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May 03, 2019

The case of Notre Dame and other cathedrals on fire

May 3rd, 2019


The fiery tragedy that had recently befallen the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris had render so many people across the world speechless. After all, it was a thousand years’ worth of history significantly damaged in under half a day. But the truth is, medieval cathedrals, including the Notre Dame, are known to be prone to fire. Factors such as its old wooden structures, the use of candles as part of their prayer rituals, and combustible ornaments account for their flammability. Believe it or not, Our Lady of Paris is not the first cathedral to have succumbed to flames. Our team at Fayyaz Travels thus bring to light historical accounts of European cathedrals on fire, starting with the most recent case.

1. Notre Dame in Paris, France


Built in 1160, the Notre Dame Cathedral is undoubtedly the epitome of medieval Gothic finesse in Paris.. The cathedral is so iconic and highly revered, it had been chosen many times over the last few centuries to witness many of France’s royal weddings in history. But as luck would have it, the Notre Dame’s roof was burned to dust on last 15 April 2019 by an extensive fire of an unknown cause. Horror struck not only onlooking pedestrians and passersby who had witnessed the incident live, but also the rest of us who were tuned in to the social media frenzy that had zoomed in on the tragedy. Around 500 firefighters fought hard to prevent the church from completely burning down, and it took nearly 12 hours and one account of serious injury before the blaze could be completely put out. Speculations arose that the cause of fire must have begun in the cathedral’s interior network, which is made of wooden beams, nicknamed “the forest”, which are said to date back to the Middle Ages.

2. Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, England


The Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England. It is known not only for its attention-arresting Gothic architecture, but also the fact that it has caught fire, not once, not twice, but three times! Erected around the year 567, the cathedral did not adopt the gothic style of architecture that it is now known for until after 1174, the year in which the cathedral caught fire for the second time. Now, the first fire had occurred in 1067; it was alleged that its own monks had set it on fire, supposedly as a way to build a better crypt than that of Durham Cathedral.  The third time the Canterbury Cathedral was on fire had been in 1872, after a pot of burning charcoal was accidentally knocked over. The fire almost destroyed the site’s entire structure but luckily, it was controlled, which meant that only the Trinity Chapel roof was harmed.

3. Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France


UNESCO defines the Chartres Cathedral in France as “the high point of French Gothic art.” The cathedral has undergone many renovations after being hit by fire many, many times. It is said that the worst fiery accident that the site had experienced in history was in 1194, when the cathedral was struck by lightning. A similar thing happened in 1120 when lightning struck its abbey; the inferno that followed allegedly killed about 1,000 people. But despite the multiple incidents of fire it had to endure throughout history, much of the Chartres Cathedral remains intact and is well preserved. Many of its original stained glass windows still filter in sunlight until today.

4. Mainz Cathedral in Mainz, Germany

Another one of the most fire-prone cathedrals ever known to mankind is the Mainz Cathedral in Mainz, Germany. The cathedral is predominantly Romanesque in style, before exterior additions were added, much later on. Various architectural influences over many centuries have played a in how the cathedral’s appearance looks today. Still, nothing could have prevented the ravishing fire that the brought down the cathedral on the day of its inauguration in 1009; the cause of the fire was traced to the very candles that were used during the ceremony. And this wasn’t the last of it; in 1081, fire had struck the cathedral again, prompting Henry IV to order for its reconstruction in 1100. The revap was done in beautiful Lombardic style, as an ode to the Speyer Cathedral which had won the king’s heart a few years back.

5. Orléans Cathedral in Orléans, France


The use of oak wood for pillars were the pinnacle of medieval architecture in France. These wooden pillars usually prevent fire from burning down the entire structure, which meant that fire has and always been considered the ultimate demise of cathedral architecture. Now, it was a different turn of events at the Orléans Cathedral. Fire had swept through the city of Orléans during the 10th century, which resulted in the church being burned to the ground shortly after. Thankfully, the remains of the church was rebuilt into a cathedral in the 12th century. Tragic accidents aside, the Orléans Cathedral is best known for being Joan of Arc’s place of worship in 1429. Not only that, the cathedral was also King Henry VI’s favourite place; it took 200 years of rebuilding before it became suited to his taste, which is what we can see today upon visiting it.

Contemplating a spiritual holiday in Europe and pay your homage to these historical site? Outline your dream itinerary to our team at Fayyaz Travels today!


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about the author

Naressa Khan is all about beautiful, inspiring narratives. As a versatile writer, she ensures that stories come alive, whether as a brand book, a short essay, a lifestyle feature or even an ad copy. When not busy putting things into words, she loves to cook, travel, paint, and read. A caffeine addict, she is always down for a cup… or ten

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