A look at the history of Notre Dame Cathedral
Published Monday, April 15, 2019 3:13PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, April 16, 2019 9:37AM EDT
Paris’ iconic Notre Dame Cathedral was forever altered Monday, after a fast-moving fire claimed its spire and roof, sparing its bell towers. Here's a look at the history of the now fire-damaged edifice that has symbolized the French capital for more than eight centuries.
The early Gothic cathedral has symbolized Paris for more than eight centuries.
Its cornerstone was laid by Pope Alexander III on the site of a Roman temple to Jupiter in 1163, and it took nearly 200 years to complete.
The cathedral now draws more than 30,000 visitors per day, or about 13 million per year. They come to pray to God or to marvel at its history.
French Novelist Victor Hugo, whose 1863 novel about a hunchback was set within its walls, has written that there “are surely few such wonderful pages in the book of Architecture as the façades of the Cathedral.”
“Every surface, every stone of this venerable pile, is a page of the history not only of the country, but of science and of art,” he wrote.
Meredith Cohen, an art historian at UCLA, told CTV News Channel that the fire represents a “very serious loss,” but it’s not the first time the building has been ravaged.
Most of the original stained glass windows were long ago destroyed, according to Cohen. They weren’t what gave the church its “magic” anyway.
“This architecture itself is the real artwork,” she said. “It’s built by hand. There’s little mortar. They didn’t use large-scale machinery to build it. Each stone was carved individually.”
A more serious loss than the few remaining stained-glass windows, according to Cohen, is the 13th century timber roof that burned.
She said the spire is also a loss, even though it wasn’t built until the late 19th Century.
Alexander Andree, a medieval studies professor at the University of Toronto, also pointed out that the building has been damaged many times before.
“The Huguenots in 16th century did what they could to desecrate and destroy the cathedral but they didn’t have the means to tear it down,” he told CTV News Channel.
He said the interior was also attacked during the French Revolution, when secularists banned Catholicism and turned the cathedral into a “Temple of Reason.”
Napoleon restored Catholicism in 1801.
The heads of statues decapitated during the revolution were found buried in the 1930s.
Malcolm Thurlby, an architectural historian at York University, agreed with Cohen that the building’s architecture is makes it so special.
“It’s one of the first interior spaces to go above 100 feet of height. Before that, 70 or 80 feet.”
Still, he said, “the loss is just devastating.”
The cathedral is also home to important religious relics.
"One of the fortunate aspects of this whole horrible, devastating fire is that the 'Crown of Thorns' was saved, purported to be the very same crown used to mock Jesus during his crucifixion," Emma Anderson, professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Ottawa, told CTV's Your Morning.
"Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the three little relics that were in the spire of Notre Dame."
A brief timeline:
1163: The cornerstone of the cathedral is laid by Pope Alexander III on the site of a Roman temple to Jupiter.
1345: The cathedral is finally completed.
1431: Henry VI of England is crowned inside.
1455: Joan of Arc’s mother, Isabelle Romee, arrives at Notre Dame to appeal for her daughter at a trial to clear her name.
1793: Revolutionaries ban Catholicism and rename Notre Dame the Temple of Reason. A Festival of Reason on Nov. 10 celebrates secular principles.
1801: Napoleon restores the status of the Catholic Church and saves the cathedral from destruction. Three years later, he is crowned emperor inside.
1831: Victor Hugo releases “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” his famous novel set inside the cathedral.
2017: A charity appeals to donors for 150 milllion euros to restore and repair the cathedral.
Timeline sources: Encyclopedia Britannica and Notre Dame Cathedral Paris