As a fire raged at the great cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France was mourning the destruction of one of the most prominent symbols of its national heritage—and Christians and art buffs the world over were lamenting the potential loss of a thousand years of history and faith. Fire officials have said many precious works of art were saved, but the structure was full of masterpieces, some of which may have perished.
Among the treasures inside the famous cathedral, where every day Parisians celebrate weddings, funerals and baptisms, is the high altar with a Nicolas Coustou sculpture of the Descent from the Cross from 1723.
UPDATE: Initial images from inside the church show the high altar intact with smoke rising from the burning pews around it.
Many of the religious relics, from communion chalices to vials of saintly blood, are kept in the small Treasure Room that visitors could pay around $5 to see.
While they are not authenticated, and many Catholic churches around the world have similar relics, Notre Dame takes pride in its three Easter relics. Part of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, some nails that were used to affix him to the cross and part of the crown of thorns he wore are kept inside the cathedral and used for Easter celebrations. The relics likely would have likely been out for Holy Week, which began on Palm Sunday, the day before the fire broke out. The only day visitors are allowed to see the crown of thorns is on Good Friday.
Reliquary that Houses Crown of Thorns
The ornate reliquary commissioned by Napoleon that houses the crown of thorns is, in itself, a work of art but is only brought out on Fridays during Lent and on Good Friday.
The hundreds of grotesque gargoyles of Notre Dame may well survive the fire. They are there as both rain spouts to channel the water from the roof and as symbolism used by the Catholic Church to depict evil and keep evil spirits away with equally evil creations. They were added in the 13th century.
About 80 years into construction, builders noted fissures on the high stone walls and incorporated flying buttresses to balance the pressure and let light into the dark cathedral.
The massive rose-shaped stained glass window was removed from the facade of Notre Dame during World War II when the French feared the Germans would target it. It was replaced in the 1960s.
The cathedral’s first organ was installed in 1403 by Friedrich Schambantz and replaced 300 years later by 1738 by François Thierry. It was renovated and parts of it replaced every 300 or so years until the present time. The latest restoration in the 1990s brought it to its current state, with more than 8,000 pipes.
Twelve Apostle and Four Evangelist Statues Around Spire
During the first restoration of the cathedral, some 450 years after it was built, Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc sculpted the 12 apostles and four evangelists in copper looking out over the city of Paris circling the 300-foot spire. These statues were rarely seen up close, but were postcard staples.
UPDATE/CORRECTION: The statues were removed for cleaning just two days before the fire and are safe.