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The Rise of the Notre-Dame Cathedral

Updated: Feb 4

The Fire

The Notre-Dame Cathedral had been slowly eroding for years. It had been evaluated for fire danger, and deemed to be at high risk. The Paris Fire Brigade kept a close watch on the Cathedral, and even kept a firefighter posted in the building daily. Yet nothing could have prepared the world for the fire that claimed the building’s roof and spire in 2019. 

The fire broke out at six pm in the attic, and the alarm sounded a minute later. The building was evacuated, but it was believed at first to be a false alarm. It wasn’t until a second alarm went off nearly forty minutes later that the truth of the situation emerged. A half hour after that, smoke rising from the Cathedral could be seen from across the city. 

At 7:50, the spire, which had been standing for hundreds of years, collapsed, and still the fire raged. It wasn’t until almost eleven pm that firefighters began to bring the blaze under control. Two thirds of the roof had been destroyed and three firefighters had been injured battling the blaze. But the flames hadn’t claimed any lives, and many priceless artifacts had been saved. 

The Same as it Was

When Macron announced his plans to rebuild the Cathedral in less than five years, many didn’t think it possible. Yet, four years later, reconstruction is well under way. Directly after the fire, some wondered if a modern touch might be added to the Cathedral. Perhaps there would be a glass spire, rooftop garden, or golden statues. Many at least wanted the building to be rebuilt with a roof made from anything other than lead. Lead is a dangerous pollutant, and on a roof it contaminates water every time it rains. Others called for a replacement of the forest of wooden beams that had previously held the structure aloft, because it was so vulnerable to fire. 

But, in the end, it was decided that the Notre-Dame will be rebuilt exactly as it stood before. The Notre-Dame had been serving Paris with a lead roof and wooden frame for 850 years, so architects will use those original materials once more. 

Reconstruction & Restoration

The spire and the damage to the roof were the biggest casualties, thus, reconstruction efforts are focused there. The spire, in its most recent form, is a relatively new addition to the Cathedral. It was built in the 19th century by Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc. The Cathedral, at that time, was on the verge of collapse (but because of neglect and abuse, not fire). To reinvigorate the Cathedral, the French government hired young Viollet-le-Duc. He restored much of the Cathedral to its original plans, but also added some touches of his own. He expanded the spire and added the statues of the Twelves Apostles at its base. Luckily for architects today, he kept excellent records. Today’s efforts use his original documents to restore the Cathedral to her former glory. 

1,200 ancient trees from a forest in Eastern France have been felled, and carpenters are using historical methods to shape each according to Viollet-le-Duc’s plans. Elsewhere in the nation, thousands of artisans and craftsmen are hard at work restoring everything from sections of stained-glass windows to the Cathedral’s organ. Stone sculptors work right in front of the Cathedral in an enormous tent, giving life again to the gargoyles that cracked from the heat of the fire. 

Progress Made and Promises Kept

Inside the Cathedral, four years ago there was nothing but debris and a gaping hole in the ceiling. Today, nearly 600 tons of scaffolding support the construction of what will soon be again the iconic spire of the Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The supervisor of the project has assured the world that the new spire will be visible by the end of this year, though it will still be supported by scaffolding. But for the Olympic Games in Paris next summer, the iconic silhouette of the Cathedral will have been restored for the opening ceremony of the games. Macron kept his promise: the Cathedral will rise again, in all her glory, within five years of the fire that took her spire and roof. 

Written by Jasmine Grace, University Intern

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