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Art Anecdotes : Fire at the Notre Dame de Paris

Through ART ANECDOTES, Art From Us brings you funny, heart-warming and sometimes heartbreaking stories that shape Artists and their work. Today we look at the story of Fire at the Notre Dame de Paris

Art From Us and Divvya Nirula bring to you a curated collection of Art related events, from suspected murder, to love affairs, to grand theft and curious cases of creation through ART ANECDOTES. Join us on this fun-filled ride of exploring and reliving these art-tales.

Fire at the Notre Dame de Paris

On the 15th of April 2019, Paris was struck with a great tragedy. The Cathedral of Notre Dame caught fire and its roof and spire were engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes.

The fire is believed to have started in the cathedral’s attic. The cause for the incident is yet unknown, however it is rumoured that the ongoing renovations may have had something to do with it.

More tragic and ironic is that authorities might have been able to contain the fire sooner, had it not started in one of the more flammable parts of the 12th century monument. The area from which the flames spread is nicknamed ‘the forest’. The forest is essentially a network of about 50 acres of wooden beams that date back to the Middle Ages. Needless to say, this particular part of the cathedral’s architecture is highly combustible.

In just a few hours, the spire had collapsed to the centre and the roof came crashing down. The smoke rose higher while ash rain descended upon the residents around the 4th arrondissement, where the cathedral is located. The city deployed about 500 firemen, who took about 5 hours to put out the flames.

Just a few days ago, in a scene that would have been nothing less than biblical to witness, Parisians and tourists were left stunned with the sight of the 16 statues of the 12 apostles and 4 evangelists from the new testament being lifted off the spire by a crane. This was done in order to accommodate for the cathedral’s ongoing renovation. Thus, these 16 sculptures are fortunately safe.

In the meantime, while the flames have been extinguished, the Parisian authorities are left taking inventory of the damage to this invaluable world treasure. The art and artefacts not only risk damage from the fire itself, but also from the water used to put it out, and from the soot and ash leftover. The cathedral is an UNESCO world heritage site.

The Spire

According to reports, the cathedral’s spire has borne maximum damage in the fire. The Spire was considered the ‘spiritual lightning rod’ of Paris, which protected all devotees. Legend has it that the little rooster that sat atop the spire contained a piece of the Crown of Thorns and some remains of Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve. The rooster unfortunately did not survive the fire. The spire was added to the structure of the cathedral in the 19th century.

A Brief History

The name Notre Dame de Paris translates to Our Lady of Paris. The Gothic cathedral was built during the 12th at Ile de la Cité. The project was started by the then bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully who decided to build upon the ruins of the basilicas that stood on that ground. This was in 1163, during the reign of King Louis VII. From start to finish, the cathedral took about 200 years to build. The style of architecture, while predominantly Gothic, highlights various tendencies over this time period.

The cathedral is about 130 meters in length and less than 50 meters in width with about 30 meters height. It consists of a choir, aspe, transept, nave and square chapels. The double towers to the west were built in the 13th century. The south tower houses the famous Emmanuel bell which tolled in celebration of all historic events in France, including the conclusion of the world wars. Around the 19th century, the cathedral underwent major renovation and restoration after coming into a state of complete disrepair.

A Witness to History & a Part of It

The 800 year old monument has witnessed several events in its lifetime that changed the course of history. In the 15th century, Henry VI of England was crowned inside the cathedral. Later, in the early 20th century, it was at Notre Dame that Joan of Arc was beatified by Pope Pius X. The structure’s flying buttresses were architecturally ahead of their time.

The monument has also seen its fair share of bad days in the past. Before the newly crowned Napoléon came to its rescue, the cathedral was about to be demolished. In the 18th century, its bells were melted to make artillery during the French Revolution, while the cathedral itself was used as a warehouse. The statues in the Gallery of Kings were beheaded as revolutionaries though they depicted the kings of France. It was architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc who was tasked with the renovations at this time. Viollet-le-Duc added the gargoyles and statues of the 12 apostles to the architecture. A bold move on his part, the architect also depicted himself as Saint Thomas, who was a builder himself, according to legend.

The beloved cathedral houses many invaluable Christian relics and artifacts. These include the Crown of Thorns, the Rose Windows, the Gallery of Kings and the Great Organ.

Going Forward

President Emmanuel Macron has promised the citizens of France and the world at large that the cathedral will be rebuilt. The Pinault family have already pledged 100 million euros towards the efforts. The 800 year old structure forms an integral part of France’s history and identity.

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