Unusual: Notre-Dame’s carpet saved from the flames!

Following the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame de Paris, a monumental carpet commissioned by King Charles X in 1825 was entrusted to the Mobilier National’s carpet restoration workshop for restoration. This woollen choir carpet is 200m2, 25m long and weighs 1.2 tons.

The history of Notre-Dame’s choir carpet

Louis XVIII had already planned to donate a carpet to Notre-Dame Cathedral. But it was ultimately Charles X who placed the order. In 1825, the intendant of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne (formerly known as the Mobilier national) considered the ceremonial carpets at Notre-Dame to be in poor condition. Charles X, who had already given an Aubusson carpet to Reims cathedral after his coronation, decided to restore the cathedral’s prestige by giving it a carpet from the Savonnerie factory.

The Savonnerie factory has been located at the foot of the Chaillot hill since the 17th century. As a cost-saving measure, Louis XVI wanted to transfer the soap-making trades to the royal Gobelins factory. At the time the carpet was ordered, the soap factory had not yet moved. In 1826, while the carpet was still in production, the decision was made to move. The looms are to be dismantled, along with current production, including the Notre-Dame carpet.

Charles X commissioned the carpet for the choir of Notre-Dame in 1825. However, it was exhibited in the Louvre in 1838, and its assignment seems to be in question. In April 1841, a letter of complaint was sent to King Louis-Philippe. He agreed to make the gift official at the christening of his grandson, the Comte de Paris, in May 1841.

In 1894, during restoration work on the cathedral under the direction of Viollet-le-Duc, the lower part of the carpet was badly damaged. The director of the Manufacture, Jules Guiffrey at the time, asked for it to be repaired. The latter was removed in 1895, but never returned. To this day, only the cardboard box of the carpet keeps the memory of it.

The carpet was only used on special occasions, such as the wedding of Napoleon III and Eugénie de Guzman on January 30, 1853, the baptism of the Prince Imperial on June 14, 1856, the visit of Nicholas II Tsar of Russia in October 1896 , the first mass on television on December 24, 1948 or the visit of the Holy Father John Paul II on May 30, 1980.

Daguerreotype by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc

Daguerreotype of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1848, anonymous author, Musée des Monuments Français.

In 2014, and again in 2017, it was displayed in the central nave in a special exhibition. The rest of the time, it is kept in a crate.

Wide-ranging changes

After the revolution of July 1830, extensive modifications were made to remove motifs reminiscent of royalty. The coat of arms of France and the fleurs-de-lis are cut out of the center of the cross and replaced by a sun on a green background. The different aging of the wools makes it possible to distinguish the traces. The carpet box shows these changes.

Although 4 looms were used, the carpet is made up of 2 parts, each measuring 12m in length.

Center of the cross with the coat of arms of France replaced by a sun on a green background

Center of the cross with the coat of arms of France replaced by a sun on a green background. ©Pierre-Yves Beaudouin via Wikimedia Commons

The Notre-Dame choir carpet

The Notre-Dame choir carpet displayed in the nave, after its restoration, in January 2014 ©David Bordes

Choir carpet cardboard

Choir carpet cardboard, painted by Saint-Ange.

Golden patience for a repair worthy of Notre-Dame

To repair a carpet, first work on the reverse side. In fact, this helps maintain the original wool in good condition. Older carpets can show signs of structural weakness: by reinforcing the backing, you can restore the carpet’s stability and durability without compromising its appearance.

The restoration of the Notre-Dame carpet required two years of painstaking work by the Mobilier National’s carpet restoration workshop. Three years were spent dusting and cleaning it after the cathedral fire. It didn’t suffer from the flames or the water spilled by the fire department, but from the resulting humidity. The first task was to ensure that the moisture impregnated into the carpet would not rot the wool or lead to the development of parasites that could damage the carpet. Carton of the choir carpet, painted by Saint Angelo. Center of the cross with the coat of arms of France replaced by a sun on a green background. ©Pierre-Yves Beaudouin via Wikimedia Commons The Notre-Dame choir carpet displayed in the nave after restoration in January 2014 ©David Bordes would damage it. The restoration itself will take 2 years to complete. It began in July 2022 and will be finished by the time the cathedral reopens in December 2024.

If you would like to find out more about the art history of Notre Dame, the DRAC de l’Île de France and the Mobilier National will be revealing the Grands décors restaurés de Notre-Dame, from April 24 to July 21, 2024, at the Galerie des Gobelins in the 13th arrondissement of Paris.

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