Tag Archives: Reims Cathedral

“Notre Dame is on Fire!”: a look at the inferno that devastated the world-famous Gothic cathedral in Paris, its immediate aftermath, and what could be ahead.

By John P. Walsh, May 21, 2019.

Flames engulf Notre Dame de Paris in an historic early evening blaze on Monday, April 15, 2019. The fire left the 850-year-old Gothic cathedral standing, but suffering serious damage.

Hundreds of Paris firefighters battled the blaze for hours at Notre Dame de Paris on April 15, 2019. They saved the cathedral though its expansive timber roof, frame and spire burned crashed into the nave.

Notre Dame de Paris suffered a devastating fire on April 15, 2019 causing most of its roof and a 300-foot oak spire to collapse. The fire broke out during an early evening Mass when more than 1,000 people were in the cathedral which is the most touristic site in the center of the most touristic city in the world. The priest had been in the middle of reading that day’s Gospel of John. It was Holy Monday, the first day of Holy Week where the gospel tells the story of Mary pouring oil over the feet of Jesus which will anoint him for burial. Judas complains the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.1

Notre Dame de Paris (“Our Lady of Paris” named in honor of the Virgin Mary) will take years, even decades, to rebuild and at great expense. This will be the case whether the edifice is simply restored or, as some have argued for, more creatively re-imagined for modern times. Whichever rebuilding vision or visions are followed – and there will be voices from many quarters involved in the restoration process ahead – French president Emmanuel Macron promised to complete its rebuilding by around 2024. Within 48 hours of the fire, donations poured in from around the world to rebuild the cathedral amounting to more than one billion dollars whose substantial amount may prove inadequate to fully cover rebuilding costs.2

While the fire’s precise ultimate cause is yet to be fully determined, the conditions surrounding the blaze are recognizably available: its spotty maintenance record over 10 centuries; the anachronistic methods and complexity of its 21st century renovation going on when the fire broke out; the 12th and 13th century flammable oak “forest’” that constitutes the building’s roof and frame; and the challenges encountered by hundreds of firefighters owing to the cathedral’s size and the fire’s location and breadth. Ironically, the Cathedral roof that burned—a major attic fire— was one of the larger parts of the original 12th century builder’s monied investment.3

Notre Dame de Paris is one of Paris’s famous icons–an historical and religious treasure–and one of France’s great cathedrals along with Reims (which was nearly destroyed by fire during World War I) and Chartres (reconstructed after a fire in 1194). Others on any short list of great French cathedrals would include Amiens and Bourges, among others.

Notre Dame de Paris before the April 15, 2019 blaze. The Roman Catholic cathedral is the tourist mecca in the most touristed city in the world.

Reims Cathedral on fire in World War 1. The site of the coronation of French kings, the Gothic cathedral was virtually destroyed by bombing. After the war, the massive cathedral was completely rebuilt.

In 1163 when it became time to roof the superstructure of Notre Dame de Paris’s choir which was the first part of the church to be constructed, Paris bishop Maurice de Sully (1120-1196) provided 5000 French livres so that it could be richly and securely layered with lead. That and other of the Cathedral roof’s protective lead covering was stolen during the French Revolution in the eighteenth century. The roof’s space and design provided a large part of the church’s riddle of secret passages – including spiral staircases in the nave’s columns – that served mainly for the needs of the religious complex’s maintenance. Obviously twelfth and thirteenth century engineering proved resilient but not impregnable over ten centuries. The 2019 blaze caused serious damage leaving questions to be answered about the medieval stone and timber building’s ultimate stability. This is highly symbolic as Notre Dame de Paris is Paris Point Zero – the very center not only of the Île-de la-Cité and Paris, but the place from which all distances in France and, by extension, the world are to be judged.4

The Paris bishop Maurice de Sully (1120-1196) who with his chapter of cathedral canons started the building of Notre Dame de Paris in 1163. The structure was completed in 1250.

Episodes from the life of a bishop, c.1500, oil on panel, 61.5 x 47 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Though about 300 years after the death of Bishop de Sully, this artwork captures some of the grandeur and long history of the archbishop at his cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.

The story of the Gothic cathedral, such as Notre Dame de Paris, is essentially a French story. By the end of the Gothic Movement in the late 14th century, all corners of France -– and points between — possessed a Gothic church that displayed pointed arch, stained glass, and buttresses, some of them magnificently flying. The style and power of Gothic art reflected not only a new theological thinking in the Renaissance of the 12th century but also an assertion of royal power.5

Notre Dame de Paris viewed from the south side of the Seine. Its magnificent flying buttresses can be seen supporting the nave and apse as well as its oak spire erected in 1860 that burned and crashed into the nave during the April 15, 2019 fire.

