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Winning the race against time: Notre Dame to reopen in 2024

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Alice Alech - published on 08/09/22

Can construction that took 200 years to complete be rebuilt in five years?

“We are confident that 2024 will be the year a large part of this work is completed, the year of the reopening of the cathedral to worshipers and to the public,” France’s Culture Minister said when he visited the Notre Dame renovation site last July.

The restoration of Notre Dame has progressed considerably over the last three years, with experts in historical buildings, artisans, and architects all working together on the complex renovation task of the distinguished Catholic cathedral. 

The fire in April 2019 caused great emotion throughout the world. Parisians cried; many prayed openly, kneeling in the street. France was shocked to see its landmark burn for 15 hours straight. One of France’s most precious pieces of architecture was seriously damaged. 

When president Macron announced to the nation that rebuilding would be completed in 2022, many were skeptical. Restoration of France’s Gothic symbol of culture, where Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine were crowned, would be a massive project, a real challenge.

The reopening of the 850-year-old monument to coincide with the Olympic Games in 2024 will be a success story.

Stabilizing, cleaning, and rebuilding Notre Dame

The first step was to secure what was left after the blaze to make the building stable and secure. Carpenters, scaffolding experts, and other professionals worked intensely to provide a suitable covering to protect the building from adverse weather. Cleaning the interior, a meticulous job of removing the dust on the walls, ceilings, and floors, all 6,000 square meters of the interior, started in October 2021.

According to the French newspaper Le courier de l Ouest, Ateliers Perrault, specialists in heritage restoration, were selected to reconstruct the wooden frame of the choir and the nave.  

The 262 year-old company, based in Anjou, has already restored some of France’s most recognized buildings, such as the chateau d’Angers, the Louvre, the Palace of Versailles, the Parliament of Brittany, and the National Assembly.

In December, 2021, France’s National Heritage and Architecture Commission approved of plans for the cathedral interior renovations, reports Agence France Presse. Some of the controversial plans included possible soft mood lighting and street art illustrations.

View of the western rose window in Notre Dame.

Ongoing reconstruction and restoration work

Amazingly, the famous stained-glass windows, including the three Rose Windows that date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, were not damaged. They were, however, full of dust, exposed to smoke, and soiled. Although spared, they were filthy. Together with eight French workshops, master glassmakers and painters from the workshop of Cologne Cathedral in Germany are helping to restore these unique windows.

The works that had previously been sheltered were sent to different workshops in France. Twenty-two large paintings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries were transported to a workshop in Essonne in France.

Donations from France and abroad

Donations and promises to donate began almost immediately after the fire. Aleteia reported more than a billion euros were already promised or collected by French, foreign and private sponsors just one day after the fire. Among these were companies such as L’Oréal with 200 million euros, LVMH and the well-known French family Arnault, who contributed 200 million. 

Friends of Notre Dame de Paris, the leading international non-profit raising funds to rebuild and restore Notre Dame Cathedral, raised $10.6 million in the aftermath of the fire from more than 10,500 donors in the US and in more than 50 countries outside France.

However, a new round of funding is necessary, former Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit said. He explainedthe money would serve torenovate the lighting and sound systems, install new furniture for visitors, and update the tour layout.

General Georgelin, president of the public institution in charge of the conservation and restoration of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, is also confident that the cathedral will be returned to worship and visits by 2024. 

The reopening deadline will most likely be respected, but several stages of renovation will continue, notably the 24 chapels of Notre Dame. The good news is that two of these used as a test site have been completely restored, proving that cleaning and restoration protocols were efficient. 

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