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Fate of priceless relics unclear as Notre Dame Cathedral burns

Fate of priceless relics unclear as Notre Dame Cathedral burns
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As the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris continues to burn, there is increasing concern for the fate of the artworks and relics it holds, along with the building’s architectural features such as its stained glass windows.

The relics are traditionally held in the cathedral’s treasury, a room slightly to the side of the main hall. According to a report by one journalist for French magazine Paris Match, quoting a priest who worked at Notre Dame, the relics have been saved from the fire.

The name of the relic refers to the woven crown placed on Jesus’ head prior to the crucifixion, according to Christian tradition. In the telling of the Bible, it was made for Jesus by Roman soldiers who mocked his title as “King of the Jews” and sought to inflict pain on him, through the thorns.

The piece of the Crown of Thorns came to France in 1238 following a winding path of ownership that included the Venetians (who apparently kept it as collateral for a loan) and the Byzantine Empire (who needed the loan). For centuries, it was kept in the Sainte-Chapelle chapel, just a few blocks from Notre Dame.

This file photograph taken on June 26, 2018, shows worshippers as they arrive to take part in a mass at Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris. LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images

The piece housed in Notre-Dame is meant to be part of the original cross that was used to crucify Jesus, making it one of the most important relics in Christian theology. It is one of many claimed by churches across the world, but the particle in Notre Dame is one of a handful that can be traced back to ownership by Byzantine emperors.

Like many relics, especially ones said to date back to two millennia ago, there is considerable debate about the historical legitimacy of the objects. But the two relics maintain significant symbolic and religious importance to Catholic worshippers, who are among the millions of visitors to Notre Dame each year.

Just four days ago, sixteen copper statues representing the 12 apostles and four evangelists — there since the 1860s — were removed from the cathedral for restoration while the renovations around the spire took place.

The building has been frequently updated, repaired and maintained since its construction began around 1160. It was modified throughout the ages, notably by French architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, who added a new spire made of oak covered by lead.

Parts of the structure have burned before, though nothing as serious as Monday’s blaze. In 1830, the archbishop’s residence, near the cathedral, was destroyed by rioters. The sacristy, a room where priests prepare for service, was burned by rioters during the revolution of 1848, and was later replaced by Viollet-le-Duc.

The cathedral earlier experienced a period of tumult, along with the rest of France, during the revolution of the 1790s, when the anti-religious sentiment of the revolutionaries led to the desecration of much of its religious imagery. The cathedral’s bells were also taken out and melted down to make cannon.

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