In December, I wrote about the state of Notre Dame Cathedral’s restoration following its devastating 2019 fire. And now, this week, workers have made a fascinating discovery at the site. While workers were testing the ground’s stability to prepare to rebuild the cathedral’s spire, they unearthed a medieval coffin from under the floor near the crossing, where the nave meets the transept. The French culture ministry claims that the coffin likely dates to the fourteenth century. Based on its location and the fact that it was made from lead, it most likely contains a prominent dignitary’s remains.
Like many medieval lead coffins, it was molded into the body’s shape. This was done for preservation since lead ensures that moisture is kept out, keeping the body intact. The British royal family continues this practice with their 500-pound lead-lined coffins, seen most recently during Prince Philip’s funeral. While the coffin is slightly warped from the weight of the stones and earth above, archaeologists have been able to peek inside using an endoscopic camera. Head archaeologist Christophe Besnier said they could see “pieces of fabric, hair and a pillow of leaves on top of the head, a well-known phenomenon when religious leaders were buried.” Some other artifacts were also uncovered, including pieces of statuary and parts of the original cathedral rood screen, removed around 1700 on the orders of Louis XIV.
Because of the find, the restoration efforts on the spire were halted until March 25th.