Famous rose windows survive massive Notre Dame fire

Rose window Getty The south rose window of Notre Dame on April 16, 2019. | Thomas Samson / AFP / Getty Images.

Following a massive fire that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday, the church's three iconic rose windows were unharmed, French reports have confirmed.

One of the most recognizable images of the landmark cathedral, the windows are themselves one of Notre Dame's greatest treasures. Rose windows, a hallmark of gothic architecture, arrange hundreds of panes of stained glass within carved stone tracework, fanning out from a central image.

Flames engulfed the roof and spire of the cathedral on April 16, in what officials are currently investigating as an "involuntary fire." Some 400 firefighters battled the blaze for hours before extinguishing it. Authorities are still determining the extent of the damage caused.

When the fire first broke out, there were concerns that the windows had been destroyed, either melted in the heat of the fire or blasted by the water of the fire hoses. Initial reports suggested that at least one of the windows had been ruined or fallen out. However, overnight it became clear that all three windows had made it through the blaze intact.

The roses, which crown the north, west, and south sides of the cathedral, have survived numerous ransackings, the French Revolution, two world wars, and now a massive fire.

The west rose is the oldest of the windows, and was constructed around the year 1225. Though now the smallest of the three, it was the largest rose window in the world at the time it was created. Its glass images are arranged into 15 "petals" that encircle an image of Mary holding the infant Jesus.

Located behind the grand organ, it was completely restored in the nineteenth century.

The north and south roses were built around 1250-1260 and face each other across the cathedral transepts.

The south window, a gift from King St. Louis IX, is dedicated to the saints who bore witness to Christ's ministry on earth. Considered to be the grandest of the three windows, it contains 84 panels in four circles, with the innermost ring of 12 images depicting the disciples of Christ, surrounded by scenes from the gospel of Matthew. The middle rings house famous martyrs and virgins, and the outer ring angels and patron saints of Paris.

Underneath the south rose window are images of the 16 prophets. The four prophets in the middle--Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel--are pictured alongside the four evangelists, Mark, Luke, John, and Matthew.

The north rose window is identical in shape and size to the south rose window, and is slightly older than its southern neighbor. It was built in the mid 13th century, and still contains most of the original glass. The center of the window is an image of Mary holding the Christ Child.

This window contains images from the Old Testament, including kings and prophets.

Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the significance of stained glass in churches during his 2008 visit to the United States.

In an April 19, 2008 homily at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, Benedict said that stained glass offers a lesson for the faithful.

"From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary," he said. "But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor."

This is similar to Catholics' experience of the Church itself, he said.

"It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit.  It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church's communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light."

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