She still stands, stately in spite of its frailty, still recognizable in spite of the striking absence of its spire. Surrounded with the blackened, immense scaffolding which the flames welded to its walls, and pierced at its heart with a large hole, Notre-Dame de Paris has held it out since the terrible fire that partially destroyed her on 15 April 2019.
The building works have temporarily ground to a halt, but this “snooze phase” does not diminish the incredible work that has been accomplished over the past few months. Thanks to the journeymen and craftsmen who have busied themselves on the site for over a year – bricklayers, locksmiths, crane operators, scaffolders, rope technicians, sculptors, master glassmakers... – as well as the laboratories, depollution specialists, safety and security agents, the gothic gem, testimony of France's history, still stands. It is frail, but it stands.
Since the fire happened, around forty building companies and journeymen have kept a constant watch over the stability of Notre-Dame and overseen a number of projects that are crucial to the protection of the building – clearing out and preserving works of art and stained glass windows, waterproofing the structure, clearing and sorting the debris, arching the flying buttresses. The building and reconstruction work went on, with essential steps to safeguard the cathedral, up until very recently.
The first step, and possibly the most important one, was to take down the scaffolding. This structure made of 40,000 pieces of metal, which was set up before the fire in order to restore Viollet-le-Duc's spire, became one of the greatest threats for Notre-Dame after the fire happened. If the scaffolding were to collapse, it would take down the whole cathedral. Removing it is an urgent task, but a long, complex one, because the structure itself is fragile and so is the cathedral as a whole, with the remains of woodwork on its warhead. By December 2019, the existing structure had been reinforced and girdled on several points, and a new scaffolding structure was erected around the old one in order to allow rope technicians access to the steel tubes – most of which sit at 40 meters above the ground – which they could then saw one by one. This process is essential for the rest of work to take place, and it was about to be completed when the site was closed off.
Another particularly complex project is to install a wooden floor above the nave, where the roofing is gone. Once this platform is in place, rope technicians will gain access to the vaults which had heretofore remained out of reach, and recover the burnt remains of the woodwork that fell there during the fire. The lasers and captors which have constantly monitored the movement of the main vaults revealed that they have not moved since the fire. This is excellent news for the vaults, which were exposed to very high temperatures and water on that fateful night!
Beforehand, another challenge had to be overcome: lead abatement. The fire exposed Notre-Dame to residues of lead combustion, because lead was present in the cover of the cathedral. In July 2019, this risk led to suspending the security works, and, the following month, to an operation of decontamination of the schools and streets located nearby. Continuous surveillance of lead levels was put in place. The latest news in that respect is reassuring: the conclusion of the tests performed by the Regional Health Agency (ARS) was that the site presents no health hazards for builders or residents.
Since the beginning of the year, expansive studies for ratings and diagnosis have been launched, in order to identify which aspects urgently need to be stabilisedin order for the cathedral to open to the public again as soon as possible. Once these studies have been conducted, project management studies and a consultation of contractors will be organized, so that the restoration proper can start.
For nearly a year, everything was put in place to safeguard Notre-Dame de Paris, and to reinforce its structure, which was threatening to collapse. The dates that were agreed upon – reconstructing from 2021 and opening to the public from 2024 – have been disrupted by the sanitary crisis. Now Notre-Dame sits still, at the heart of the Île de la Cité, awaiting the return of the workers who have been called on other fronts and will soon be back to resume their great restoration project.
The Fondation du Patrimoine will inform you as soon as new information becomes available. We will keep nourishing your generous support and commitment for our eternal heritage.