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PGB 2: Sarcophagus Found at Notre Dame!

Two Notre Dame episodes in a row?  This was not the intended idea, but when a sarcophagus is found, needs must! 

In this episode, we explore we know so far, the group who did the archeological dig, and a bit about what comes next as they begin restoring the interior of the church. 

 

Show Notes

First and foremost, the theory of how the sarcophagus ended up where it did in the layers of history under the floor is my (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) speculation.  Please do not consider it archeological fact.  Though how cool would it be if it’s right?  All those hours spent watching Time Team will have paid off in full! 😄

Theorizing aside, there are a few key players in this episode:  Notre Dame herself, INRAP, and the sarcophagus.  Let’s take a look at them!

Notre Dame

As the restoration of Notre Dame continues, the work is now expanding even more into the interior.  In last year’s anniversary post, there were some videos of the work being done in areas that were accessible without disturbing the stability of the building.  Now that the building has been given a clean bill of health, the restoration team is moving on to the big structural projects like the roof and stone vaulting. 

But before they set up shop in the interior, they had to make sure the floor could support the equipment and the work.  Unlike a modern building, where we have floor plans and know the materials involved, it’s much less clear what’s going on under the floors in Notre Dame.  So up came the flooring and voila!  A sarcophagus, some other tombs, the rood screen parts, and an old 19th century heating system! 

All of the important finds have been removed, the floors have been put back in place, hopefully everything is where it should be, and the work now continues.  The 2024 re-opening deadline must be met!  But I’ll be honest. I wish they had been able to dig down more and really explore what’s going on under the church.  We know there is a potential treasure trove under there.  Including early medieval and Roman remains, based on what exists in the archeological crypt.  It appears that they did do some scans at least and found a Roman rampart “meters” under the floor.  So tantalizing!  The article also mentions that Arte (the cultural television channel) was onsite filming the archeological dig.  I can’t wait for that to be released! 

I fear that corners are being cut and opportunities missed to meet the rather arbitrary Olympics deadline.  I don’t think people will decide to not go to Paris because Notre Dame is still being restored…

What’s Next

Well, we wait as the renovation work goes on.  The controversy over the planned (and now approved) changes to the interior continue, but the changes will most likely occur.  Here’s a list of what is planned:

  • The reconstruction of the Crown of Thorns reliquary and the development of an associated prayer space
  • The replacement of the liturgical furniture and the seats in the assembly area (the nave)
  • New lighting and sound equipment
  • The catechumenal route from north to south, based on the thematic spaces (chapels) and the sacred objects of the cathedral
  • The extension of the choir organ
  • The renovation of the Treasury of Notre-Dame in the sacristy

I found one video (in French) with some images of what is being proposed:

What are your thoughts?  I reserve final judgement until we can see the real deal.  Admittedly, there is a part of me that wants it returned back to exactly how it was.  But that isn’t possible, regardless of intention. What we would see in some instances would be replicas and they would have to add back all the years of dirt and grime in order to get the same effect! 

Also, the original builders would have never assumed that the church would become a frozen antique.  They would not understand why the building wouldn’t be updated and altered to meet the needs of the community.  So we must accept change.  Though I’m not sure about projected bible texts or super low lighting fixtures.  Will these impact our enjoyment of the architecture? 

Beyond the Restoration

After the church is done (or probably mostly done), in 2025ish the next phase of work will occur.  This is also controversial, both due to the funding and what is planned.  The City of Paris intends to redo the area under the parvis (courtyard), eliminating the underground parking, and creating a new cathedral visitors center and “enhancing” the archeological crypt.  And most importantly? There would be indoor toilets!!! 

It’s easy to see how they could incorporate the crypt (if desired) but I’m a bit fuzzy on how they will connect the center with the church, given that these works begin after the restoration ends.  Will we return to the surface to enter through the west portals?  We’ll know more when the winning design is chosen this summer!

INRAP

The team behind the archeological dig is INRAP, the Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives or the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research. They are the branch of the Ministry of Culture making sure that building sites and other areas of potential or known archeological importance are excavated and examined. They are a very busy bunch!

Their news page is regularly updated (in French only, Google Translate to the rescue!), keeping the public updated on all of their finds. Their YouTube channel, updated less frequently, also has a lot of goodies. Here’s a look at some medieval finds at the Château de Villers-Cotterêts, in Picardy. The standing château was built by Francois I, on foundations of a castle ruined in the Hundred Years War.

Oui, more French. The good French history stuff is, alas, in French. But they make it easy to follow!

The Sarcophagus

Our new buddy, as I like to think of him (maybe her?), remains a mystery. I hope that we have some answers soon! In the meantime, to tie it all together, we have a video of the discovery plus commentary from an INRAP archeologist:

Miscellany

A few other items mentioned in the episode:

Time Team: The awesome BBC archeology show, has been brought back as a YouTube show. If you love archeology and historic research, you will love this program!

Official YouTube Channel | Official Classics (BBC) Episodes Channel

You can find other old BBC episodes on Amazon Prime and (unofficially) on other YouTube channels.

Rood Screen Bits: For parts of the rood screen and other medieval and renaissance pieces of Notre Dame at the Louvre, check out their online collection.

The Cluny Museum (Musée national du Moyen Âge) is re-opening after its own extensive renovation on May 12, 2022. At long last!

There really is a giant triangular tower being built in the 15th. Apparently Montparnasse tower was lonely?

Resources

Further Reading

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases of items marked “affiliate link” below.

There is a part of me that obviously wants to solve the mystery of who is in the sarcophagus!  We’ll have to leave that to the experts. But if you want to explore the history of Notre Dame more in depth, here are a few ways to do so.  Be sure to share your own theories with us! 

Notre Dame Cathedral: Nine Centuries of History by Sandron, Tallon, and Cook.  This book caught my eye during a webinar with the Friends of Notre Dame after the fire.  This is for the true history enthusiast, full of historical detail and wonderful photos and illustrations, translated from the French original.  Buy the book [affiliate link] or the Kindle (e-textbook) version [affiliate link]. 

Notre-Dame de Paris: History, Art, and Revival from 1163 to Tomorrow by Antonia Felix.  More interested in photos and illustrations?  This is the book for you!  I really enjoyed the layout of this one and the history is well done, unlike a lot of coffee table books.  Only available in hardback via Amazon [affiliate link]. 

For something more hands-on, NatGeo has created a 3D puzzle of Notre Dame for children and adults [affiliate link].  It also comes with a booklet about Notre Dame and Paris, so the learning keeps going!  Note that this is not for small children. 

Donating to the Restoration

  • Friends of Notre Dame: An American/French non-profit. They’ve been helping fund restoration and upkeep since 2017. Their website also has information on the progress of the restoration. Per the official Notre Dame website, this is the best organization for those of us outside of France.
  • In France? You can donate to the French fond (fund), even selecting if you want to fund the restoration, cultural activities, or the choir/musicians charity.
    • There is a separate donation page if you specifically wish to donate to the restoration and purchase of interior finishings here.
    • All of the French funds listed here are part of the Fonds Cathédrale, a special foundation set up by the larger Fondation Notre Dame. All are directly associated with the management of the cathedral.
  • Buy a souvenir from the Notre Dame Shop from the convenience of your own home! Watch out for those shipping fees, though…

Before We Close Up the Floor

What do you think of these discoveries?  Do you have any theories on why our new buddy was found among a heating system?  Or who is in the sarcophagus?  Lastly, do you dig archeology or find it a tad dry?  Let me know below! 

Merci et à bientôt!


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