Scientists reveal the secrets of two sarcophagi found in Notre Dame in Paris after the 2019 fire


French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP)

Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the most important historical sites in Paris, caught fire in April 2019. Among the ashes of the building, which was almost destroyed, archaeologists discovered two sarcophagi that had been buried under the church for centuries.

Who were these people? Why were they buried in such an important site? After a meticulous study, researchers have revealed the secrets of these sarcophagi, the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) said in a statement released on Friday, December 9.

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Left: Antoine De La Porte’s sarcophagus in Nore Dame Cathedral. Right: Close-up of the plaque on De La Porte’s sarcophagus. Photos from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP)

The main sarcophagus was found buried in the cross-shaped section of Notre Dame between February and April 2022 as part of a preventive excavation before future restoration efforts, experts said. The coffins were taken to Toulouse University Hospital for further analysis.

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Left: Hair from the known coffin. Right: Flowers from the unknown coffin. Photos from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP)

For a long time, burial in cathedrals was a very common practice, with the main sarcophagi reserved mainly for the elite, INRAP experts said.

Both sarcophagi were relatively well preserved, although neither contained organic material, due to perforations that allowed air to penetrate, the archaeologists said. The coffins—which varied in shape, age, and construction—belonged to separate archaeological stages.

One of the sarcophagi belonged to Antoine de la Porte, who died on Christmas Eve 1710, according to a plaque on the coffin, experts said. De la Porte, whose coffin was named the Jubilee Cannon, has died at the age of 83. During his lifetime, he helped pay for the choir at Notre Dame Cathedral.

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The researchers studied the coffins using X-rays. Photo by France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP)

Inside the coffin, the scientists found three medals with his face in profile, as well as bones and hair.

The sarcophagus had the remains of a flower crown, now a collection of dried leaves and flowers around the level of the coffin’s head, and more dried leaves at abdomen level, according to experts and photos.

The other coffin, about which not much is known, could date back to the 14th century, the English newspaper reported, Guardian. However, the identity of the deceased may never be known. He was named “Le Cavalier” as analysis of the pelvic bones suggested he was a horseman, the newspaper said.

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Investigators studying the coffin. Photo by the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP)

The Illustrious Unknown likely suffered from a “chronic disease” that destroyed his teeth and a deformed skull that caused him to have his head wrapped as a baby, Eric Crubézy, professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of Toulouse, told a news conference. , reported Guardian. “He must have ended his life with difficulties.”

Both men were “obviously important,” as indicated by their graves in the heart of Notre Dame Cathedral, Crubézy said. The discovery of their coffins reveals some more secrets of the iconic place.

Efforts to restore Notre Dame after the devastating 2019 fire continue, ABC News reported in April 2022. The first phase of recovery involves safeguarding and securing the structure that was left. Reconstruction work is still in full swing with a deadline of 2024 when Paris will host the Olympic Games, the press agency said.

Translation by Jorge Posada

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