The three windows must still be inspected up close for damage.
“From what I can see, the windows have not been touched; the three beautiful rose windows that date from the 12th and 13th centuries are still there,” André Finot, spokesman for the cathedral, told French CNN affiliate BFM TV.
There is still concern that the fragility of the building may lead to damage in the rose windows. Other stained glass windows were damaged, but those were newer.
“These are windows of the 19th century, much less important that they could be touched, but not the jewels of the 13th century. That’s a little bit of a miracle. We are very relieved,” Finot said.
French Culture Minister Franck Riester also said the rose windows at the north and south of the cathedral “do not appear for now to have sustained catastrophic damage.”
But Maxime Cumunel, secretary general of France’s Observatory for Religious Heritage, inserted a note of caution. “It seems they have not been destroyed for now, although we’ll have to see what real state they’re in, and whether they can be restored properly,” she told Reuters.
“As befitting a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, three rose windows shined upon the interior,” art historian Elizabeth Lev wrote in the New York Post Tuesday. “This architectural rosary, made up of thousands of pieces of colored glass lovingly encased in a lead and stone frame, still had original fragments, despite the reformation, revolution, riots and even a sniper in World War II.”
Though the windows date to the 13th century, Lev, author of How Catholic Art Saved the Faith: The Triumph of Beauty and Truth in Counter-Reformation Art, pointed out that much of the glass has been replaced since then. The windows were shattered during the French Revolution, but in 1861, master restorer Eugene Viollet le Duc replaced the glass.
Bishop Robert Barron, who produced a multi-part video series on the history of Catholicism several years ago, studied for a doctorate in Paris and remembers the windows well.
In an interview with Angelus News Tuesday, Barron explained that he has a particular attachment to the cathedral’s north rose window (one that still contains some of its original medieval glass), which he calls a “very important and powerful spiritual symbol” for him.
“I’ve used it in almost all my books, and I talk about it all the time in a spiritual context. These are windows that St. Thomas Aquinas knew, and St. Bonaventure knew.”