Did You Know There’s An Entire Pagan City Below Notre Dame? – 8 More Facts Inside
On April 15th, 2019, the world watched in horror as the Notre Dame Cathedral was ablaze and the central tower burned. Although the fire destroyed a large portion of the structure, emergency workers were able to quell the flame.
Already there are efforts to restore the 12th-century church to its former glory. It has visitors every year and likely will after being fully restored. To show our appreciation for France’s efforts to keep it standing, here are some amazing facts about the Notre Dame Cathedral:
1. A Pagan City Lies Below The Cathedral
It does not look like it from the outside, but before the Notre Dame stood on the Ile-de-la-Cite, there existed the Gallo-Roman city of Lutetia. During an excavation in 1710, workers found what looked to be statues of Jupiter and other deities. This suggests that the cathedral may have been built over the remnants of a temple, or someone decided the statues looked better there.
In the 1960s and 70s, more architecture was found in the “archaeological crypt” that sits under the square in front of the famous cathedral.
2. There’s Some Recycled Architecture on Its Façade
Frequent visitors have come to know well the three portals (openings in a wall of a building, usually a grand entrance to a structure) located on the western façade. Each of these is unique in the sacred scenes they are adorned with. Out of the three, the central one that depicts Virgin and Child, is from a Romanesque church built much earlier.
Closer examination in 1969 showed evidence that stonemasons adapted the decorations for Notre Dame.
3. There’s A “Forest” In Its Roof
Most people never consider the material that goes into the buildings around them. The wood-timber frame is one of the oldest in the city of Paris. To build the frame, about 52 acres of lumber were cut down sometime in the 12th century.
Unlike many of today’s wood frames, each beam in this cathedral’s frame is made from a single tree. That is why it is nicknamed “the Forest.”
4. Its Flying Buttresses were Gothic Trendsetters
Notre Dame was one of the earliest structures in history to have what are known as flying buttresses. During the 12th century, more windows were added to the cathedral thus giving a reason for the extra support the buttresses provided.
While flying buttress are a quintessential part of Goth architecture, some argue that Notre Dame was not the first to pioneer this design trait. They did, of course, set the standard for how subsequent churches would be designed.
5. Twenty-eight of Its Kings Lost Their Heads in the French Revolution
Many things occurred during the French Revolution in 1793. 28 of the biblical king statues were destroyed by a mob, the heads removed from every single one. With Louis XVI having been executed earlier in the year, anything tied to the crown was considered “fair game.”
The stones that were still intact were repurposed by the Minister of the Interior for other construction projects. While work was being conducted on the French Bank of Foreign trade in 1977, construction crews salvaged 21 of the kings’ heads, now on display at the Musee de Cluny.
6. The Towers are Not Twins
When you see the cathedral from the front, there’s no doubt you’ll take notice of the towers on either side. Sure, they may look similar, but the North tower stand some length taller than the south. This tells us that it isn’t simply one style responsible for Notre Dame’s ‘final look.’
7. Its Bells Were Once Melted Down for Artillery
We know that the kings’ statues were toppled during the revolution. Another casualty of the French Revolution were Notre Dame’s finely crafted bells. Except for the large bourdon named Emmanuel, they rest were melted for cannons.
The 19th century saw the replacement of these bells with others that clanged with an unharmonious sound. It was not until 2013 that Notre Dame had all its bells properly replaced, accompanied by the original Emmanuel resonating with their original sound.
8. Napoleon and Victor Hugo Saved It
Napoleon Bonaparte (yes, that’s the one) had his eyes set on Notre Dame as the location for his 1804 coronation as emperor. And although it didn’t fix the walls that had holes, the coronation brought new attention to the cathedral.
Victor Hugo shared in his book the lackluster state of the structure. Architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc were inspired by the writing to restore Notre Dame.
9. Bees Live On Its Roof
There is a hive filled with Buckfast bees – a gentle strain of the flying insect developed by Brother Adam, a monk. Using nectar from the flowering plants in gardens nearby, the sweet honey made by the bees is given to the poor.