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HISTORY

Mystery sarcophagus found under fire-ravaged Notre-Dame to be opened

A mysterious lead sarcophagus discovered in the bowels of Paris' Notre-Dame cathedral after it was devastated by a fire will soon be opened and its secrets revealed, French archaeologists said.   

The lead sarcophagus discovered in the floor of Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris
The lead sarcophagus discovered in the floor of Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris. (Photo by Julien de Rosa / AFP)

The announcement came a day before the third anniversary of the inferno that engulfed the 12th-century Gothic landmark, which shocked the world and led to a massive reconstruction project.

During preparatory work to rebuild the church’s ancient spire last month, workers found the well-preserved sarcophagus buried 20 metres underground, lying among the brick pipes of a 19th century heating system.

But the casket is believed to be much older – possibly dating to the 14th century.

Scientists have already peeked into the sarcophagus using an endoscopic camera, revealing the upper part of a skeleton, a pillow of leaves, fabric and as-yet unidentified objects.

The sarcophagus was extracted from the cathedral on Tuesday, France’s INRAP national archaeological research institute said during a press conference.

It is currently being held in a secure location and will be sent “very soon” to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Toulouse.

Forensic experts and scientists will then open the sarcophagus and study its contents, to identify the skeleton’s gender and former state of health, lead archaeologist Christophe Besnier said, adding that carbon dating technology could be used.

Noting that it was found under a mound of earth that had furniture from the 14th century, Besnier said “if it turns out that it is in fact a sarcophagus from the Middle Ages, we are dealing with an extremely rare burial practice”.

They also hope to determine the social rank of the deceased. Given the place and style of burial, they were presumably among the elite of their time.

However, INRAP head Dominique Garcia emphasised that the body will be examined “in compliance” with French laws regarding human remains.

“A human body is not an archaeological object,” he said. “As human remains, the civil code applies and archaeologists will study it as such.”

Once they are done studying the sarcophagus, it will be returned “not as an archaeological object but as an anthropological asset,” Garcia added.

And could Notre-Dame, this unknown person’s home for so many centuries, serve as their final resting place?

INRAP said the possibility of “re-internment” in the cathedral was being studied.

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CULTURE

Victoria Beckham caps French makeover with Paris debut

Having turned to French experts to overhaul her struggling business, Victoria Beckham is seeking the highest validation of the fashion world with her first runway show in Paris on Friday.

Victoria Beckham caps French makeover with Paris debut

The former Spice Girl, 48 – who has been away from the catwalk for two years – joins Paris Fashion Week after a long stint presenting her clothes in New York and a brief dalliance with London.

Her sophisticated office and evening wear has been a surprise hit with fashionistas ever since her debut show in 2008, confounding those who expected her to be another celebrity dilettante.

But despite having 250 global outlets selling her clothes, 30 million followers on Instagram and one of the most famous husbands in the world, Beckham’s company has always struggled to turn a profit.

In a bid to turn things around, she has recruited top French talent: her chairman is Ralph Toledano, ex-president of the French Federation for Haute Couture and Fashion, and her CEO is Marie Leblanc de Reynies, former lead buyer at Paris shopping mecca Printemps.

“Victoria is not from the fashion world. She threw herself into the business and at a certain point, she needed to structure, organise and bring some order to the house, which is what we’ve been doing for the past four years,” Toledano told AFP.

Chic evening wear was always going to struggle during the pandemic, and reports this summer showed the label had €54 million in debt, and had to cut prices and staff to stay afloat.

But a successful cosmetics line, launched in 2019, has helped trim losses, and the team hopes to break even in the coming months.

Beckham has called her personal fame a “double-edged sword” for the business.

“Are other brands under the scrutiny that mine is under every time we file (results)? Absolutely not,” she told Vogue.

“But how many other brands have the luxury of getting the attention when they want it?”

Her team is upbeat: “We’ve defined a strategy, combined two pret-a-porter lines, found the right price-point… now it’s time to enter the big league,” said Toledano.

That means Paris — throwing Beckham into the loftiest and most scrutinised of fashion weeks.

“She’s a bit intimidated, she’s someone very humble,” said Toledano.

“There’s a lot of expectation. For someone who entered fashion without training, there’s a hope that Paris will be a sort of crowning moment,” he added.

Paris Fashion Week is a way for Beckham to validate her status “as a designer and not just a celebrity,” said Benjamin Simmenauer, a professor at the French Institute of Fashion.

London and New York are more focused on the commercial side of the business, as well as “audacious young designers”, while Paris “has a more creative and historical” side, Simmenauer told AFP.

It was a chance for her to shed the last of her image as an ex-Spice Girl, he added.

“Presenting in Paris is proof that she is truly dedicated to the project, not just trading on her past and present celebrity… that she has an original and relevant vision.”

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