Eight months after devastating blaze – what now for Paris’ Notre-Dame cathedral?

Eight months after devastating blaze - what now for Paris' Notre-Dame cathedral?
Massive cranes arrived in December to start the next phase of works on Notre-Dame. Photo: AFP
It's been eight months since Paris' iconic Notre-Dame cathedral was devastated by fire, but what happens next for the city centre monument?

The flames had barely been extinguished on the night of April 15th, 2019 when donations from around the world began pouring in to help with the rebuilding of Notre-Dame cathedral.

But eight months on and the building remains swathed in scaffolding and officials have confirmed that there will be no Christmas Mass held there this year, for the first time in more than 200 years.

So what's going on?


The moment the spire collapsed

The cause of the fire

An investigation is still ongoing into what caused the blaze.

The flames broke out in the roof area of the cathedral on the early evening of Monday, April 15th, and less than an hour after they were first spotted they engulfed the cathedral's spire, which came crashing down.

The flames largely destroyed the roof, much of which was already covered in scaffolding in an ongoing restoration project, but fire crews managed the save the majority of the walls and interior of the cathedral as well as its historic treasures. 

Fire investigators were able to rule out arson early on in the investigation, but eight months on no definitive cause of the blaze has been established. Investigators say they believe the cause to be accidental, and have opened an investigation into possible criminal negligence by the company involved in the restoration works.

But although various theories have been put forward – including a worker's carelessly discarded cigarette and an electrical fault – no cause has been established.

There is also an investigation into the response time by firefighters and the cathedral's fire alarm system, as miscommunication seems to have slowed the response.

A somewhat disillusioned sounding police officer quoted in Le Parisien said: “Now, it is a battle of experts that is beginning, and which may last several years. And it's not sure that we'll know the truth at the end.”


Although the roof was very badly damaged, the interior survived relatively intact

The rebuilding of the cathedral 

The restoration of the magnificent building has also been a source of trouble.

Lack of money is not the problem, donations poured in from around the world before the embers even cooled and around €1 billion has now been pledged by private donors for the state-owned monument.

But as well as the ongoing police investigation, there has also been controversy over the style of restoration.

The opening up of bids for the restoration contract saw a slew of innovative design ideas submitted including a glass roof, a rooftop garden, a 'spire' of light and even a rooftop swimming pool – although that wasn't ever submitted as an actual bid.

IN PICTURES: Seven of the more unusual ideas for rebuilding Notre-Dame

The more wacky designs ignited an almighty row between the innovators and the traditionalists, who want the cathedral restored exactly as it was before the fire.

The French parliament passed a resolution to look at all types of restoration, only for the Senate to insist that only a traditional rebuilding should be considered.

There's also been a very public bust-up between Jean-Louis Georgelin, the French army general charged with overseeing the rebuilding and the chief architect Philippe Villeneuve, with the former telling the latter to “shut his mouth”.

So it's fair to say there's still some issues to addressed there, but culture minister Franck Riester says that when a plan is finally agreed on, the French people will be consulted.


The swimming pool design was never actually submitted. Photo: UMA

What about the timescale?

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, French president Emmanuel Macron announced an ambitious target of getting the cathedral fully restored by 2024 – the year Paris hosts the Olympics. Although that target hasn't officially been abandoned, it hasn't been mentioned much since in what seems like a tacit acceptance that it will take a lot longer than that.

And in the meantime?

Well cathedral staff are continuing to hold services and celebrate Mass, but usually at the neighbouring churches including Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois.

 

Tall cranes now tower over the cathedral as work continues on making the site safe and ready for a restoration to begin. Engineers have begun the delicate process of dismantling the twisted and fire-damaged scaffolding that was around the roof when the fire broke out. This will take three to four months and the head of the operation says they are going at “snails' pace” so as not to cause any further damage. 

However since November the facade of the building has again been lit up at night, a welcome return to Paris' night skyline.


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