined in a very precise time frame. In order to reopen the cathedral in 2024, as planned in the aforementioned calendar, the craftsmen will have to get back to work as soon as possible. The archaeologists have therefore been asked to complete their excavations before the deadline for resuming work, March 25.
In any case, this sensational discovery, failing to heal the wounds opened almost three years ago, will bring balm to the hearts of history and heritage lovers.