Notre Dame cathedral was on fire four years ago; here is what's happening now
OSV News – Notre Dame Cathedral will get its spire back by the end of 2023, more than four years after it was devastated by a fire. But to reopen the beloved symbol of France by Dec. 8, 2024, three conditions need to be met.
These conditions are currently being carried out: cleaning and restoration of the interior of the building; restoration of masonry and collapsed vaults; and restoration on the missing spire and frameworks, which, according to the newest statement from the "Rebuild Notre Dame" committee, "is in progress, both on the Ile de la Cité and in the workshop."
Ile de la Cité is a famous island on the Seine River, one of two natural islands in Paris and the heart of the French capital. It's there where Notre Dame is located and where hundreds of shocked Parisians watched as flames consumed the cathedral’s medieval roof April 15, 2019.
Work to secure and consolidate the Paris cathedral began the day after the fire, April 16, 2019, and ended in the summer of 2021. After two years dedicated to securing the building, project studies, followed by the preparation and awarding of contracts, "restoration work is in full swing," according to the French committee.
Simultaneous cleaning of walls, painted decorations and vaults (with a total area of 452,000 square feet), which is done by numerous craftsmen, "is well advanced," the statement of "Rebuild Notre Dame" state entity said.
Restoration of the north and south arms of the transept and part of the nave and the galleries of the choir has now been completed. As a result, the scaffolding in those areas has been dismantled.
At the same time, in the cathedral, the refitting of the great organ and the return of the 39 stained-glass windows – unbroken but damaged by smoke – is in process. Restoration of the great organ was carried out by three workshops of organ builders located in Corrèze, Hérault and Vaucluse. Now the 8,000 pipes of the instrument will be reassembled one by one.
The masonry phase also is well advanced. In November 2022, the masons and stonecutters closed the first collapsed vault in the north transept. In February 2023, the diagonal arches and the oculus of the vault of the crossing of the transept were reassembled in order to allow the work of reconstruction of the spire to continue with the installation of the exceptionally large timbers which constitute its base, called "tabouret" in French, or stool.
The reconstruction of the vaults of the nave and the choir will be completed by the end of the year. In parallel, the gables of the two arms of the transept – these triangular walls that give their shape to the framework and which had been weakened by the fire – are being reassembled.
While the world watched the cathedral's famous spire collapse in April 2019, the city now patiently watches its resurrection. The first assemblage of the "tabouret" of the spire – the base – is a crucial step. It will allow the workers to check if the 110 different pieces of oak used to make the base fit perfectly together. If not, they will recut a new piece from one of the 1,000 oak trees chosen last year in France’s former royal forests for the rebuilding of the 860-year-old cathedral.
The spire base itself is 49 feet long, 43 feet wide and 20 feet high – and it is only one of the five pieces making the entire spire, which is high and will reach – once completed – 315 feet into the Paris sky.
More than 1,000 people, spread throughout France, are working simultaneously on the revival of the masterpiece of Gothic art that Notre Dame is, including nearly 500 workers, craftsmen and supervisors who are currently working on-site inside the cathedral.
Notre Dame also attracted an unprecedented surge of generosity in the history of French philanthropy, with 340,000 donors from 150 countries raising $929 million in donations.
While the cathedral remains closed for visitors, the new exhibition "Notre-Dame de Paris: At the Heart of the Construction Site" opened in Paris in an underground space outside the cathedral in March 2023. In the exhibition – which is free – tourists can get a glimpse of how much devastation the fire caused and the scale of the rebuilding efforts.
Paulina Guzik is international editor for OSV News.