800 years of wonder, Notre-Dame Cathedral saw it all

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Notre-Dame Cathedral, the centuries-old structure in Paris that was gutted in a massive fire on Monday (April 15, 2019), was one of France’s most iconic architectural wonders. Built over 800 years ago, Notre-Dame Cathedral had weathered many seasons down the centuries. The ashes that lie scattered in Paris today had inspired awe in visitors from across the world in the architecture’s halcyon days.

Popularly known as “our lady”, the Notre-Dame Cathedral is used by the Roman Catholic Church. It is also the seat of the Archbishop of Paris.

THE ORIGIN

The Notre-Dame Cathedral is located on the small island of Ile de la Cite. This island is in the middle of River Seine.

Photo: Getty Images

The construction of the Notre-Dame Cathedral stretched on for nearly 200 years. A description on the Cathedral’s website says its construction began in 1163 after King Louis VII commissioned the architectural wonder. Construction was completed in 1345.

HISTORY IT WAS WITNESS TO

Among the highlights of its 800-year-old history, is the crowning of Henry VI of England, which took place inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral in 1431.

WHEN IT WAS ALMOST DEMOLISHED

The Cathedral website recounts there was a time when the Norte-Dame Cathedral was in a “stage of total disrepair”. In fact, it was very close to being demolished.

Photo: Getty Images

Had it not been for Napoleon, this structure would have seen its end. Napolean not only saved the Cathedral from being demolished but was later also crowned the Emperor of France inside the Cathedral in 1804.

WORLD WAR II: THREAT FROM GERMANS

By the time World War II broke out, Norte-Dame Cathedral had returned to its resplendent beauty. But as the War intensified, it was rumoured that “German soldiers might destroy the newly installed stained glass” in the Cathedral.

Anticipating a possible attack, the glass was removed. It was reinstalled after World War II ended.

Photo: Getty Images

“The steps [to remove the window] were taken because of only one particular archaeological glass window called the Rose window which is supposed to be the biggest glass window in the world produced in the 13th century,” the Cathedral’s website says.

WHAT ELSE?

Nearly every corner of the Norte-Dame Cathedral has some or the other historical significance, but an artefact that deserves a special mention is the famous bell that has been redesigned now to ring automatically.

“Any visitor to the bell tower should be prepared to climb the 140-step staircase, if desirous of seeing the historical bell or have a glimpse of the city of Paris,” the Cathedral’s website says.

Photo: Getty Images

“Also inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral, among so many historical artefacts, is the notable 17th century organ with all of its parts still functional. There are also drawings, plans and engravings which showed the old and hidden mysteries of several of the church developments and how the city of Paris came into being.”

The Notre-Dame Cathedral is also known for its beautifully carved gargoyles on its roof. Besides their architectural aesthetics, the gargoyles also protect the Cathedral’s walls by draining rainwater in a manner that it doesn’t fall on the walls and damage them. Most of the characters depicted in the form of gargoyles are demons.

WHAT REMAINS, WHAT IS LOST

The massive fire that gutted a large section of Notre-Dame Cathedral on Monday has damaged the roof of the structure.

Firefighters were however able to save the main bell towers and outer walls from collapsing before bringing the blaze under control, news agency Reuters said in a report.

The report said that besides battling to prevent one of the main bell towers from collapsing, firefighters also tried to rescue religious relics and other priceless artworks.

French President Emmanuel Macron said France would launch a campaign to rebuild the cathedral, which is considered to be among the finest examples of French Gothic cathedral architecture. The campaign will include fundraising efforts and appeals to “talents” from across the world to contribute.

“We will rebuild it together. It will undoubtedly be part of French destiny and our project for the years to come,” a visibly moved Macron said.

The cathedral’s main stone structure had escaped complete destruction by the time the fire came under control.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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