It’s been two years since a raging fire engulfed France’s famed Notre Dame Cathedral. At the time, French President Emmanuel Macron set a five-year restoration deadline for repairing Paris’ Gothic gem. But the rector of Notre Dame calls the deadline unrealistic. He says the burned-out cathedral could remain a building site for many more years.
On April 15, 2019, flames engulfed the landmark Paris church. Firefighters struggled to contain the blaze, which warped steel and completely destroyed the church’s 12th-century wooden frame. (See “Notre Dame Cathedral on Fire.”)
In the emotional days immediately following the fire, President Macron set the cathedral’s restoration deadline for 2024. He chose the date because that’s when the city of Paris is scheduled to host the Summer Olympics.
From the beginning, Macron’s goal seemed nearly impossible. French officials quickly tried to backpedal Macron’s statement. They stated that it was unlikely workers could complete the enormous project by that time.
First, the blaze had scattered vast amounts of toxic lead from the cathedral’s burned-out roof onto the worksite and in the area nearby. The serious health hazard complicated clean-up work at the site—a situation that needed to be remedied before restoration efforts could even begin. Workers had to don hazmat suits and take on-site showers to prevent taking the toxic lead dust home with them.
The global coronavirus outbreak in 2020 also complicated Notre Dame restoration efforts. No work was completed at the site for three months.
Work began again in June. As of November, the burned scaffolding on the cathedral’s spire was all removed. Now rebuilding the interior of the church has begun. But the work of inspecting, cleaning, reinforcing, and rebuilding is painstaking and slow.
Last week, Rector Patrick Chauvet spoke to the press following Good Friday ceremonies at Notre Dame. He says work on the famous building could take another “15 or 20 years.”
Current restoration projects include remodeling the cathedral’s esplanade, or walkway. Before the blaze, 20 million tourists strolled the Notre Dame esplanade along the River Seine every year. Chauvet says, “I can guarantee that there’s work to do!”
(Notre Dame rector Patrick Chauvet leads a procession, wearing protective helmets, as part of a Maundy Thursday ceremony in Notre Dame Cathedral on April 1, 2021, almost two years after a massive fire ravaged the Gothic cathedral. AP/Christophe Ena)