The treasures of Notre-Dame

The Crown of Thorns, a relic of the passion of Christ. — AFP pic
The Crown of Thorns, a relic of the passion of Christ. — AFP pic

PARIS, April 16 — The fire-gutted Notre-Dame cathedral contained some of the most sacred relics of the Christian faith, including the Holy Crown of Thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion.

While firefighters were able to save the crown as yesterday’s massive blaze tore through the building in the heart of Paris, the fate of other items inside the 850-year-old Gothic cathedral is unclear.

Here is an overview of some of the treasures contained in the venerated Notre-Dame (Our Lady) Cathedral:

Holy relics

Its most precious item, the Holy Crown of Thorns, is about 21cm in diameter and made up of rushes braided together and bound by gold wire.

Firefighters who were directed to the cathedral’s most treasured objects rescued the crown as well as a tunic worn by 13th-century French crusader king, Louis IX, who was made a saint.

Notre-Dame also held two other relics said to be from the crucifixion of Jesus: a piece of the cross on which he was nailed and one of the nails.

There were three holy items in the spire that collapsed in flames yesterday: a fragment of the Crown of Thorns and relics from Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve, two of the city’s most cherished saints.

The organ of Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral. — AFP pic
The organ of Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral. — AFP pic

The Great Organ

Of the cathedral’s three organs, the most impressive is the Great Organ with five keyboards, 109 stops and close to 8,000 pipes.

Built in the 15th century, the organ was progressively added to over the centuries to become one of the largest in France.

It survived the 18th century French Revolution unscathed, even though the building was vandalised, “thanks no doubt to its use in playing patriotic music,” the cathedral website says.

Culture Minister Franck Riester said the organ “seems to be quite badly damaged”.

Stained glass

The cathedral’s three impressive stained glass circular rose windows were built in the 13th century and renovated several times.

The one on the south appeared to be intact today, as did another on the western facade which lies between the two stone towers which can be climbed by tourists on the front of the cathedral.

AFP was unable to verify the state of the northern window.

They show prophets, saints, angels, kings and scenes of the daily lives of holy figures. At the centre of each is an image of either the Virgin Mary, Christ as a baby or Christ as king reigning over heaven.

37 figures of Virgin Mary

A mid-14th century statue of the Virgin with Child, placed in the sanctuary, is the most famous of the 37 images of the Virgin Mary contained in the cathedral.

Another depicts Mary holding the body of her son descended from cross, created by French sculptor Nicolas Coustou between 1712 and 1728 and positioned behind the choir altar.

Paintings

Between 1630 and 1707 the Paris goldsmith guild presented the cathedral with a painting on every May 1. Of these 76 works called The Mays, 13 were displayed in various chapels in the cathedral.

On the west wall of the Chapel of Saint-Guillaume is the one of the most beautiful paintings in the cathedral, the Visitation by Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet (1716).

13-tonne bell

The largest and oldest of the cathedral’s bells is known as the Bourdon Emmanuel. Cast 300 years ago, it weighs 13 tonnes, its clapper alone being 500kg.

The tenor bell, considered one of the finest examples in Europe, is chimed only on special occasions and important Catholic events, and was joined in 2013 by nine new bells.

It only just managed to avoid being melted down during the revolution and rang out to announce the liberation of Paris from German occupation in 1944. — AFP

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