The Historical Impact of the Notre Dame Fire

Published on April 15, 2019

A fire broke out at Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral on Monday evening, local time. After the roof of the building and main spire of the cathedral collapsed Monday night, the fire has been contained and the worst of it has passed. The fire broke out during renovations to the building that were taking place at the time. An immediate investigation into the cause of the fire suggests that it was an accidental fire. However, investigations are still underway.

Notre Dame’s History

As one of the most iconic symbols of Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral sits on a small island—called Île de la Cité—in the middle of the Seine River in between Paris’ 4th and 5th arrondissement’s. The Cathedral dates back to 1163 when it was constructed during the reign of King Louis VII. However, it wasn’t completed until a few hundred years later in 1345. Throughout its nearly one millennia in Paris, Notre Dame has been home to countless historical events. Things like the coronation of King Henry VI in 1431, the crowning of Napoleon, and the beatification of Joan of Arc.

Aside from its rich history as a famed French landmark, Notre Dame has survived hundreds of years of war, neglect, remodeling, rioting, and tragedy. The cathedral remains one of the most iconic symbols of Gothic architecture throughout history. Its use of rose windows, flying buttress arches and towering chapels canonizes it into art history as a shining example of medieval architecture. Now, with major elements of the cathedral having been lost to the flames, 2019 stands to be one of the most historical years for the cathedral’s extensive history.

What Happened?

Notre Dame began a $12 million renovation project back in 2017. By the time the project was finished, it was supposed to cost around $150 million. The French Government was funding the project, which would see an overhaul of major areas that had been weathered over time. Parts of the cathedral had seen significant erosion, and many statues were removed for cleaning as recently as last Thursday. The purpose of the renovation was not to completely rebuild the cathedral, but to clean it up. Now that the fire has destroyed much of the building’s structure, though, it could mean that those plans have changed significantly.

When the fire broke out on Monday, workers had been in the process of working near the spire that fell in the fire. The French police are treating the incident like it was an accidental fire. However, an investigation is currently underway to make sure that the fire was not started as an act of arson. French officials rushed to the scene, though police encouraged President Emmanuel Macron to stay far enough away from the situation as not to be in potential danger if the building were to collapse.

Rebuilding A Landmark

Macron made a statement on his twitter account in the wake of the fire. The President was scheduled to give an address to the nation on Monday night, but cancelled the event to tend to the tragedy at Notre Dame. “Notre Dame is aflame. Great emotion for the whole nation. Our thoughts go out to all Catholics and to the French people. Like all of my fellow citizens, I am sad to see this part of us burn tonight,” Macron said on Twitter late on Monday.

Rebuilding the Notre Dame Cathedral will take time, despite the fact that the two front towers of the building were spared by the flames. The biggest worry with the fire was not just the loss of the building, but the threat it was to the priceless artwork and artifacts within its walls. Luckily, much of the buildings most invaluable artifacts were saved just in time. However, the spire and roof of the Cathedral has fallen. A live feed of the scene has been set up on YouTube by CBS News.


Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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