Notre Dame fire: fears over fate of cathedral's treasures

Notre Dame fire: fears over fate of cathedral's treasures

16 April 2019 11:04 am

On Monday night, as Notre Dame Cathedral burned, firefighters scrambled to save its precious contents.

The 850-year-old cathedral is home to priceless works of art, architecture, musical instruments, statues, woodwork and religious relics – from the 8,000-pipe great organ to Nicolas Coustou’s sculpture Descent From the Cross. A full list of the masterpieces housed in the cathedral is posted on its website.

“It’s not one relic, not one piece of glass, it’s the totality,” said Barbara Drake Boehm, senior curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s medieval Cloisters branch in New York. “It’s the very soul of Paris, but it’s not just for French people. For all humanity, it’s one of the great monuments to the best of civilisation.”

France’s culture minister, Frank Riester, tweeted photos of the evacuation, and the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said many artworks and religious relics had been saved. But as rescue work continues, the fate of many other items remains unknown.


The Holy Crown of Thorns

One of Notre Dame’s most treasured relics, the crown purports to be a band of rushes from the original crown of thorns placed on Jesus’s head during his crucifixion.

Originally from Jerusalem, it was given to King Louis IX in 1238, who built the Sainte-Chappelle in Paris especially to house it, and was later transferred to Notre Dame.

Individual thorns have been distributed as relics around the world – the Notre Dame relic is the original circlet or rushes, encased in rock crystal.

On Monday night, the mayor of Paris confirmed it had been saved.

Notre Dame 2

The Tunic of Saint Louis

The tunic of Saint Louis is a 13th century linen garment said to belong to King Louis – the only French king to become a Saint.

Crowned in 1226, Louis participated in the Seventh Crusade and died during the Eighth Crusade in 1270. He was canonised in 1297. He also acquired the Crown of Thorns.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo also confirmed that the tunic was saved on Monday.

North Rose Window

One of Notre Dame’s immense stained glass windows was unharmed, according to French journalist Laurent Valdiguié.


Descent from the cross

One of the cathedral’s centrepieces, the sculpture by Nicolas Coustou lies on Notre Dame’s high altar.

Initial photographs showed that the sculpture was mostly unharmed, but its condition has not been confirmed.

Notre Dame 3

West and South Rose Windows

There are conflicting reports on the state of Notre Dame’s other rose windows.

The cathedral’s west rose window is smaller than the others, and was built first (in 1225). The south window is larger and more ornate, and was built around 1260.

Reports from journalists on the ground have said that all three windows – including the north – had melted. However, the north window was later reported saved.

British MP Yvette Cooper, who was near the cathedral at the time, was quoted as saying she saw one rose window had fallen.

True Cross and Holy Nails

Along with the Crown of Thorns, Notre Dame housed a purported fragment of the True Cross – upon which Jesus was crucified – and an original nail that was used.

It is unclear whether these were saved along with the crown.

The Great Organ

The state of Notre Dame’s immense, 8000-pipe grand organ is unknown.

Originally built in 1403, it has been updated and renovated in the centuries since – most recently in 2013 – but some of the current organ’s pipes date back to the medieval era.

Madonna and Child

An iconic statue – known as Notre Dame de Paris with which the cathedral shares its name – depicts the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Created in the 14th century, it was moved to Notre Dame in 1818.

Cathedral bells

Notre Dome cathedral has 10 bells – the oldest, Emmanuel, weighs 13 tons and was created in the 15th century, and recast in 1681.

Statue of St Denis

Another 18 century sculpture by Nicolas Coustou. St Denis is the patron saint of Paris, and a depiction of him preaching stood in the cathedral.

Painting of St Thomas Aquinas

Made in the 17th century, and given to the cathedral in 1974, this painting depicts the saint and people drinking from a fountain of wisdom.