What happened to the Notre Dame Cathedral

One year after the devastating fire : What will happen to Notre Dame now?

It feels like it was a lot longer ago, an event from another time. In fact, this Wednesday it was only a year ago that the Paris Notre-Dame Cathedral was on fire. The fire alarm was triggered on the evening of April 15, 2019 at 6:20 p.m. But meanwhile France, like the whole world, is fighting on a completely different front, almost 15,000 people have died of or with Covid-19 so far, almost five times as many as in Germany.

Public life is even more shut down than in Germany, some Parisians haven't left their apartments for a month, and they have their groceries delivered. And Saint-Sulpice on the left bank of the Seine in the 6th arrondissement, the second largest church in the city and a replacement cathedral, is also closed. No good times for faith - or are they?

In any case, Notre-Dame is not disappearing from the consciousness of the French. Not this church, which occupies a special place, both psychologically and topographically: in the heart of the capital, at the east end of the Île de la Cité, where religion has had its place since Roman times and probably even earlier when Gallic tribes settled here. The west side of the island, on the other hand, is still reserved for secular power, in the Middle Ages for the Capetian or Valois kings, and today for the administration of justice.

Other cathedrals, such as Chartres, may be more grand or politically significant - the French kings were crowned in Reims and buried in Saint-Denis - but they are still on the periphery. Notre-Dame was and is the center of France, rediscovered in Romanticism through Victor Hugo's novel, published in 1831, which in German bears the misleading title "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame", while in the original it is simply "Notre-Dame de Paris" called. The protagonist is the cathedral.

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One could experience unique moments here, for example when a soprano began to sing during the mass, her voice thrown back from the vault and suddenly developed into a kind of divine echo that made the physical presence of hundreds of other visitors completely forgotten. What was an intense present just a few years ago is suddenly only a memory, no longer possible for a long time - no one can say how long.

Above all, the fire destroyed the roof structure, which was called “la forêt” (“the forest”) because its 1,300 oak beams from the 13th century came from as many different trees, and melted the lead roof. In addition, the striking wooden tower above the crossing, where the main and side aisles cross, collapsed.

It wasn't originally medieval, but was added in free imitation by the not undisputed architect and passionate restorer Eugène Violett-le-Duc in the mid-19th century. However, it gave the silhouette of the building a unique striving upwards, and it is an integral part of the cathedral, which was added to the Unesco World Heritage List in 1991. Incidentally, it was restoration work on this tower that triggered the fire in the first place.

200 tons of material fell down

During a visit last summer, Notre-Dame looked surreally intact, even if it was almost halved, the window openings masked with gigantic Tesa tape, as if there were a wounded and poorly treated animal lying on the Seine. 200 tons of fallen material have now been removed, the masonry including the twin bell towers seem to have retained their statics, even if this has still not been definitively proven.

The 500-tonne scaffolding, which was originally erected for the restoration of the crossing tower and whose steel girders have partially merged into one another due to the enormous heat of the fire, is still standing. Dismantling it is the biggest challenge at the moment, and only then can you tell whether the walls are really stable. The work had started in March 2020 - but then came the corona crisis. Everything is at rest now.

What is going on is the debate about the actual reconstruction, which has fallen well behind and should finally start in 2021. Shortly after the fire, some wealthy entrepreneurial families had already announced donations in the millions, which was a source of irritation in arguing France: Instead of prestigious individual donations, it would be a good idea if they met their tax liability, it was said.

A year later, a total of almost one billion euros from 320,000 donors and foundations have been pledged. Emmanuel Macron seems to have withdrawn from his research promise that Notre-Dame will shine “more beautifully than ever before” in five years, even if Jean-Louis Georgelin continues to talk about it.

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The retired general and Catholic has been appointed by the President as head of a public establishment for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame; He is making a name for himself with pithy slogans: He yelled at chief architect Philippe Villeneuve in November 2019 during a session of a parliamentary committee that he should “fermer sa gueule” - “shut up”.

Bold architectural dreams of a contemporary reconstruction, for example with a walk-on glass roof or a crossing tower made of laser light, were allowed to let off steam shortly after the fire. In the meantime there seems to be a consensus that Notre-Dame will be reconstructed true to the original. When masses can take place here again is currently in God's hands. And now a completely different crisis has to be overcome anyway.

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