The carpenters of Guédelon Castle have dedicated their lives to medieval craftsmanship. Now their antiquated artistry is helping solve a modern dilemma.
When France’s Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire in 2019 (see Notre Dame Cathedral on Fire at teen.wng.org/node/5246), its intricate roof took the most damage. Hundreds of oak beams supported the 800-year-old structure, so many it was nicknamed “the forest.” All that wood burned fast.
Some experts said the roof of this Paris landmark would never see full restoration. Such a project would require a knowledge of long-lost medieval methods . . .
. . . just the sort of methods that aren’t lost at all among the carpenters of Guédelon Castle.
Want “something old and something new”? Just go to Guédelon Castle. This construction began 25 years ago as a work of “experimental archaeology.” Instead of digging up and restoring an actual medieval castle, the archaeologists of Guédelon decided to build their own.
“But wait,” you say. “How does that count as archaeology?”
That’s where the experimental part comes in. Instead of using sawmilled wood and power tools, these archaeologists confine themselves to local materials (as much as possible) and medieval methods. No backhoes and bulldozers here!
To build strong medieval-style wooden beams, they hand-hew their own timbers, taking a single beam from each tree. That makes these carpenters the perfect fit to rebuild “the forest” of Notre Dame.
Wouldn’t modern methods take far less time? They would. But the results wouldn’t be the same.
French President Emmanuel Macron promised to reopen the Notre Dame Cathedral by 2024. But according to the carpenters at Guédelon, it will take more time to do it right. It’s not just about accurate restoration. It’s about preservation. The original roof lasted for eight centuries. According to experts, that’s all because of the original—if painfully slow—medieval building methods.
“I have studied the 13th-century technique for many years,” medieval wood expert Frédéric Épaud tells The Observer. “And if we respect the internal form of the tree, the beams will last for 800 years.”
Modern convenience sometimes comes at a cost. In today’s world where skyscrapers spring up seemingly overnight, it’s easy to look at history and feel superior. But think of how many old castles and cathedrals—like Notre Dame—still stand centuries later. Often, what seems slow or outdated to modern minds exists for good reason.
Notre Dame Cathedral might not be ready for visitors by 2024. But when it finally reopens, it will be rebuilt to last—hopefully for centuries to come.
Why? Scripture tells us that patience and diligent planning lead to success, even when a quicker path seems better in the moment.