Ancient tombs and statues discovered under Notre Dame Cathedral

(ORDO NEWS) — Archaeological excavations have unearthed a body-shaped lead sarcophagus buried in the heart of a fire-damaged monument

Archaeological excavations under Notre Dame Cathedral have unearthed extraordinary treasures in the form of statues, sculptures, tombs and fragments of the original roof dating back to the 13th century.

The find included several ancient tombs from the Middle Ages and a body-shaped lead sarcophagus buried in the heart of the fire-damaged monument under the floor of the transept crossing.

French experts called the find “extraordinary and emotional.”

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“We discovered all this wealth just 10-15 cm under the floor slabs. It was completely unexpected. There were exceptional items documenting the history of the monument,” said Christophe Besnier, who led the scientific team for the excavations.

“It was an emotional moment. All of a sudden we had several hundred fragments, from small fragments to large blocks, including sculpted arms, legs, faces, architectural decorations and plants. Some of them were still painted.”

The discovery became known on Thursday from the National Archaeological Institute of France Inrap. A team from the institute was called in to carry out “preventive excavations” under a section of the floor of the cathedral between February and April,

Only a few fragments of the original Notre-Dame rostrum, the richly decorated partition between the altar and the nave that separated the clergy and choir from the congregation, have survived to this day.

Some of them are in the storerooms of the cathedral, others are exhibited in the Louvre. In Catholic churches, most of them were removed during the Counter-Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The rest of the Notre-Dame pew appears to have been carefully hidden under the floor of the cathedral during the restoration of the building by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who added the spire, in the mid-19th century.

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One of the most unusual exhibits was an intact stone carved sculpture of a human head believed to represent Jesus. Another block from the porch, dating from the 13th century, shows a monument in the Gothic style.

The Inrapa team was given a tight time frame and only a specific area was identified for excavation. After a fire engulfed the 850-year-old cathedral, one of Paris’s most emblematic and visited monuments, in April 2019, virtually destroying the entire building, President Emmanuel Macron vowed that it would be rebuilt and reopened for worship in five years.

Last September, General Jean-Louis Georgelain, who was appointed to oversee the restoration, said that the safety of the structure of the cathedral was established, which means that restoration and restoration of the sections destroyed by fire can begin. He said the cathedral will be open for worship and the public, as promised, in 2024.

Besnier said they found more floor slabs under the floor, but they are outside the excavation limit. “We know that they are there and will not be damaged. Hopefully we can find them later,” he said.

The excavations also revealed a network of masonry heating pipes laid under the floor in the 19th century.

Experts believe that the lead sarcophagus may contain the body of a high-ranking church official, possibly from the 14th century. A camera installed in the coffin showed the remains of plants under the head of the deceased, as well as hair and fragments of cloth, but there was no plaque identifying the body.

Dominique Garcia, President of Inrap, said that further research would be carried out, including DNA analysis, but added: “The sarcophagus containing the human body is not an archaeological object.

These are human remains, and in the study of the sarcophagus and analysis of the body and other objects located inside, we have to do it with respect.”

He said that no decision had yet been made on where the body would be reburied after the research was completed. “It’s too early to talk about it. Perhaps it will be reburied somewhere in the cathedral.”


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