Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral took more than 200 years to build and just a few hours to burn. The structure’s construction began in the 12th century; six hundred years later, it was rehabilitated by Napoleon in the 1800s. In the interim, kings were crowned underneath its monumental stained glass windows even as the city around it rose, fell, and rose again.
It has served as the setting of numerous historical events, including Napoleon’s coronation in 1804. In August 1944, a special mass in the cathedral attended by General Charles de Gaulle was held to celebrate the liberation of Paris from the Nazis.
The spire contained relics of Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve, the patron saints of Paris, according to Laurent Ferri, a curator in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at Cornell University and former conservateur du patrimoine at the French National Archives. The archbishop of Paris placed the relics at the summit of the church in 1935 to protect the building. “They are now likely reduced to ashes,” Ferri says.