Should we expect new discoveries after the sarcophagus?

On March 14, the Ministry of Culture announced that important archaeological remains had been discovered during research prior to the reconstruction work on the tower of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. This Monday begins the last week of excavations, which should end on Friday, March 25. What can we expect from ongoing excavations and new discoveries? that’s it 20 minutes tried to find it.

A 14th-century lead sarcophagus and fragments of Notre-Dame’s old rood screen destroyed in the 17th century. The treasures discovered by archaeologists from the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) are extraordinary. First the sarcophagus. If it’s not surprising to find someone from this period in a church, and we know that Notre-Dame has looked at at least 400 tombs, it is unique in its kind as it is the only tomb discovered in Paris. . For parts of the Rood screen, their shallow depth and quality of protection are more of a concern.

One last sector… and that’s it

Enough to whet the appetite of archaeologists and history buffs. Rest assured, he could see even more new finds coming out of the cathedral last week. After the sections of the sarcophagus and the rood curtain, a third section remains to be excavated with masonry that may be part of an older structure of the Gothic cathedral, or even of the Romanesque cathedral on which we are standing. It has very few elements.

And then ? “We won’t push the investigations any further,” explains Dorothée Chaoui-Derieux, of the Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs (DRAC) who ordered the excavations, “we know there are tombs everywhere, we know that the Lower Imperial wall runs under the cathedral level of the south aisle, but these are the construction site and future archaeological sites.” sectors that are not involved in operations. »

an agenda to keep

In summary, despite the latest discoveries, and even if there is any news, the excavations will stop. What disappointed archaeologists is no doubt, but the initial agreement was clear, Emmanuel Macron had given five years to rebuild the cathedral, and three years had already passed. And General Georgelin, head of the public agency for the preservation and restoration of Notre-Dame, is determined to stick with the programs.

According to Mathieu Louis, an architectural historian, cathedral expert and professor at the University of Paris-Cergy, the shocking decision and rigidity can be explained as follows: A series of buildings from at least the Gallo-Roman era. If we wanted to fully excavate, it would be impossible to reopen in 2024. »

Our Lady is not Pompeii

First, excavations can only be done on non-pier sections, some for renovation, others only to support weakened sections. These excavations would then have to be done before the equipment is replaced due to the dust they would raise, which is impossible for the remaining two years. “It would have to be done piecemeal, it would be extremely complex with renovations or visits in the coming years. Also some parts of the floor are undamaged, you can’t touch them that way. »

“It would be great to see where the previous cathedral was, under the nave, under the heart. And what’s more, the previous cathedral was the largest early Christian basilica in Gaul,” adds Mathieu Lours. But the historian decides: “Our lady is not Pompeii. The Diocese needs its cathedral, Paris needs Notre-Dame, and visitors can see it.” It would be exciting to explore anything, but you have to stay between the use of the building and the knowledge.A philosopher is already happy with the first discoveries in 160 years.