Collégiale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Laurent d’Eu in far northeastern France is a Gothic church constructed between 1186 and 1240, roughly contemporaneous to Notre Dame de Paris. The subterranean crypt contains the tomb (excepting his heart which is at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin) of Irish St. Laurence O’Toole (1128-1180). The main impetus for the building of the new Gothic Collégiale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Laurent d’Eu was to accommodate the pilgrims who came to venerate at the saint’s tomb. French Gothic building efforts stretched from a Collégiale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Laurent d’Eu (1186) in northeastern France to Toulouse Cathedral (13th century) in the south in France’s historic Languedoc.

It was the age of international crusades of Western conquest to the Holy Land where a French king, King Louis IX, or St. Louis (1214-1270) led its seventh manifestation from 1248 to 1254 and died while on its Eighth. Here the king purchased relics to bring back to France, including the highly prized Crown of Thorns reputedly worn by Jesus Christ at his crucifixion. During the April 2019 fire, scores of ordinary people and cathedral personnel formed a human chain to save the cathedral’s many irreplaceable artifacts and preventing them from being consumed forever into the hellish blaze.

Louis IX (St. Louis) with his counselors and mother Blanche de Castile (1188-1252) in a miniature of the 15th century.

King Louis IX, or St. Louis (1214-1270) led the Seventh Crusade from 1248 to 1254.

As one of the first cathedrals built Notre Dame de Paris is of enduring architectural significance. Monday, April 15, 2019 was a tragic day in history as fire broke out in the 850-year old edifice while the world watched. Thousands of people gathered in the streets of Paris, and transmitted pictures of the dramatic blaze from smartphones and other devices onto the internet and television. It caused many to shed tears as well as express consternation and questions about what lies ahead for one of the most famous and beloved symbols of Paris.

Notre Dame de Paris is on fire, April 15, 2019. Countless pictures were taken and transmitted instantaneously around the world on the internet.

Extent of the fire damage (in red) at Notre Dame de Paris on April 15, 2019.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2019 fire, workers aimed to secure and protect the edifice which will take several months to finalize. By May 2019, the north tower was stabilized and secured while the transept’s beams were declared in good condition. Although the interior was not damaged, the structural integrity of the high vaults that protected it remains precariously uncertain and requires further close study to determine its ultimate fate. The cathedral is undergoing a major effort to remove fire debris including the oak spire (or flèche) dating from 1860 and the arch that fell into the nave.

To the highest degree possible, each bit of fallen debris will be deciphered, cataloged and saved for potential reuse in a restoration. Just one month after the fire, it would be premature to determine if the building is completely stable and it could still suffer some sort of collapse. Working on the cathedral in the 21st century are virtually the same type of skilled laborers who built it in the first place in the 12th and 13th centuries – namely, masons, stonecutters, carpenters, roofers, iron workers, and master glassmakers.6 The work associated with the Notre Dame de Paris in the aftermath of the 2019 fire promises to concentrate long centuries of history into one place looking to sustain its continued thriving existence for future generations.

NOTES:

1. “Vows to Restore Notre Dame Following a Harrowing Rescue,” by Sam Schechner and Stacy Meichtry, The Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2019; see Gospel of John, Chapter 12.

2. “Some say the $1 billion donated to the Paris cathedral should’ve been directed elsewhere,” by Sigal Samuel, Vox, April 20, 2019 – https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/4/20/18507964/notre-dame-cathedral-fire-charity-donations- retrieved May 21, 2019.

3. Gimpel, Jean, The Cathedral Builders, Grove Press, Inc., New York and Evergreen Books, Ltd., London, 1961, pp. 171-72.

4. see “Paris Point Zero” – https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/paris-point-zero – retrieved May 21, 2019.

5. Duby, Georges, The Age of the Cathedrals: Art and Society, 980-1420, translated by Eleanor Levieux and Barbara Thompson, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1981, p.97.

6. “Notre-Dame de Paris: Very serious damage that can be repaired,” Élodie Maurot, La Croix International, May 14, 2019 – https://international.la-croix.com/news/notre-dame-de-paris-very-serious-damage-that-can-be-repaired/10094 – retrieved May 20, 2019.

Text©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

MORE PHOTOGRAPHS OF NOTRE DAME DE PARIS:

Suzy Parker with Notre Dame de Paris Gargoyle, 1951. Photograph: Richard Avedon (1923-2004).

