Two towers, stained-glass windows, rose windows, gargoyles…. Up-close or from afar, you’ll recognize this huge gothic-style cathedral proudly standing on the Île de la Cité in Paris. A monument that is now over 850 years old! And the least we could say is that across years of history, the cathedral has lived a lot. Here are some anecdotes!
Did you know that Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame rekindled the attraction for the cathedral? Indeed, during the Revolution, the monument was simply set aside. Statues were damaged and the cathedral was used as a warehouse. Destroying it was even considered so that the stones could be sold. But it’s without counting on the publication of Victor Hugo’s novel, written in 1831, and placing the cathedral in the heart of the story. Notre-Dame will be restored from 1845 under the management of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.
Still during the Revolution, Notre Dame enjoyed a long gallery including 28 statues representing kings from the Kingdom of Judah. Yet, in 1793, thinking they were statues of kings of France, revolutionaries climb up the façade and beheaded all the statures! It required over two centuries so that most of the heads – that were thought to have disappeared – were found by chance in 1977 in a hotel courtyard in Paris. Since then, these heads are kept at the Musée National du Moyen-Âge de Cluny.
Bad things always come in twos. The Notre-Dame Cathedral has been mostly saved another time, as you may know, following the serious fire on April 15th, 2019. Among what has been saved from the inferno, the rooster at the top of the spire of Notre-Dame – we thought melted – has been found almost intact! It contained thorns from the Christ’s Crown, a relic from Saint Denis and one from Sainte Geneviève. We don’t know if they are still in there or in what state.
Perhaps have you never noticed but on the parvis of Notre-Dame can be found the point zero of the roads of France. Actually, it’s the starting point we use as a reference to calculate distances with other cities of France. It’s given tangible form with a wind rose craved in a piece of bronze surrounded by paving stone.