A lead sarcophagus and delicate hands carved in stone: the entrails of Notre-Dame, opened during its reconstruction work, have brought to light important archaeological remains from the 14th century. These vestiges, presented to the press on Tuesday, were discovered in the heart of this Gothic masterpiece, at the crossroads of the transept.
The cathedral, partially destroyed by fire on April 15, 2019, is in the midst of reconstruction, after an initial phase of securing which ended last summer. Excavations prior to the installation of scaffolding 100 meters high to be used for the reconstruction of the spire revealed these precious remains. To guarantee the solidity of the ground on a surface of approximately 100 m2, the archaeologists and scientists carried out preventive excavations. This research revealed a network of underground brick pipes that were used for heating in the 19th century. In the middle appeared an anthropomorphic lead sarcophagus, deformed by the weight of earth and stones, the journalists noted.
I’@Inrap is, according to law 2019-803 “the operator responsible for carrying out archaeological excavations” at #Our Lady.
The current excavations, prescribed thanks to the expertise of the Drac-SRA, show its capacities for expertise and intervention for the benefit of scientific knowledge. pic.twitter.com/AtPVGVrnLG
—Dominique Garcia (@GarciaDInrap) March 15, 2022
A few meters away, at the foot of the choir of Notre-Dame, archaeologists are working intensely to unearth another treasure: the remains of the old rood screen. This stone platform, adorned with statues, formed a kind of barrier and separated the liturgical choir from the nave and the faithful. Built around 1230, it lost use over the centuries and was destroyed in the early 18th century, experts said. On Tuesday, an archaeologist delicately unearthed from a depth of a few centimeters of earth two stone hands that seemed to implore him. At their side, in plastic baskets: the bust of a bearded man, remains of sculpted vegetation and paint used in their creation.
fabric and hair
“The discovery of this sarcophagus will allow both to better understand the practices and funeral rites” of the Middle Ages, explained Dominique Garcia, president of the National Institute for Archaeological Research (Inrap). The sarcophagus will be excavated in a laboratory in order to “know a little more about the situation of this character and the way in which he was probably embalmed”, he added. Since the start of its construction, Notre-Dame has housed several graves of personalities and religious leaders, but this is the first time that such a well-preserved sarcophagus has been found, according to experts.
The archaeologists were able to introduce a mini endoscopic camera. “We still see elements of fabric, hair a priori and also above all we saw a whole carpet of leaves above his head, which is a fairly well-known phenomenon” in the history of religious burial, said Christophe Besnier, archaeologist and excavation manager. According to him, “the fact that these plant elements are still inside show a state of conservation a priori very good”. At this stage, we still do not know the identity of the deceased but it is probably a high dignitary of the Church.
“It’s a great emotion, this cathedral is the whole history of Paris, of France (…) and to be in front of these vestiges is extremely impressive”, commented the Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelor. The excavations must last until March 25 in order to allow the start of reconstruction work for a reopening to the public scheduled for 2024, according to General Jean-Louis Georgelin who chairs the establishment responsible for the conservation and restoration of the cathedral. . The remains discovered will be “preserved”, according to the president of Inrap. All the cavities will be “filled with sand or clay balls” which can then be “vacuumed for the (archaeological) work of future generations”, he says.
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