The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has revealed a great architectural secret

During the restoration works of the cathedral, the former architectural innovations were revealed, which allowed the building to become the tallest cathedral of its era in the 12th century – at that time it reached a height of approximately 32 meters.

This height, it turns out, was largely achieved thanks to the use of iron in the construction of the cathedral. Archaeologists have discovered thousands of metal clasps in various parts of the cathedral, some dating back to the early 1160s. The use of iron in this way is considered a huge technological achievement of that time.

These findings suggest, that the widespread use of iron in construction is not as modern as experts thought. The medieval builders who worked on the Cathedral of Our Lady used this technique long before the cathedral’s restoration work began in the 19th century.

Paris Notre Dame Cathedral in the 19th century (Photo: Pump Park Vintage Photography / Alamy/ Vida Press)

“Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris is now undoubtedly the first known Gothic cathedral in which iron was used as a mass construction material to join the stone,” concluded archaeologists working in Paris.

Researchers estimate that the iron samples found at Notre Dame in Paris were crafted two decades before the completion of France’s Soissons Cathedral and four decades before the construction of Bourges Cathedral. Until now, both of these Gothic-style buildings were considered the first examples of systemic iron masonry.

During the construction of the cathedral, the builders made abundant use of iron fittings to connect the stones. The sturdy metal clamps were found in the floor joints of the cathedral gallery and in the curves of its arches.

In 2019, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was destroyed by fire (Photo: AFP/Scanpix)

According to the researchers, until then, wooden bars were used to support the arches.

In the 13th century, when improvements and several additions were made to Notre-Dame de Paris, the architects seem to have been inspired by their predecessors.

For example, with the help of metal detectors, hundreds of metal clamps have been found in the cathedral area, which look different than the clamps on the floor. Experts suspect that the next architect of the cathedral invented them, who borrowed the practice of metal clamps from the first architect.

In the 19th century, several more restoration works were carried out at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, which also made extensive use of iron chains and bars.

Previously, experts had assumed that iron fittings were used in the construction of the cathedral only during these more modern improvements.

These new findings, when combined with other historical and archaeological knowledge from the same time period, could also help deepen our understanding of how iron was traded, distributed and forged in Paris in the 12th and 13th centuries. Many of the clamps included in this study appear to have been made by welding together pieces of iron borrowed from various sources of supply.

As the cathedral’s renovations continue, researchers hope to learn more about the impressive medieval builders and how they were once, many centuries ago, able to source the materials and put them together to create the indescribable beauty of Notre-Dame de Paris.

Restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after a fire will cost approximately 870 million euros. It is expected to reopen to visitors in December 2024.

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