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Home Variety Culture and History The history of the Notre Dame: From a Pagan Temple to Gothic Cathedral

The history of the Notre Dame: From a Pagan Temple to Gothic Cathedral

It is known that a Gallo-Roman Temple dedicated to the God Jupiter stood at the same site before the advent of Christianity in France.

In a tragic event, the historic medieval Cathedral in Paris, Notre Dame, was ravaged by fire recently that caused colossal damage to the structure. The spire and roof of the 850-year-old Gothic building have collapsed but the main structure and the two bell towers have been preserved.

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild the Cathedral as Parisians mourn the great loss of history and architecture. The cause of the fire is not yet clear. While the fire has caused great damage indeed, destruction and renovation of structures that have stood at the very site of the Notre Dame have been fairly common throughout history. In fact, Notre Dame is not the first religious structure to have stood at the site.

It is known that a Gallo-Roman Temple dedicated to the God Jupiter stood at the same site before the advent of Christianity in France. The Pillar of the Boatmen, a monumental Roman column erected in Lutetia (modern Paris) in honour of Jupiter by the guild of boatmen in the 1st century AD, found in 1710 during the construction of a crypt under the nave of Notre-Dame and first published by Baudelot de Dairval in 1712, is testament to the fact. The pillar was dated by a dedication to the Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar Augustus who assumed the seat of the Emperor in 14 A.D.

Four Christian structures are believed to have succeeded the Pagan Temple to Jupiter before the Notre Dame. The first, the 4th-century Basilica of Saint Etienne, then a Merovingian renovation of the same which was later remodelled into a Cathedral in the 9th Century. Then, there was another remodelling of the structures before the culmination into the Notre Dame. The last structure before the Notre Dame was demolished and its material was recycled to build the Gothic Cathedral.

The Pagan Temple at the site gave way to Christian Churches, signifying an epochal transformation. Of course, it’s a recurring phenomenon in Abrahamic history. Pagan structures are desecrated and destroyed and monotheistic religious structures are built in their stead to signify the victory of the ‘One True God’. Of course, there’s no certainty that the first Church that was built at the site of the Pagan Temple was built after desecrating the latter.

It could very well be that the Temple was abandoned by its erstwhile devotees or it simply fell to ruins after the great fall of Paganism although the century in which the first Church at the site was built makes it very unlikely. However, it does show for certain that early Christians weren’t too keen on preserving the Pagan Temple as a symbol of culture and instead, quite zealously, built a Church at the very same place.

The Notre Dame itself has suffered desecration in the past. As fate would have it, the last time large scale destruction of the Cathedral occurred was during another epochal period in world history. During the French Revolution, in the 1790s, much of its religious imagery was either damaged or destroyed. The cathedral’s iconic sphere itself was added during the restoration project in the 19th Century.

As people would be aware, the West is teetering at the brink of chaos. White Nationalism in on the rise and the influx of Islamic migrants from the Middle-East and Africa, many of whom have extremely problematic opinions, has created a great schism in Western society. In France itself, the ‘Yellow Vests’ protests have been going on for weeks and the protestors and the Establishment appear to be at an impasse.

It is certain that efforts will be made to restore the Cathedral to its former glory. The extent to which such efforts will be successful is, of course, a different matter. Some believe that the rebuilding the Notre Dame could save the Catholic Church. Such misguided notions could only be attributed to immeasurable grief that clouds one’s ability to think clearly.

Nothing could ‘save’ the Catholic Church. It has been destroyed by centuries of crimes against humanity, the intrinsic rape culture that permeates every fabric of its existence, the rampant sexual abuse of children and the Church’s efforts to cover it all up and protect the clergy. A work of Architecture was destroyed, not the malaise that has taken root in the Church.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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