Six months after the fire… What next?
Six months after the night of 15 April when six hundred firemen were called to save the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, what is the situation now?
At present 39 different companies are involved, among them notably masons, locksmiths, crane operators, scaffolders, sculptors, master glaziers, analytical laboratories, security and safety guards, and specialists in depollution.
To date about 80% of the rubble inside the cathedral has been cleared, sorted and put in storage.
1) The vaults
The high vaults were very badly damaged by the fire, and some parts were completely destroyed. Where the vaults collapsed, however, that was due to the fall on them of timbers from the roof, and not to the fire, which would have weakened them further. The weakening of the structure next to the places where the vaults collapsed and the effect of the fire threaten the stability of the vaulting. On 25 July two stone blocks fell down on to the nets stretched across the nave.
2) Dismantling of the scaffolding
A major task to be dealt with is the removal of the scaffolding that surrounded the fleche. Weighing 250 tons, it had been erected for the restoration of the fleche. The fire heated its 50,000 tubes to more than 800o Celsius, causing them to fuse.
The works envisage dismantling the scaffolding embedded at the crossing of the transept, since its weight is a threat to the masonry. Captors have been installed to detect any movement, and to protect the building and the surrounding area.
3) The stained-glass windows
The fire seems to have spared all the windows, most remarkably the great 13th-century rose windows in the north and south transepts which were close to the flames. The western rose window was protected by the stone slabs of the roof that covers the vault above the organ. For reasons of conservation and the needs of work on site, all the windows from the upper parts of the choir and nave have been taken down and stored with the master glaziers.
4) The next tasks
• Removal of the rubble on the extrados of the vaults, in collaboration with scientific police and the regional archaeological service of the Direction Régionale des affaires culturelles (DRAC).
• Cleaning of the vaults, to allow diagnosis to begin
• Installation of metal tie beams to stabilise the nave
The work on Notre-Dame involves the skill of cathedral-builders like Jean-Pierre Beaussier (see the interview) ; also involved are many scientists. A special team has been set up by the CNRS for the various types of research.
Other research is concerned with the provenance of the stones, so that the original quarries can be found and similar stones obtained. Study of fragments of the timber work might increase our knowledge of the climate before 1400.
Scientists and craftsmen are working hand in hand to save this unique cathedral.