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Notre Dame’s Rector Says It Will Take “15 or 20 Years” to Restore Cathedral

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Wearing a protective helmet on April 1, 2021, Notre-Dame rector Patrick Chauvet leads a procession through the Gothic cathedral that was ravaged by fire nearly two years ago.

Photo by AP Photo/Christophe Ena, Pool

Wearing a protective helmet on April 1, 2021, Notre-Dame rector Patrick Chauvet leads a procession through the Gothic cathedral that was ravaged by fire nearly two years ago.

Plans to rebuild the Gothic cathedral in a historically accurate manner are underway. Here’s what we know so far about how long the Notre-Dame restoration will actually take.

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Following Good Friday services at Notre-Dame on April 2, 2021, the cathedral’s rector said that the burned-out Paris cathedral and its esplanade could remain a building site for another “15 or 20 years.”

In the days following the fire that ripped through the 850-year-old structure on April 15, 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron set a five-year restoration deadline, in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

But French officials and experts familiar with medieval restoration work say this timeline is unrealistic, and it could take about two decades to rebuild the roof, spire, and parts of stone vaulting that fell through to the main sanctuary.

“I can guarantee that there’s work to do,” rector Patrick Chauvet told the Associated Press.

How is the restoration work on Notre-Dame progressing?

Nearly two years after the fire, the Gothic church remains closed to the public as reconstruction continues. While the stained-glass rose windows, rectangular towers, and priceless Christian relics all survived the blaze, work on other parts of the structure slowed in 2020 due to coronavirus lockdowns in Paris.

In November 2020, workers successfully removed all the scaffolding that had been in place around the spire for an earlier renovation project when the fire broke out in 2019. Now reconstruction work, which Macron approved a plan for in July 2020, can progress without the risk of the damaged scaffolding collapsing and causing further damage.

However, the work will be slow going. It’s not unusual for cathedrals of this stature to take decades, or even hundreds of years to be built. Initial construction on Notre-Dame began in 1163 and wasn’t completed until 1345. More recently, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia had its cornerstone laid in 1882 and won’t be completed until 2026, after decades of funding issues and a civil war delayed construction. The Gothic cathedral in Cologne, Germany, has ongoing repairs for damage inflicted during World War II. Although the work on each of those buildings is yet to be completed, both are currently open to the public in their unfinished states.

While it is likely that the work on Notre-Dame will continue for many years, it is possible that visitors could be allowed back in eventually, once the structure is deemed safe enough.

To get an idea of the work that needs to be done, take a look at these scenes from Notre-Dame before and immediately after the 2019 fire.







What will Notre-Dame look like after it’s restored?

Despite proposals from architects to rebuild Notre-Dame with a contemporary glass spire, a rooftop garden, and other modern touches, French officials decided to restore it just the way it stood before the blaze. French President Emmanuel Macron initially pushed for a modern spire to be rebuilt on top of the cathedral, but he came around and approved plans to rebuild Notre-Dame in a historically accurate manner on July 9, 2020, according to a statement from the state agency overseeing the project, the Associated Press reported.

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The plans presented in July 2020 include replicating architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th-century spire that collapsed in the fire with original materials, “to guarantee the authenticity, harmony and coherence of this masterpiece of Gothic art.” This means the spire will again be built with potentially toxic lead, which is raising concerns from both health and environmental groups after the 2019 fire released lead particles into the neighborhood surrounding the cathedral prompting a lengthy cleanup effort.

In order to rebuild with similar materials and techniques used when the rest of Notre-Dame was built in the 12th century, skilled artisans including quarrymen, carpenters, mortar makers, and master stonecutters would need to be hired. Because those skills are so specific, new talent would need to be trained—a process that can take up to a decade, according to Jean-Claude Bellanger, the secretary-general of Les Compagnons du Devoir, a company that provides training in such trades. Bellanger estimates that at least 400 new tradesmen would need to be trained to complete the work that needs to be done.

How much will it cost to restore Notre-Dame?

French authorities have yet to finalize the budget for the total cost of the renovation work on Notre-Dame, but a major European insurer is comparing the project to the $8 billion worth of renovations currently being done on the British Parliament buildings in London.

“The scaffolding costs are going to be enormous, actually securing the building is going to be enormous. The cost of renovating the [British] Parliament is a similar sort of number,” Robert Read, the head of art and private client at Lloyd’s of London insurer Hiscox, told Reuters.

Immediately after the fire, around $1 billion in donations poured in from individual contributors, as well as companies like Apple and Disney. The wealthy French families behind LVMH and Kering pledged €200 million (US$226 million) and €100 million (US$113 million), respectively. LVMH owns several major French fashion houses, including Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, while Kering owns other luxury brands, such as Saint Laurent and Gucci.

Under France’s secular laws, the government owns Notre-Dame. However, the Ministry of Culture has only given €2 million (US$2.26 million) a year for repairs in the past. To contribute to the Notre-Dame fund-raising campaign, individual donations can be made to four official foundations supported by the French government via an online portal.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article. This article originally appeared online on April 17, 2019; it was updated on July 10, 2020, and again on April 2, 2021, to include current information.

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