Today’s Solutions: September 22, 2023

The 2019 Notre Dame fire was felt by many around the world. The medieval cathedral was an iconic Parisian landmark that visitors came from many countries to see, and its loss was taken to heart by the French people. President Emmanuel Macron pledged to return Notre Dame to the world and have it rebuilt and ready for visitors and catholic mass by 2024. 

In the middle of its reconstruction efforts, archaeologists made a surprising discovery. 

Beneath the church floor

Before beginning the reconstruction of Notre Dame’s spire, France’s archaeological institute, Inrap, did a “preventative dig” in the middle section of the cathedral. Just beneath the surface, they discovered a treasure trove of artifacts going back as far as the 13th century.  

This included multiple tombs, statues, sculptures, and a lead sarcophagus the team believes holds the remains of a high church official. 

“We uncovered all these riches just 10-15cm [4-6 inches] under the floor slabs. It was completely unexpected. There were exceptional pieces documenting the history of the monument,” said Christophe Besnier, head of the dig’s scientific team, to The Guardian.

“It was an emotional moment. Suddenly we had several hundred pieces from small fragments to large blocks including sculpted hands, feet, faces, architectural decorations, and plants. Some of the pieces were still colored.”

Among the treasures was also a piece of Notre Dame’s original rood screen, the decorative partition that separates the clergy and choir at the head of the church. 

Once lost to history, now returned 

Until now, only a few pieces of Notre Dame’s original rood screen have been recovered. Some are in the Louvre and others are stored in the cathedral’s storerooms, but throughout Europe, many rood screens were removed during the Counter-Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries. Now, this small piece of history has been returned to France and the world. 

Ironically, if it weren’t for the fire, who’s to say when these treasures may have been found? These pieces of France’s history offer some small consolation for the loss of one of its most beloved landmarks, while they endeavor to return it to the world. When Notre Dame reopens to Paris in 2024, it will return with even more of its history.  

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