Why rebuilding Notre Dame Cathedral could cost billions and take over a decade

The catastrophic Holy Week fire that ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris completely destroyed the roof and center spire, although the famous facade of the centuries-old gothic house of worship was spared and remains intact, as did the lower part of the church.

As investigators continue to sift through the damage — which includes three massive holes in its vaulted ceiling — in an effort to pinpoint the cause of the inferno, French officials and architects are working to determine how much money and time it will take to restore Notre Dame to its previous glory.

“We have so much to rebuild,” French President Emmanual Macron said Tuesday in a televised speech from Paris. “We will rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral even more beautifully. We can do it, and once again, we will mobilize.”

French officials confirmed, a day after the blaze, that the stone walls of the cathedral are structurally sound. Macron vowed that the landmark church, a symbol of Paris and Roman Catholicism for the past 800 years, will be rebuilt. State officials will enact an ambitious timetable of just five years to get the project completed.

The investigation into the cause of the blaze remains under investigation. Despite a spate of vandalism at French churches over the past few months, authorities do not believe this latest incident to be arson.

How long will it take to rebuild?

French officials said an international effort would be needed to pay for the reconstruction. Although Macron said rebuilding would be completed by 2024 (with one estimate saying it could cost $8 billion), some experts said the cathedral’s full renovation could take up to 15 years.

In terms of money raised, the billionaire Pinault family has pledged $113 million, as did the French energy company Total and cosmetics giant L’Oreal. The family of Bernard Arnault, who own luxury goods group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, has planned to donate $225 million. Donations are coming in from all over the world, including $100,000 from Notre Dame University.

It’s worth noting that the cathedral was not insured. Instead, it is owned by the French government (they own all religious buildings built before 1905) and they are on the hook for coming up with the funds to pay for its reconstruction.

As for what those funds would specifically target, architects said three main areas of the cathedral need to be rebuilt: the spire, the transept and the vault of the north transept. Most of the wooden roof beams were destroyed and sections of the concrete vaulting that holds up the roof collapsed as a result of the blaze.

Asked how long a project of this magnitude could take, Dr. Carolyn Malone, a professor of Medieval Art and Archaeology at the University of Southern California, was optimistic and agreed with Macron’s timeline.

“Possibly in five years, if the structure is solid,” she said.

What needs to happen next? While it’s true that many relics and other works of art were saved from the flames (including a crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus and the building’s iconic rose windows), the cathedral’s original roof was unique.

The wood used to build the ornate roof came from oak trees dating back to the 1200s. These beams are the trees of what’s known as the “forest” of the still-smoldering cathedral, an intricate network of some 1,300 trees that made up the frame.

Frederic Letoffe, who heads the group of French companies for the Restoration of Historic Monuments, said the primary aim will be to first secure the structure.

“This will require a lot of work since — beyond shoring and reinforcement — it will be necessary to build a scaffolding with an umbrella to be able to cover the entire roof that went missing, to ensure protection against weathering,” he said.

Peter Riddington, an architect at Donald Install Associates who worked on the restoration of Windsor Castle after it was damaged by a fire in 1992, agreed with that assessment.

“There are three key matters to be addressed: Firstly, the surviving parts of the building must be secured and anything that is likely to be able to be repaired in situ is protected. Secondly, there needs to be an archaeological sift of the debris to retrieve any material that might  be helpful in the restoration project. And there will need to be a temporary roof installed to allow the building to start drying out and to protect the surviving fabric.”

Where will the materials come from?

Continue reading “Why rebuilding Notre Dame Cathedral could cost billions and take over a decade” by Clemente Lisi, at Religion Unplugged.

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