Notre-Dame crypt reopens with exhibition 18 months after blaze

  • Arts
  • Tuesday, 08 Sep 2020

A woman passes by a lithography copy by Feodor Hoffbauer (1839-1922) depicting the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral (between 1595 and 1875) seen at the exhibition "from Victor Hugo to Viollet-le-Duc" in the external crypt of the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris. Photo: AFP

The archeological crypt of Notre-Dame has reopened with an exhibition retracing the cathedral's turbulent history nearly 18 months after it was ravaged by fire.

The April 2019 blaze toppled the spire of the cathedral and destroyed much of the roof of what is one of France's most cherished national treasures.

The crypt, situated below the square in front of the cathedral and containing the remains of fortifications and thermal baths, had to be cleaned of lead dust, an arduous job that took more than a year before visitors could be allowed back in.

The exhibition pays homage to French writer Victor Hugo and the architect Eugene Viollet-Le-Duc, the two men behind the resurrection of the cathedral in the 19th century.

'Forbidding and dangerous'

Hugo's novel The Hunchback Of Notre-Dame, published in 1831, was instrumental in winning public backing for the restoration of the monument which had been left in a state of abandon and decay.

"The exhibition starts with how the cathedral looked at the time the novel was published," said Vincent Gille, a curator at the Victor Hugo museum in Paris.

"It was a frightfully forbidding and dangerous building which bore no resemblance to a radiant and shining cathedral," he said, pointing to several of Hugo's sketches as evidence.

The exhibition consists mostly of photographs, drawings, paintings and film excerpts illustrating the world's fascination with the cathedral, from the beginnings to the animated feature films of today.

'War against the Demolishers'

Notre-Dame was badly damaged by vandalism in the early 19th century, and indifferent city authorities were planning to tear it down when Hugo called for "War Against The Demolishers" in a pamphlet published in 1825.

"There is perhaps not a single city in France today that is not thinking about, beginning, or completing the destruction of some national monument," he wrote.

After the publication of Hunchback, the exhibition shows, the French public swung behind the idea that Notre-Dame was worth saving and gave crucial support to Viollet-le-Duc's work on the cathedral between 1844 and 1864, which laid the foundations for the national monument status it enjoys today.

The inspiration for some features, such as the malevolent chimeras overlooking Paris, came directly from Hugo's novel, which also, eerily, contained the description of a devastating fire.

Organisers see the exhibition as the first step towards a return to normality for the crypt's museum, which before the fire welcomed some 170,000 visitors a year.

"The project started very soon after the fire and was motivated by the wish to honour the cathedral," said curator Anne de Mondenard.

Work on Notre-Dame's reconstruction after last year's fire has been plagued by delays due to bad weather, concerns over lead pollution, and most recently the coronavirus pandemic.

It was only in early June that workers began the delicate task of removing tons of metal scaffolding that melted together in the fire - renovation work was underway when the blaze struck.

President Emmanuel Macron in July gave his blessing to a faithful reconstruction of the cathedral's spire, in a change of heart after previously calling for a "contemporary" touch. - AFP

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 1
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3

Paris , Notre Dame , Exhibition , Repairs , Fire


Did you find this article insightful?


100% readers found this article insightful

Next In Culture

French-Belgian cellist turns locked-down museums into backdrop for 'healing art'
'The Queen's Gambit' series spurs boom in sales of chess board sets, strategy books
Researchers discover a world of DNA and bacteria on Leonardo da Vinci drawings
Blood streak: Nusantara prince deals with vampire impulses and political tussles
Best books of 2020? The New York Public Library has got it covered
Artful healing: Newcomer artist's first solo exhibit is a tribute to her late father
Scientists have evidence that some cave art was inspired by hallucinogenic plants
Ritual of listening: Sleevenote is a premium audio player for fans of album artwork
Melaka-based cultural activist gives Kristang language folk songs a global audience
The visual art world mourns the death of football great Maradona

Stories You'll Enjoy