As one of the most famous cathedrals in all of Christendom, Notre Dame housed a series of priceless religious relics, including the teeth and hair of saints.
From the crown of thorns to the teeth of St. Genevieve, the saint who protected Paris from the Huns, the famed landmark was home to multiple irreplaceable Christian treasures.
In the bright light of morning, it was clear that some relics were saved from the fire that destroyed part of the great cathedral, some were likely destroyed, and, for some, it was not yet clear. Paris fire officials say the roof of the building was almost entirely destroyed but the facade is intact. They haven’t ruled on the cause yet, but they say it might be linked to renovations.
Professor Robert Aldrich from the University of Sydney told ABC the cathedral was like a museum: “Among the religious relics are what some people think is the crown of thorns of Jesus Christ, as well as the tunic of Saint Louis.”
Here’s what you need to know about the religious relics:
Crown of Thorns: Saved
A hero priest is being praised for saving the Crown of Thorns. According to one French journalist, Father Jean-Marc Fournier, Chaplain of the @PompiersParis, “went with firefighters in the Cathedral #NotreDame to save the Crown of thorns and the Blessed Sacrament.”
According to the Irish station NewsTalk, the Crown of Thorns “was brought to Paris by French King Louis IX 1238. The Church believes it is a relic of the wreath of thorns placed on the head of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion.”
“Father Fournier is an absolute hero,” a member of the emergency services said to the station. “He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral, and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day, and shows no fear.”
Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, confirmed on Twitter that the Crown of Thorns was saved – along with other religious relics.
“Thanks to the @PompiersParis, the police and the municipal agents who realized tonight a formidable human chain to save the works of #OurDame. The crown of thorns, the tunic of Saint Louis and several other major works are now in a safe place,” she wrote on Twitter. Msgr. Patrick Chauvet, the cathedral’s rector also confirmed to The New York Times that the Crown of Thorns was saved, along with the tunic and “a collection of chalices.”
The official newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin explains the history of the Crown of Thorns, writing, “Napoleon saved the crown of thorns and it was kept at the National Library until 1804. At that time, Christ’s crown was returned to the Archbishops of Paris and, in Aug. 10, 1806, was placed in the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.”
Tunic of Saint Louis: Saved
The tunic of Saint Louis, one of the items the Paris mayor confirmed was saved, was on display at Notre Dame.
The linen tunic is said to belong to a canonized King, Louis IX, who was part of the Crusades. He ruled France in the 1200s and died on a crusade in Algeria.
According to Britannica, Saint Louis “led the Seventh Crusade to the Holy Land in 1248–50.” He was the only French King made a Saint; Pope Boniface VIII canonized Louis IX, “the only king of France to be numbered by the Roman Catholic Church among its saints, in 1297,” reports Britannica.
Relics of St. Denis & St. Genevieve: Possibly Destroyed
Tragically, relics of St. Denis and St. Genevieve were housed inside the spire, which spectacularly collapsed during the blaze. They are missing, according to The New York Post, which added that a separate fragment from the Crown of Thorns may also have been inside the spire.
What were the relics specifically? They were “the bones, teeth or hair of these patron saints of Paris.”
Saint Genevieve is credited with saving Paris from the Huns. “She had numerous prophetic visions and is said to have predicted the invasion of the Huns,” reports Britannica. Reportedly the first bishop of Paris, Saint Denis was a Christian martyr who died around 258.
The ‘True Cross’ & a Nail From the Cross: Unknown
In addition to the Crown of Thorns, the cathedral housed what was believed to be a piece of Jesus Christ’s Cross and a nail used during the Crucifixion, according to its website. The fate of the latter two relics is not yet clear.
The cathedral’s website explains: “The relics of the passion presented at Notre-Dame de Paris are made up of a piece of the cross preserved in Rome and brought back by Saint Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, a nail of passion and the Holy crown of Thorns.”
There was another cross in Notre Dame – the cross at the altar.
A view from inside the cathedral after the fire showed the cross intact at the altar.