The lead sarcophagi were found after a fire at the cathedral in Paris, France. Archaeologists identified one coffin; the other is a mystery. The lead sarcophagi were found after a fire at the cathedral in Paris, France. Archaeologists identified one coffin; the other is a mystery. Photo from France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP)
The Notre Dame Cathedral, an iconic Paris landmark, caught fire in April 2019. Amid the ashes of the nearly destroyed building, archaeologists discovered two sarcophagi that had been buried under the church for centuries. Who were these people? How did they come to be buried at such a significant site? After careful study, researchers have revealed the secrets of these sarcophagi, France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) said in a news release on Friday, Dec. 9. The lead sarcophagi were found buried at the transept, or cross-shaped portion, of Notre Dame between February and April 2022 as part of a preventative excavation ahead of future restoration efforts, experts said. The coffins were taken to Toulouse University Hospital for further study. Cathedral burials are a long-standing practice, and lead coffins are primarily reserved for the elite, INRAP experts said. Both sarcophagi were relatively well preserved, but neither contained organic material because of punctures that allowed air inside, researchers said. The coffins – which varied in shape, age, and construction – belonged to distinct archaeological layers.
One sarcophagus belonged to Antoine De La Porte who died on Christmas Eve in 1710, according to a plaque on the coffin, experts said. De La Porte, whose coffin was nicknamed the Jubilee Cannon, died at the age of 83. During his life, he helped pay for the choir in the Notre Dame cathedral.
Inside his coffin, researchers found three medals with his face shown in profile, bones, and hair.
The sarcophagus contained the remnants of a flower crown, now a collection of dried leaves and flowers around the coffin’s head-level, and more dried leaves at abdomen-level, French researchers said and photos show.
The unknown coffin may date back to the 14th century, The Guardian reported. The deceased’s identity may never be known; however, he has been nicknamed “Le Cavalier” since analysis of his pelvic bones suggests he was a horseman, the outlet reported.The illustrious stranger likely suffered from a “chronic disease” that destroyed his teeth and a skull deformation caused by wearing a head wrapping as a baby, Eric Crubézy, professor of biological anthropology at the University of Toulouse, said at a news conference, The Guardian reported. “He would have had a difficult end of life.”
Both men were “clearly important,” as their burial places at the heart of Notre Dame Cathedral indicate, Crubézy said, per The Guardian. The rediscovery of their coffins reveals a few more of the iconic site’s secrets. Efforts are underway to restore Notre Dame after the devastating 2019 fire, ABC News reported in April 2022. The first phase of the recovery involved safeguarding and securing the remaining structure. Now, reconstruction efforts are underway with a deadline of 2024 when Paris hosts the summer Olympics, the outlet reported.