The Unexplained: The Mysterious Sarcophagus of Notre Dame

The lead sarcophagus discovered beneath the floor of Notre Dame after the cathedral had been ravaged by fire. Photo: TechEBlog

Who could possibly be resting inside this lead sarcophagus lying beneath the charred rubble of Notre Dame in Paris? 

French archaeologists are about to open a lead container that is teeming with mysteries.  The lead container was discovered near some brick ductwork on March 15, 2022.

Some of us were watching TV on that tragic day in 2019 when a news outlet broke into regular programming.

We could not believe our eyes as we watched Notre Dame Cathedral shrinking with the licking of wicked flames.

It was eerie.

It did not even seem possible.

It was made of stone blocks, after all.

Sara Marie Hogg

We were transfixed in horror when the spire tilted, then crumbled and crashed, a black skeleton of its former self.

Notre Dame de Paris – Our Lady of Paris – is French Gothic and made of Lutetian limestone, quarried in Vexian.  It had taken from 1163-1345 to complete, start to finish.

After the fires were snuffed out, teams of archaeologists and restorationists ventured into the charred remains to go about reconstructing the cathedral to its former glory.  Acres of scaffolding had to be erected for them to begin their tasks, including rebuilding the spire.

In cleaning up the site to reinforce the structure, the archaeologists were dumbfounded to discover a lead sarcophagus below the nave.

It was nestled between brick ductwork for a 19th Century heating system, and the sarcophagus was the size and shape of a human form.

Who could possibly be resting inside this lead container?  It was a bit banged up but still well-sealed.

Why was it hidden beneath the floor?

What person of mystery would receive this odd type of burial?  Everyone was anxious to learn the identity of the occupant.

The impatient archaeologists knew they had a way to learn a little information without waiting for the official opening.  They would use an endoscopic camera.

They could not do a thorough study, but they were able to see fabric remains, possibly some hair, organic remnants, and also some plant material.

It whetted their appetite for more.  The boxwood lining of the casket has helped to preserve the contents.

The archaeologists working in the cathedral found other artifacts, relics, and statues that had been forgotten through the centuries.

The occupant of the sarcophagus who died in the 1300s  must be important in some way.  Was lead in common use for burials, or did the person die of a dangerous disease?  Was it a church official?

There is no actual cathedral crypt at Notre Dame.  In medieval times, burials were made directly in the floor, or above the ground in tombs or sarcophagi.

There is no surviving record of all the burials.  Royals and high-up clergy were usually buried in the chapel.

Soon they will be able to do some DNA tests and see if any registries at all can be located. To be buried on the site was a Catholic honor – there are many buried there.

This may be one unsolved mystery that is soon solved.

Please click HERE to find Sara Marie Hogg’s historical mystery novel, It Rises from the Pee Dee, on Amazon.

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