If you’re mourning Notre Dame cathedral today, well, you’re not the only one.  Here’s a story from its long history that might make you feel a little more hopeful, a story of stone heads that disappeared – and reappeared hundreds of years later. Plus: a few examples of how cathedrals are full of surprises, and not always high-minded ones.

After 184 Years, a Cousin of the French President Finds Notre Dame’s Missing Stone Heads (People)

13 Facts About Notre-Dame Cathedral (Mental Floss)

What you didn’t know about Britain’s churches and cathedrals (Telegraph UK)

If you’re mourning a cathedral today, well, you’re not the only one. What do you even say when Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, one of the great landmarks of the world, one that took hundreds of years to build and stood for hundreds more, goes up in flames in a couple hours?

It’s awful news, and you don’t have to be religious to feel the loss today. Cathedrals are amazing – huge, ornate and full of stories.

The stories in Notre Dame’s more than 800 year history are pretty amazing.

And here’s one that might make you feel a little more hopeful as we learn more about what happened yesterday.

It starts in 1793, in the midst of the French Revolution, a time when a popular uprising turned the French monarchy and everything connected to it a target.

The year before, the revolutionaries had sent King Louis XVI to the guillotine. Then they turned on the kings in the cathedral, decapitating 28 royal statues in Notre Dame. The only thing was, they weren’t statues of French kings, just Biblical ones.

Paris legend held that the heads were thrown into the Seine River, but they actually ended up in the custody of a wealthy and very religious lawyer, who buried the religious artifacts in accordance with church law.

In 1977, nearly two hundred years later, crews working on a renovation at the French Bank of Foreign Trade found 21 of the long-lost heads and hundreds of other fragments, which are now on display at a Paris museum.

Cathedrals can be full of surprises. For example, at Washington National Cathedral in DC, if you look up high on the tower, you can see a statue of Darth Vader. St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Ukraine is one of many that has medieval graffiti, including sketches of cats! And on the roof of Norwich Cathedral in England, there’s a figure of a guy who is, how do we politely say this, dropping trou and much, much more onto the heads of passersby.