It has been three years since a devastating fire engulfed the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris -- is that a long enough waiting period to begin trying to do unlucky things in the remodeled 14th century structure? A group of archeologists seem to think so. A few weeks ago, a team digging underneath where the church’s iconic spire will be rebuilt came upon a well-preserved lead sarcophagus which appears to date back to the 1300s – the very early days of the cathedral. And … you guessed it … those curious archeologists now want to open it. What could possibly go wrong? (Insert your favorite movie that answers this question here.)
“You can glimpse pieces of fabric, hair and above all a pillow of leaves on top of the head, a well-known phenomenon when religious leaders were buried. The fact that these plant elements are still inside means the body is in a very good state of conservation."
In what only archeologists could consider to be good news, Christophe Besnier, the lead archaeologist at the cathedral, said in a press release after the discovery that he and his co-workers have already peeked into the human-shaped lead sarcophagus (photo here) with an endoscopic camera and saw enough to convince them the body inside is in good shape and was probably "a high church dignitary" buried no later than the 14th century.
The sarcophagus was found buried 20 meters (65 feet) underground among brick pipes that served the cathedral’s heating system in the 1800s. However, the sarcophagus itself was under a mound of earth that also contained 14th century furniture, indicating it predated the brick pipes. Lead archaeologist Besnier says no matter what or who is inside, the sarcophagus is an historic find.
"If it turns out that it is in fact a sarcophagus from the Middle Ages, we are dealing with an extremely rare burial practice."
That may be the case, but will opening this sarcophagus release a ghost to add to Notre-Dame’s collection? Prior to the fire, the cathedral was said to be haunted by many spirits, including the ghost of a woman who was impaled in 1882 after throwing herself from one of the towers, an organist who died while playing the cathedral organ near the end of his 1750th concert in 1937, and many others from the building’s long history of hosting famous events and dignitaries.
Dominique Garcia, head of the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP), assures those concerned that the body will be examined "in compliance" with French laws regarding human remains and will eventually be placed back in the sarcophagus and returned to the cathedral "not as an archaeological object but as an anthropological asset," possibly even re-interred in the cathedral. However, that doesn’t mean a ghost won’t be released during the examination. What might it think upon seeing what happened to Notre-Dame and how the fabled building is being restored with both an old and new look and construction?
The Catholic Church has prided itself recently in the number of exorcists it has trained and ready to deal with evil spirits and demonic possessions. Shouldn’t it be on the safe side and have a few standing by when this sarcophagus is opened?
Or is it too late?