The life of Joan of Arc, Martyr-Maid of France.

Introduction and Notes John P.Walsh

Joan of Arc (French, 1412-1431) is one of the most popular and best documented medieval saints. The story of Jeanne La Pucelle as she is known in France has been beautifully depicted by many artists and writers for centuries—as well as in the films.  The visitor to France can still visit the places and sites associated with the Maid and come away with a sense of her surroundings and times of almost six centuries ago.

There is a slew of literature about Joan. A fascination with her story and significance started in the early fifteenth century with the transcripts of her trial. Modern literary authors such as Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw and Vita Sackville-West have also written serious tomes. The Recent scholarly tracts and contemporary nonfiction are vast. Within this educational and informational field, there are several ways to approach the facts of France’s warrior-maid, Joan of Arc.

One example is French artist Octave Denis Victor Guillonnet’s paintings (1872-1967). Everyone interested in Joan will always first meet her when she is a peasant girl in the small village of Domrémy in the east of France.

Before she is a teenager and throughout the rest of her short life Joan is called by her voices of Sts. Michael, Margaret, and Catherine of Alexandria. Their explicit instruction is for her to aid France as a warrior-maid.

Joan’s involvement was at a critical juncture in France’s long “100 Year” war against the competing powers of England and Burgundy. Joan’s military mission begins in 1429 at 17 years old and, after spectacular military successes including crowning Charles VII (1401-1461) King of France in a ceremony at Reims Cathedral that same year. It ends as abruptly as it started with Joan’s capture on the battlefield. She is held in prison for a ransom her King never paid. Joan’s enemies put her on trial as a heretic resulting the Maid being infamously burned at the stake in Rouen, France, on May 30, 1431.

This condemnation by Church officials sympathetic to England was overturned by Church authorities in 1456. Centuries later, in May 1920, Joan was consecrated as a Catholic saint. Although Joan was just 19 years old when she died, her brief and successful military and political exploits—as well as her unshakable belief under great duress that she was on God’s errand — set France on its path to sovereignty and earned her a place as a co-patron of France today.

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NOTES by John P. Walsh.

Versailles – The Palace of Versailles (French: Château de Versailles), or simply Versailles is a royal castle in Versailles, west of Paris in the Île-de-France region that includes Paris and its environs. The Château is open today as a museum and is a very popular tourist attraction. For more visit: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/

Joan of Arc – Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d’Arc) was born January 6, 1412 and died by execution (burned at the stake) in Rouen, France, on May 30, 1431. Nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans” (French: La Pucelle d’Orléans) Joan of Arc is considered a heroine of France for her role during the The Hundred Years War and is canonized Roman Catholic saint. She is one of several patrons of France today.

Domremy – (French: Domrémy, today Domrémy-la-Pucelle in reference to Joan of Arc.) Domremy is a small commune in the Vosges department in Grand Est in northeastern France. It is the birthplace of Joan of Arc. In 1429 Domrémy (and neighboring Greux) was exempted from taxes “forever” by King Charles VII which was the sole request made of the king by Joan of arc when Charles asked her how he could show her his appreciation for seeing him. Taxes were imposed again upon Domrémy and Greux during the French Revolution and the populations has had to pay taxes ever since.

Meuse – (French:  la Meuse.) The Meuse is a major European river, originating in France and flowing through Belgium and the Netherlands and draining into the North Sea. It has a total length of 925 km (575 miles).

Rivulet of Three-Fountains – (French: Le ruisseau des Trois Fontaines.) In Jeanne’s time, the village of Domremy was divided by the Creek of Three Fountains, so named because of three sources that fed it. To the south of it (right bank) is the Barrois and to the north of it (left bank) is Champagne. The stream also separates Domremy and Greux. Champagne was part of the royal domain, and when Joan left her home to aid the “Dauphin” Charles at Chinon or went to Nancy to visit the Duke of Lorraine, she had to seek safe conduct.

The Duchy of Lorraine – (French: Lorraine) was a duchy or dukedom that today is included in the larger region of Lorraine in northeastern France. Its capital was Nancy.

Province of Chaumont – Chaumont is a small commune of France which historically was the seat of the Counts of Champagne.

