What is the Notre Dame Cathedral, and What is the Significance of Losing It?

Updated: Oct 7, 2019

Today, April 15, is a day that will go down in history after a significant part of the world-famous Notre Dame Cathedral has been lost in a flame that is likely due to restoration efforts of the almost 1000-year-old cathedral. Luckily, the twin bell towers and much of the interior was saved along with many of the artifacts that lie within the structure.

I saw an uproar of posts on my social media of people who were saddened by the potential loss of the ancient building. Interestingly enough, I don't think many of them actually KNOW the significance of the cathedral itself. As I watched the live feed from work with tears in my eyes, a silver lining occurred to me. If the building is going to go down in a matter of hours, the history never will, because people who have seen it, the people of France, and bloggers such as myself will continue to keep the memory alive. So, what is the Notre Dame Cathedral, and how can you feel more connected to our friend in Paris?

1. The Notre Dame Cathedral is home to what is said to be the crown of thorns that Jesus himself wore during his crucifixion. The cathedral is also home to what is believed to be a piece of Jesus's cross and a nail used at the time of crucifixion. While there is no way to prove the validity to these claims, they are widely believed among the Catholic and Christian faith.

The crown was brought to the King of France, Louis IX, by Baldwin II, the Latin Emperor of Constantinople, in 1238. It made its way into the Notre Dame Cathedral in 1801 after the French Revolution. Thankfully, this piece of history along with the cross and nail were saved by authorities during the 2019 fire.

2. Due to the common Gothic-esque style of high-vaulted ceilings, the roof structure and wooden frame of the cathedral were made from oak trees due to their height. The trees were cut down around 1160, and were about 300—400 years old at the time, dating the estimated 1,300 trees used to the eighth or ninth century. Each beam was drawn from a different tree.

The roof structure, which has been appropriately named "the forest," was lost in the fire, and likely even added fuel to the flame. The once revered framework became its demise as it contained 52-acres of wood, which is highly flammable. The structure was a concern that was likely to be addressed during upcoming restoration efforts in the cathedral.

3. The Notre Dame Cathedral is home to three incredible rose windows. The south rose window was offered by King Saint Louis and was created by Jean de Chelles, the first architect that worked on the cathedral. The window is dedicated to the New Testament of the Bible, displaying both the descent to Hell and the resurrection of Christ in the east and west ends.

The north rose window is filled with images of kings and prophets of the Old Testament. The rose window on the west is the smallest of the three, and none of the ancient glass survives in this window due to restoration over the years.

An example of a rose window from the Strasbourg Cathedral in France.

4. The iconic Paris landmark has been damaged and restored before. Although the recent fire is the most devastating event that has occurred at the Notre Dame Cathedral, it is no stranger to destruction. The church was vandalized by French Protestants in the 16th century, had artifacts destroyed and plundered during the French Revolution, and had statues of biblical kings beheaded as it was being used as a storage unit.

The French President Emmanuel Macron announced after the fire that the worst had been avoided, and pledged to rebuild the iconic structure over time. In fact, a French billionaire François-Henri Pinault has promised 100 million euros to help with the rebuilding of the cathedral. If it has been damaged and rebuilt before, I have faith that it will be again,

5. Fittingly, many churches in France and around the world rang their bells in solidarity during the incident in Paris. The Notre Dame Cathedral is notorious for having four bells that ring every 15 minutes since 1856. They ring for major world events, such as the end of World War I and after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in New York City.

Most of the bells have been replaced over the years, but the famous Bourdon Emmanuel bell, which is located in the south tower, has been around since 1681. When Pope John Paul II died at the age of 84, the bell rang 84 times to honor his life. This is the only bell in the Notre Dame Cathedral considered by experts to have historical significance.

The truth is, if I feel the pain that I feel from across the world tonight, than I can only imagine how Parisians feel as they watch a piece of their history crumble before their eyes. If anything, this reminds me that life is short, and to travel while you can. It takes merely hours for a thousand years of history to be erased in an instance.

Personally, my husband and I have never been to France, but we are currently in the works of planning a trip there in 2021. We talked about how excited we were to visit Notre Dame Cathedral over the weekend, just days before it was changed in a blink of an eye. It made us sick to our stomachs as we watched the gorgeous spire collapse.

Stay strong, France. Our thoughts are with you as you work to recover from this tremendous loss.


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