The terrible fire of 2019 certainly cost Notre-Dame its spire and its roof, but it also made it possible to discover real scientific treasures that could have remained hidden for many years.
In April 2019, time stood still for a few hours as France and the whole world stood stunned by the terrible images of Notre-Dame devoured by a torrent of flames. But this somewhat traumatic event for heritage lovers will not have had only negative consequences; in a publication relayed by AFP, a group of archaeologists has just disclosed details of the striking discovery of several multi-centenarian burials hidden under the building.
These elements, all of a “remarkable scientific quality”, would probably not have been discovered for a long time had it not been for the tragedy that struck this jewel of French culture. Indeed, they were unearthed as part of the preliminary works preparing the reconstruction of the spire, which collapsed during a sequence as sad as it is memorable.
An “exceptional” sarcophagus dating from the 14th century
These funerary sites were located under the intersection of the nave and the transept more or less by chance. Indeed, this is where the huge scaffolding from which the craftsmen will rebuild the spire will rest. As always in the case of such historic sites, it was therefore necessary to ensure that there was nothing that could be damaged underneath.
The National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) therefore began preventive excavations at the beginning of February. Well it took them since they hit the jackpot with these burials of inestimable scientific value.
Among the tombs revealed by Inrap, an element described as “exceptional” particularly impressed the staff. It is a superb lead sarcophagus, apparently deformed by the structure which had weighed down on it with all its weight for centuries.
Indeed, according to AFP, the researchers estimated that this coffin belongs to a high dignitary, probably a member of the clergy, buried around the year 1300. They were even able to take a look inside using a tiny camera.
“We can see pieces of fabric, hair, and above all a cushion of leaves on the head, a phenomenon well known when religious leaders were buried”, explains Christophe Besnier, head of the archaeologist team interviewed by AFP. Sheets which particularly enthuse the troops of Inrap, because they attest to thegreat job of body preservation.
A race against time
Discoveries of this type may give rise to additional excavations which may extend over a long period of time. But in this specific case, the archaeologists will have to work fairly quickly, because their time is limited. Indeed, the context is very particular; the restoration of Notre-Dame is a project that is both very delicate, but also large-scale.
To carry it out, it was necessary to set up a complex supply chain defined in a very precise timetable. To manage to reopen the cathedral in 2024, as planned in said calendar, the craftsmen will have to get back to work as soon as possible. The archaeologists have therefore been asked to complete their excavations before the deadline for resuming work, March 25.
Failing to heal the wounds opened almost three years ago, this sensational discovery will at least put some balm in the hearts of lovers of history and heritage.