The fire of Notre Dame that began on April 15, 2019, caused an extensive amount of destruction to the historic cathedral. The monument’s construction began in 1160 and finished in 1345, making Notre Dame 856 years old today. As of this writing, it is unclear what caused the fire, but the latest reports state that an electrical short circuit from current renovations may be the culprit behind this devastating event.
Renovation for Notre Dame began in late 2018 and was still underway when the fire broke out. Most people don’t realize that the current renovation is actually just one in a long list of rebuilds and reconstruction that Notre Dame has undergone since its resurrection. Notre Dame has been rebuilt and refigured over ten times throughout the years.
From the birth of the iconic stone gargoyles to remaking the stained-stained-glass windows, here are ten times the Notre Dame Cathedral went through renovations.
Notre Dame took over 200 years to complete, with most of its work being done during the Gothic period. This period originated in 12th century France and extended up until the 16th century, which is why many of the architectural designs reflect the historical gothic style.
During the mid-13th century, a 49-foot flying buttress of the choir was added on to the cathedral, which helped support the weight of the roof. The original buttresses were then replaced in the 14th century. And because the Gothic theme eventually became out of style during the Renaissance (1300 – 1600), the gothic pillars were covered with tapestries. The sanctuary was rearranged and the choir was rebuilt with marble as well during this time.
In 1699, King Louis XIV decided to make major renovations to the church. A wrought iron fence was assembled, tombs were taken out of the nave of the church, and the choir was expanded. New furniture and paintings were added, including the current high altar and paintings the famous paintings of the Virgin Mary by Antoine de La Porte. A statue of St Christopher was also destroyed in 1793.
In the 1790s, after the French Revolution, Notre Dame was subject to mass destruction. It was desecrated by those who were opposed to such beliefs. As a result, many of its religious imagery was destroyed. Twenty-eight statues of biblical kings in the West end of Notre Dame were beheaded. The altars featuring the Virgin Mary were replaced by the Goddess of Liberty and every other large statue on the facade was destroyed. During this time, Notre Dame was simply used as a warehouse.
Although Notre Dame’s architectural legacy was already widely recognized, this historical monument became ever better known after the publication of Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo. In English, the name of this novel is better-known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The novel is a lot more graphic than the 1996 Disney animation, but nevertheless, the story brought further fame to Notre Dame.
Because of its recent exposure, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc supervised a renovation to the cathedral. The massive restoration project lasted nearly twenty years, with renovations to the building taking place between 1844 and 1864.
Due to air pollution in Paris during the 19th and 20th centuries, the exterior of Notre Dame began to deteriorate. The last the exterior had been restored was during a detailed cleaning of soot and grime in 1963, which brought back the exterior’s original off-white color. Gargoyles also started to become unstable along with several turrets. So beginning in 1991, a renovation project began for Notre Dame that wouldn’t come to an end until 1999.
During this time, most of the cathedral’s exterior was replaced. Incorporating new facade elements such as limestone blocks were handled delicately so that the historical architecture would remain unfazed. Even then, people were saying that renovations on Notre Dame had started too late, as brickwork within the spire were only being held up by a grate. This spire (which collapsed in the 2019 fire) was originally removed in 1786 due to it being unstable and was rebuilt 1860.
For the ten year renovation in the 1990s, Notre Dame was reworked from the inside out. A system of electrical wires was added to the roof of the building to ward off pigeons and a computerized system was added to the famous pipe organ inside the cathedral.
One of the most significant features of Notre Dame is its bells. There are ten bells associated with the cathedral. Each has it’s own name and is used for various events such as weddings and funerals. One in particular — a massive bourdon bell named Emmanuel — has survived several renovations and catastrophes (i.e. the French Revolution). This bell dates back as far as the 15th century but was actually recast by orders of King Louis XIV in 1681.
During the French Revolution (arguably the most destructive event for Notre Dame), bells were melted down to make cannons. Four that had been destroyed were replaced in 1856 and were not restored again until the 19th-century restoration.
Despite the tragedy of the recent 2019 fire that resulted in the destruction of Notre Dame’s famous stained glass windows, these are not the original structures as many people believe. None of the original glass remains.
In the late 1240s, Jean de Chelles added the first rose window. However, the colorful stained glass from the 12th and 13th centuries were eventually replaced with white glass windows. This was done around the 1540s in order to bring more light into the cathedral. These windows had to be restored, remade, and reimagined several times.
There are three rose stained-glass window that holds the most historical significance in Notre Dame. Some of this Medieval glass was destroyed during the liberation of Paris in 1944 and had to be replaced. Eventually, they were all replaced in the 19th century. As of the 2019 fire, these three windows remain intact, though slightly damaged. One has to be dismantled and others that were destroyed have little historical significance.
The pipe organ’s in Notre Dame’s church have been a major factor since the first one was implemented. However, these have been renovation many times over the years due to age and wear. One of Notre Dame’s first organs, created by Friedrich Schambantz in 1403 was replaced in the 1730s. Several stops (pressurized air inside the organ) were replaced in 1904, and electrical blowers were installed within the organs in the 1920s.
For modern renovations, Jean-Loup Boisseau saw that Notre Dame’s pipe organs were completed reconstructed. A new console was installed, manual keyboards were added, and various stops were added into the organs for modern influence.
The 2019 fire saw the collapse of Notre Dame’s spire, which was located above the altar. The spire was built in the 13th century but was actually removed in 1786 because of its vulnerable state. It was replaced during the 19th-century renovations and weighed close to 750 tons.
Notre Dame’s gargoyles weren’t added until 1240, with their sole purpose being to redirect rain off the roof and away from the building to negate erosion. The stone gargoyles saw massive destruction during the French Revolution and many of the more grotesque gargoyles were removed in the 17th and 18th century.
The state of Notre Dame’s bell was so pitiful that in 2013, all ten bell’s went under a massive renovation project. The bell’s had already been reworked during the 19th-century restoration project, but after so many years, they were in dire need of attention.
The four bells that were originally destroyed during the French Revolution and restored during the 19th century were fully replaced in 2013. Each of these four bells was melted down and recast in booze to celebrate Notre Dame’s 850th anniversary. The bells were redesigned to bring out the bell’s original sound from the 17th century.
Before the 2019 fire, Notre Dame was undergoing a 100 million euro (112 million USD) renovation that started in late 2018. Notre Dame currently sees tens of millions of visitors a day. Because the last renovation was in the 19th century, the building’s structural safety was under question. Most of the recent concerns pertained the building’s decade, which was deteriorating due to Paris’ pollution. Six million euros were set aside strictly to renovate the spire that eventually collapsed during the recent April fire.
Because of the 2018 renovation, many statues and treasures were removed from the building and thankfully were not destroyed. Firefighters saved the walls, façade, pipe organ, towers, buttresses, and stained glass windows. However, it was noted that Notre Dame was only 15 minutes away from total structural devastation.