Notre-dame de paris

The reconstruction of Notre-Dame de Paris is likely to be much more difficult than expected

Six months after the fire of April 15 which ravaged the roof of the 13th century Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral and overturned its spire, the reconstruction process promises to be much more complex than expected.

One day after the fire who marked Notre-Dame, President Emmanuel Macron addressed a nation shocked by the damage to one of its great cultural monuments, with a promise as clear as the chime of cathedral bells.

“We will rebuild the cathedral even more beautiful and I want it to be finished within five years,” Macron said on national television on the evening of April 16, 2019.

“And we can do that,” he added.

While this may turn out to be true, it is a task that will be much more difficult than initially thought.

Workers inspecting one of Notre-Dame’s stained glass windows after the fire. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

Workers had to clean up significant amounts of melted lead from the roof and contaminated areas around the cathedral, with critics saying authorities were slow to warn the public of the risks.

There is still no consensus on what the cathedral will look like after reconstruction, with many experts wanting the spire to be rebuilt exactly like the original, and Macron advocating for an innovative solution.

Above all, the process of securing a building still threatened with collapse after the fire took precedence over any reconstruction.

It is only at the end of 2020 that a complete verification will allow the architects to determine how to restore the cathedral. No reconstruction should begin before 2021.

“Not alarmist”

It is impossible at this stage to say “how much it will cost, how long it will last”, declared Michel Aupetit, the archbishop of Paris.

The Minister of Labor, Muriel Penicaud, on the balcony of Notre-Dame
The Minister of Labor, Muriel Penicaud, on the balcony of Notre-Dame Thomas SAMSON / AFP

Macron’s five-year goal would see the reconstruction of the cathedral completed in the spring of 2024, before Paris hosts the Olympics that year.

The top priority is to remove any risk to the vaulted ceiling, with the main danger coming from the 500 tonnes of scaffolding that was erected around the fire for renovation work before the fire.

The damage caused by the fall of a single scaffolding bar could prove irreparable and the work to dismantle the structure will take several months.

“It’s not alarmism. It’s a physical reality,” said Christophe-Charles Rousselot, director general of the Notre Dame Foundationthe charity that oversees the collection of donations to the cathedral.

As for the spire, a late addition to the medieval cathedral designed by 19th-century French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, many consider it an integral part of the building.

“It needs to be rebuilt as before,” said Philippe Villeneuve, the architect in charge of the cathedral’s restoration, saying the power of the spire made it part of the medieval church.

He is supported by the descendants of Viollet-le-Duc and, according to the polls, by the French public.

But the government has left open the possibility of an international architectural competition to design something new.

“I feel like an orphan”

Experts also carry out intensive research into the precise original architecture of the cathedral, so that when reconstruction begins, it will be as accurate as possible.

“Before 2010, we only had old-fashioned surveys, plans redone many times, very partial and very imprecise”, explains Rémi Fromont, one of the architects in charge of the site who is working on the development of precise plans.

The rooster of Notre-Dame fell from the spire during the fire.
The rooster of Notre-Dame fell from the spire during the fire. Philippe LOPEZ / AFP

Andrew Tallon, a Belgian-born academic who died aged 49 in November 2018, performed extremely valuable laser scans of the interior in 2010 that turned out to be an even more valuable heirloom than he could have expected. ‘to imagine.

“We know we will have gaps. Not all chapels have been systematically scanned. There are still areas of doubt,” Fromont said.

In the aftermath of the fire, individuals and especially wealthy French cooperation rushed to commit hundreds of millions for the reconstruction of the cathedral.

It was feared that this financing would one day be realized.

But France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, in September signed a formal agreement on his pledge of 200 million euros, as did the Pinault family for their pledged 100 million euros.

A signature on the additional 100 million promised by the oil giant Total is expected in October.

The consortium of fundraising groups behind the campaign estimates that €800m can be raised in total, with more than €616m now transferred or pledged.

But lovers of the historic masterpiece, whether tourists, architecture buffs or churchgoers, may have to wait a while before Notre-Dame becomes theirs again.

“I felt like an orphan, it’s like being in mourning,” said Michèle Chevalier, 70, a Notre Dame regular who was at the service when the first evacuation took place.

“I still manage to pray, but it’s not the same.”