The mystery sarcophagus discovered beneath the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris last month is set to reveal its secrets very soon to French forensic scientists.
The unexpected find was brought to light during excavation work for the reconstruction of the church’s iconic spire, which collapsed in the shocking 2019 fire.
French media report that the anthropomorphic sapcophagus, believed to be dated to the 14th century, is scheduled to be transported to the Forensic Unit of the University Hospital of Toulouse, in southern France, where it will be opened and studied.
Fist evidence about the Notre Dame sarcophagus
The sarcophagus was unearthed in mid-March, found buried under a heating system of the 19th century.
Experts have pointed out that the lead coffin suggests a high standing in society, possibly similar to that of the Lady of Brefeillac Louise de Quengo, whose sarcophagus was also opened and studied by the same forensic unit in the city of Toulouse in 2015.
The Notre-Dame of Paris cathedral sarcophagus should be studied as an anthropological find, they say, not an archaeological one.
This means that the deceased person’s remnants will be treated with due respect and according to the relevant legislation for human rights.
Scientists have already an idea of what they will find once the sealed sarcophagus is opened, thanks to an endoscopic camera that was slotted through one of the lead coffin’s cracks.
The camera revealed cloth remains and organic matter such as hair and plants, alongside objects that have yet to be identified.
X-rays and carbon dating are among the tools to be used to determine the identity of the deceased, such as their age and sex.
It is estimated that the research work will be completed by June, when the sarcophagus could be returned to the Notre Dame of Paris cathedral to be buried again in its original burial site.
Reconstruction of the Notre Dame of Paris cathedral
The dramatic fire at the Notre Dame of Paris broke out beneath the roof of the iconic medieval cathedral on April 15, 2019, during the Catholic Holy Week.
Thousands of citizens gathered in the streets around the cathedral, watching as firefighters struggled to contain the devastating fire. People could be seen weeping, singing hymns or saying prayers.
The 850-year-old Gothic building’s spire and the roof collapsed while its upper walls were severely damaged, but the main structure, including the two bell towers, were saved.
The cause of the fire remains unknown. It is believed that it could be linked to renovation work that had begun after cracks had appeared in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable.
Preliminary operations to restore the monument are currently underway, like the major campaign to clean the interior of the cathedral.
According to the organization Friends of Notre Dame de Paris, the safety phase of the reconstruction progress was completed in 2021.
Over the next few months, the public agency in charge of managing the process will issue calls for tender to source companies with expertise in the restoration of historical monuments.