Days before Easter, a devastating fire defaced Paris damaging its 850-year-old UNESCO world heritage landmark, the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Paris, as also the world, watched in horror as the orange flames brought down the spectacular Gothic spire of the historic edifice, and the gray smoke erased centuries of heritage and history.
It had taken nearly 200 years to build the Notre-Dame Cathedral, located at the centre of the French capital in the Middle Ages – on a small island, Île de la Cité, in the middle of the Seine River. The construction began in 1163, during the rule of King Louis VII, and was completed in the mid-12th century – in 1345. Some major restoration and additions were later made in the 17th and 18th century.
The stonework in the cathedral, and also the stained glass of the edifice, recreated images and lessons from the Bible.
In 1431, when Henry VI of England was made the king of France, his coronation was done inside the Notre-Dame. Napoleon Bonaparte was also crowned Emperor inside the cathedral in 1804.
While the cathedral survived the devastation caused during two world conflicts in the 20th century, this is not the first time that the spire of Notre-Dame has suffered damage. In the 18th century, during the French Revolution marked by widespread anti-Catholic violence in the 1790s, the Cathedral was vandalised, with its spire dismantled, treasures plundered and its large statues at the entrance destroyed.
Also, this is not the first fire. Notre-Dam has burnt before. The present edifice was built after a fire destroyed an earlier church, The New York Times reports. According to a book, The Engineering of Medieval Cathedrals, the was another fire in the 13th century, which resulted in new work being added to the cathedral between 1230 and 1240.
Remaining neglected for many years, the Cathedral considered a medieval Gothic architecture jewel was finally resurrected after a 2-decade long restoration project, from 1844 to 1864, led by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.
Prior to that, Notre-Dame Cathedral had become the central character in Victor Hugo novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, published in 1831, which told readers about its decrepit condition. In fact, it is believed, the book played a role in exhorting the authorities to take up the restoration project.
In 1909, Joan of Arc was beatified at the Cathedral by Pope Pius X.
Another notable event in its history came on August 24, 1944, when the Cathedral famously rang its bells to celebrate the liberation of Paris from German occupation after the end of the World War II.
Notre-Dame means Our Lady, and the Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Paris. Mass is offered at cathedral every Sunday.
In need of a makeover, the Cathedral was currently undergoing extensive renovation. Prior to the fire, the renovation was expected to cost nearly $180 million, financed by the Government and private donors.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday “we will rebuild” Notre-Dame, as he expressed relief that “the worst had been avoided”. (Courtesy: TS)