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Notre-Dame de Paris: Oaks and Stone – the Latest News

The day after the April 15, 2019 fire, President Emmanuel Macron said that Notre-Dame de Paris would be repaired by 2024. That was the easy part. Where do you find trees at least 100-years old to replace Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s spire? Where do you find the stones to replace those from 760 year ago that were damaged by water and fire? Finding trees and stone is the easy part. The race against time is the hard part. The President and the committee in charge of the reconstruction have decided to restore the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral to its 1865 renovation.

Cutting and drying the oak trees

The oak trees for the spire (flêche) are located west of Paris in the Eure region, a department of Normandy, a one-and-a-half-hour drive. The trees aged between 100 and 200 years are found on public and private lands in the forests of Conche Breteuil. They will be used for the structural pieces of the spire. The Normand oaks are measured and chosen for age and must be cut before the end of March. The spire oaks will be sawed, dried and must rest for 12 to 18 months. The original spire was completed in 1859, just about the time its replacements were pushing through the earth.  The spire will be made as it was with wood and lead, in accordance with the Venice Charter , according to Jean-Louis Georgelin. Mr. Georgelin is President of the public works department responsible for the reconstruction of the cathedral.
In September 2020 during the Journées européenes du patrimoine, a carpentry association, Charpentiers sans frontières (Carpenters without borders) demonstrated how to shape a log, build and hoist a rafter. One rafter consists of nine oaks. Each rafter weighs about 3 US tons. The method and tools similar to the 13th century. One set of tools are broad axes  (doloires). The following Colleen’s Paris video shows you how, by the end of the day they manually lowered the rafter with pulleys on the plaza (parvis) of Notre-Dame de Paris. The frame of rafters known as “the forest” are younger trees that will be cut at the end of the summer 2021.

Replacing the damaged stone

About 60 km or 40 miles north of Paris are the quarries of Saint-Maximin in the Oise. Any of the four existing quarries in this area have built Paris. Some quarries may be reopened to find the right quality of stone. Until now very little analysis has been done to the type of stone used or its origins. Therefore, nine types of stone must be diagnosed for compatibility, strength, resistance to extreme cold and frost.
The cathedral was covered in scaffolding to renovate the spire. The intense heat of the April 2019 fire soldered the scaffolding clinging to the stone. Once the scaffolders (“squirrels écureuils)” as they are called in French, braced and removed the soldered scaffolding piece-by-piece the fire, water and pollution damaged stones were exposed. Structure and stone now exposed were accessible to study the building techniques from 1163 to 1345.
Bring in the geologist. Lise Leroux, French Ministry of Culture’s Laboratoire de Recherche des Monuments Historiques, or LRMH is a geologist and expert in the conservation of stone. Ms. Leroux says that the restoration work must proceed on the principles of compatibility and understand the porousness, fissures and resistance to compression.
Restoring monuments requires training and currently stone cutters must serve an apprenticeship, normally 10 to 15 years. Staff are already involved with other projects. However, according to Frédéric Létoffé, director of Pradeau Morin Eiffage and co-president of the group that restores historic monuments, this is an opportunity to train and keep alive a fascinating profession. When the stone is chosen it will be shipped on a barge along the Oise River to Paris.

Sources for more information and videos

AFP Photo Notre-Dame de Paris, l’ancien échafaudage est démonté (The old scaffolding is removed)
Notre-Dame de Paris, l’ancien échafaudage est démonté |
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