It’s one of France’s most powerful religious, architectural and cultural symbols—and images of Notre-Dame de Paris in flames evoke questions about how the city, and the cathedral, will move forward. But the fire isn’t the first time the cathedral has faced destruction.
During the French Revolution in the 1790s, angry mobs and revolutionaries looted the medieval Gothic church—and even declared that it wasn’t a church at all—during a bloody push to remove France’s close ties to the Catholic church. More than two dozen statues affixed to the church facade were publicly decapitated the same year as Marie Antoinette.
Before a furious crowd stormed the Bastille in Paris in 1789, the Church wielded extraordinary power in France. The vast majority of French people were Catholic, Catholicism was the state religion, and the Church owned vast swaths of property and collected heavy tithes from most people’s incomes without paying taxes of its own. But a growing number of French people had tired of the Church’s almost inconceivable power.