Notre-dame de paris

A sarcophagus discovered at Notre-Dame de Paris

Under part of the floor of the cathedral of Paris, which remained intact after the fire, at the very place where the future scaffolding for the reconstruction of the spire will stand, archaeological discoveries have somewhat disturbed the reconstruction site.

Archaeologists from the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap), whose intervention is required in the event of a risk to national heritage, have taken possession of the place where the 100 m high scaffolding is to be erected, causing a risk to the basement of the building.

As in many churches, the paving of the cathedral covers tombs: more than 400 are listed in the epitaph. Some had already been destroyed by the work of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who equipped the cathedral with a heating system, running huge pipes under the paving of the building. This era was not concerned with preventive archaeology.

During their exploration, Inrap archaeologists made two discoveries considered exceptional: a lead sarcophagus and the remains of the old rood screen.

The sarcophagus is made of lead. It is “anthropomorphic”, in the sense that it follows the shape of the human body. Archaeologists estimate that it dates from the 14th century. Given its location, it could contain the remains of a canon.

The lead casing has old perforations, at the level of the head. These made it possible to slip inside an endoscopic camera, provided by an Arte team present for a filming.

The result raised the researchers’ excitement to a fever pitch. “We saw a body in a very good state of preservation, but also elements of fabric, and plant remains, especially at the level of the head: a priori it looks like boxwood, a practice reserved for a social elite”, a indicated the archaeologist Christophe Besnier.

But there is not just a sarcophagus among the treasures collected. In a pit at the northeast corner of the quadrangle of excavations, archaeologists have found elements of the old rood screen, built in the Middle Ages and replaced under Louis XIV.

“Unlike the elements of the rood screen revealed by Viollet-le-Duc and exhibited in the Louvre, which are absolutely unpainted, these are of extraordinary polychromy, and even older than the sarcophagus”, explains Christophe Besnier.

But these discoveries have created a source of tension between the reconstruction company and Inrap. The archaeologists, who know that such an opportunity will not come again, have requested additional excavation time. Philippe Villeneuve, the architect of historical monuments, while rejoicing in the discoveries, insists on respecting his plan. He must place 600 tons of scaffolding on the excavation site.

Archaeologists are under a deadline that runs until March 25. However, they are satisfied with their findings. They were even able to make another discovery: during a geophysical survey of the explored surface, they spotted an ancient rampart dating from the end of the Roman Empire, a few meters underground. Which of course cannot be explored.

All that remains is to have the sarcophagus and its contents analyzed in a forensic laboratory. Before handing it over to the rector so that he can decide on another location to rest the coffin and its occupant, until the resurrection of the dead.