Jacques d’Arc – also Jacquot d’Arc. (b. 1375/80-d. 1431). Father of the Maid, he was born about 1375 at Ceffonds, in the diocese of Troyes, according to the Traité sommaire of Charles du Lys published in 1612. It was about the time of his marriage that he established himself at Domrémy, for his wife Isabelle Romée was from Vouthon, a village about seven kilometers away. He seems to have enjoyed an honorable position in this countryside, whether he was rich, as some have implied, or not. In 1419 he was the purchaser of the Chateau de I’Ile, with its appurtenances, put up at auction that year. In a document of 1423 he is described as doyen or sergeant of the village. He therefore took rank between the mayor and the provost, and was in charge of collecting taxes, and exercised functions similar to those of the garde Champêtre which is a combination of forest ranger,game warden, and policeman in certain rural communes in France. The same year finds him among the seven notables who responded for the village in the matter of tribute imposed by the damoiseau of Commercy. In 1427 in an important trial held before Robert de Baudricourt, captain of Vaucouleurs, he was again acting as a delegate of his fellow citizens. We know that he opposed with all his power the mission of his daughter, whom he wished to marry off. However, he went to Reims for the coronation of the King, and the King and the municipality defrayed his expenses and gave him a horse for his return to Domrémy. He was ennobled in December, 1429. Jacques d’Arc died 1431, it is said, from sorrowing over his daughter’s end.

Castle of the Island – In front of Domremy, and connected by a bridge, the Castle of the Island was the possession of the Bourlemont family, the lords of Domremy. It was rented by the inhabitants in the time of Joan and served, at times, as a refuge for their cattle.

Brothers Jacques, Jean, and Pierre, and sister, Catherine – Jacquemin d’Arc (b. 1402 d. 1450). There is very little known about Jacquemin, other than he was born 1402 in Vaudeville-le-Haut, and died in 1450. He was married to Catherine Corviset who was born in 1405 and died in 1430. They were married at Domremy.

Jean d’Arc (b. 1409 d. 1447) fled with his sister Joan to Neufchâteau; accompanied her to France; and was lodged at the house of Jacques Boucher at Orléans. With his father, he was ennobled in December 1429. As provost of Vaucouleurs he worked for the rehabilitation of his sister; appeared at bodies in Rouen and Paris; and formed a commission to get evidence from their native district and produce witnesses. He was Bailly of Vermandois and captain of Chartres.

Pierre d’Arc (b. 1408 d. ?) went to seek his sister in France; fought along with her at Orléans; lived in the same house with her in that city; accompanied her to Reims; and was ennobled with the rest of the family. He was captured with Jeanne at Compiègne, but was eventually released. Pierre retired to the city of Orléans where he received many gifts – from the King, the city of Orléans, and a pension from Duke Charles, among them the Île aux Boeufs in 1443. The descendants of Pierre had in their possession three of Jeanne’s letters and a sword that she had worn. The letters were saved but the sword was lost during the the French revolution.

Catherine d’Arc (b. 1413 d. 1429). There is very little known about Catherine, other than she married Colin, the son of Greux’s mayor, and died very young in childbirth near the end of 1429.

Isabella Romée – Isabelle Romée (b. 1385 d. Dec. 8, 1458), known as Isabelle de Vouthon. Isabelle d’Arc and Ysabeau Romée, was the mother of Jeanne. She moved to Orléans in 1440 and received a pension from the city. She petitioned Pope Nicholas V to reopen the court case that had convicted Jeanne of heresy, and then, in her seventies, addressed the assembly delegation from the Holy See in Paris. On July 7, 1456 the appeals court overturned the conviction of Jeanne. Isabelle gave her daughter an upbringing in the Catholic religion and taught her the craft of spinning wool.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

The First Biography of Joan of Arc, with the Chronicle Record of a Contemporary Account. Translated and Annotated by Rankin, Daniel S., Quintal, Claire. [Pittsburgh] University of Pittsburgh Press [1964].

Joan of Arc by Herself and her Witnesses. Pernoud, Régine. Lanham, MD : Scarborough House, [1994] Translation of: Jeanne d’Arc par elle-même et par ses témoins.
Joan of Arc: Her Story. Pernoud, Régine. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Translation of: Jeanne d’Arc.

Joan of Arc. Lucie-Smith, Edward  New York : Norton, 1977.

Joan of Arc. Twain, Mark, New York, Harper and Brothers [c.1924].

Joan of Arc. Boutet de Monvel, Louis Maurice (1850-1913), New York : Pierpont Morgan Library:Viking Press, 1980.

Joan of Arc : A Life Transfigured. Harrison, Kathryn, New York : Doubleday, 2014.

Joan of Arc : A History. Castor, Helen, New York, NY: HarperCollinsPublishers, [2015].

The Beautiful Story of Joan of Arc The Martyr Maid of France, Lowe, Viola Ruth, illustrations by O.D.V. Guillonnet, 1923, multiple U.S. editions.

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