At Large  April 16, 2019  Chandra Noyes

10 Cathedrals Rebuilt After Disasters

wikimedia commons

People around the world expressed shock and sadness as they watched the Notre Dame burn in Paris. An iconic example of Gothic architecture and the most visited site in Paris, the medieval cathedral is synonymous with the old world beauty and magic of the City of Lights. Though much of the cathedral was saved, and many of its treasures had already been removed to prepare for an extensive restoration, watching Notre Dame’s spire fall was a heart-breaking sight for Parisians and Francophiles alike. President Emmanuel Macron vowed that the cathedral would be rebuilt, and today we look at cathedrals around the world that have recovered from tragic destruction.

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow

The original cathedral, built in the 19th Century, unfortunately, found itself in the way of Joseph Stalin’s plans for a new legislative building. He had the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour razed in 1931, but the building of Stalin’s Palace of the Soviets was never completed. It wasn’t until 1990 that the Russian Orthodox Church began plans to rebuild on the site, and the new cathedral was opened in 2000. The result is the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world, a near replica of the original, with gleaming golden domes. In 2018, experts discovered that the church sinking, and restoration to protect it is currently underway.

Old St Paul's Cathedral in London from "Early Christian Architecture" by Francis Bond (1913)
wikimedia commons

St. Paul's Cathedral, London

Construction of St Paul’s Cathedral in London got off to a rocky start, with several fires damaging the building before it was even completed in 1314. In the 14th century, the Gothic cathedral (shown above) in a was a feat of architecture and design, as one of the longest churches in the world, with one of the tallest spires, and housing some of the finest stained glass available. The Great Fire of London destroyed all of this in 1666, and it was replaced by the new St Paul’s Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. An important example of Baroque architecture, St Paul’s is a major tourism site and its dome and spires, among the highest in the world, are a key feature of the London skyline.

Domenico Quaglio the Younger  (1787–1837), The Cathedral of Reims
wikimedia commons

Reims Cathedral, Reims, France

Originally built in the 5th century, for centuries the original Reims Cathedral served as the site for coronations, papal visits, and royals weddings. But in 1210, the early Gothic church was destroyed in a fire. Reconstruction began the next year and would go on for the next few centuries, making Reims a unique amalgamation of changing architectural styles. After several peaceful centuries, the Cathedral was bombed by the Germans in World War I, causing significant damages. It was rebuilt beginning in 1919, and it remains an outstanding example of High Gothic architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

ChristChurch Cathedral
wikimedia commons

ChristChurch Cathedral, Christchurch, New Zealand

Though spared damage from wars and fires, ChristChurch Cathedral has had to contend with several major earthquakes in its 150-year history. Its spire was damaged in earthquakes in 1881, 1888, 1901, and 1922, but had been repeatedly repaired. In 2011, however, Christchurch suffered three earthquakes which ultimately destroyed the Cathedral’s spire and rose window. The site was deconsecrated and efforts were made to preserve what was left of the historic structure. Plans proposed by the Archbishop to demolish the cathedral were met with protest, and progress is being made on a new plan to rebuild the cathedral.

The North facade of Chartres Cathedral
wikimedia commons

Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France

An evolving monument, at least five different buildings have stood on the site of Chartres Cathedral. Repeatedly damaged by war or fire, bits and pieces of the cathedrals that were built and destroyed from the 9th to 12th centuries remain a part of the current Chartres Cathedral. Largely built in the 12th and 13th centuries, with some significant additions throughout the years, the Cathedral was spared destruction during the French Revolution and in both World Wars. For centuries, it has been a major pilgrimage site.

Cathedral Church of St Mel, Longford, Ireland
wikimedia commons

Cathedral Church of St Mel, Longford, Ireland

Dating back to the mid-19th century, St Mel's cathedral was one of the finest Catholic churches in Ireland when it was destroyed by a fire on Christmas Day in 2009. The fire gutted the building, including namesake St Mel's Crosier, a thousand-year-old relic. After a €30 million restoration project, the church was reopened in 2014 and remains a center of Catholic life in the region.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
wikimedia commons

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Also called the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince was built at the turn of the 20th century. A cupola of the church also served as a lighthouse for the port city, welcoming the faithful and protecting sailors. The cathedral collapsed as a result of the January 12, 2010 earthquake, and a contest was held to find an architectural plan for reconstruction. A new modern cathedral is currently being built, one that will incorporate what remains of the original structure.

Canterbury Cathedral
wikimedia commons

Canterbury Cathedral, Kent, England

One of the oldest and most famous churches in England, the Canterbury Cathedral had a nearly 600-year history before the structure that is known and loved today was even built. In the late 6th century, Canterbury Cathedral was built by Augustine of Canterbury, a missionary on behalf of Pope Saint Gregory the Great. This structure burned during the Norman Conquest of 1067, and the Gothic cathedral rebuilt on the site has played a significant role in British history and culture. Though its library was destroyed during Wolrd War II, the rest of the cathedral was undamaged.

Stefaneschi Altarpiece
wikimedia commons

St Peters Basilica, Vatican City

Construction began on the original St Peter’s Cathedral in the 4th Century under Roman Emperor Constantine I. After centuries as an important pilgrimage site and having been sacked and pillaged by the Saracens, by the 15th Century, the Basilica was in disrepair. Though reconstruction was originally planned, Pope Julius II envisioned a new St Peter’s Basilica. Much of the Old St. Peter's Basilica was destroyed, though its treasures, like the Stefaneschi Altarpiece (pictured above) and fragments of the Navicella mosaic, are now part of one of the greatest monuments of art and architecture in the world, the new St Peter’s Basilica.

Notre Dame, Paris, France

Notre Dame, Paris, France

Notre Dame has, of course, suffered its fair share of damages throughout its rich history. Most notably, rioting Parisians during the French Revolution of 1793 destroyed many of its statues and part of its facade. However, the destruction of yesterday’s fire is unmatched in its history. Fund-raising efforts to rebuild are already underway, with President Macron pledging state funds, and prominent businessmen offering hundreds of millions towards the project. With these resources and the global love for this monument, it is sure to be restored to its former glory.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

Latest News

Hidden for 500 Years, the Colmar Treasure Recalls the Persecution of Medieval Jewish People
The treasure is believed to have belonged to a family caught up in 14th-century…
Korean American National Museum Slated to Open in 2020

Los Angeles, CA - The new design for the Korean American National Museum was…

Nari Ward is a Contemporary Sculptor You Should Know
In collaboration with the New Museum, the publisher Phaidon recently released…
National Museum of American History Displays Rare Luxury 19th-Century Silk Quilts
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will display nine silk…
‘Otherwise’ Explores the Influence of LGBTQ+ Culture on Art
The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia will offer its own…