Notre Dame Cathedral is rising from the ruins: how is the restoration going?

The reconstruction process is in full force: from rebuilding the roof to restoring the church windows. French and international partners are working hard to get the job done before April 2024, when the grand reopening is planned

Renovations are underway as the windows of the Cathedral were removed. Image: SiefkinDR/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Five years after the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire, restoration works have been ongoing ever since. Dozens of French and international companies work to finish the rebuilding of the World Heritage Site in the spring of 2024. So how are they getting along?

The renovation is estimated to take five years, and the total budget for the reconstruction is about €830 million ($895 million), mostly from funds pledged and donated. The French hope to reopen the cathedral on April 15, 2024, the fifth anniversary of the fire.

“We will rebuild Notre Dame because that’s what the French people are expecting”, a visibly emotional French president Emmanuel Macron told reporters at the site of the fire in 2019. “Because that’s what our history is worthy of. Because that’s our deep destiny.”

Where to start?

France long debated whether or not to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral as it was, or according to contemporary designs. In 2020, Macron decided the entire cathedral would be rebuilt exactly as it was, including the spire — which was originally made of wood and fell to the flames in the first few hours of the fire, a CNN article from 2021 reported.

Notre-Dame cathedral fire Image: Wandrille de Préville via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0
The fire badly damaged the roof and caused the wooden spire to collapse. Image: Wandrille de Préville/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

A controversial decision nonetheless, as a French environmental group even became angry with the ‘anachronistic’ rebuild of the cathedral. Because workers use wood and lead in rebuilding the church’s roof framework and spire, the group argued the approach is polluting and does not guarantee the safety of the building in the future. A Notre Dame spokesperson ensured that the wood and lead structure wasn’t the problem that caused the fire. “The fire took hold due to human error.” Although it remains unclear to this day what exactly caused the fire.

French Pride

Despite the debates, workers have been busy repairing and rebuilding the Parisian landmark. One of the few selected to work on the reconstruction is Dagand Atlantique, a company based in the southern French municipality of Bressols, that specializes in the restoration of ancient heritage. The company, which has been restoring historical monuments for nearly 80 years, has extensive experience in masonry, stone cutting, and roofing.

In collaboration with a consortium of companies from Paris and Marseille, Dagand Atlantique is responsible for the repair of windows and stone roofing, and for the removal and replacement of damaged stones resulting from the fire, an article from France TV explained.

For Dagand Atlantique, it is a source of great pride to contribute to the restoration of such an iconic building. According to Florent Damiani, the director of the company, “all the guild trades from all over France are found on the cathedral with their regional know-how, their culture. The national jewel, the craftsmanship elite is on site. It is a splendid site.”

The recent arrival of a massive shipment of stone via the Seine river marked another national effort. The stones were excavated from northern France’s Oise region and cut in Gennevilliers (near Paris). They were placed on barges and floated to the banks of the Seine near the Cathedral where they were then lifted by cranes.

International effort

A window panel from Jacques Le Chevallier in the Notre Dame du Cap Lihou – Vitrail, in the city of Granville. Image: Patrick/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

But it’s not just French craftspeople renovating the French icon: experts from Cologne Cathedral in Germany are helping to restore the damaged church windows. “The biggest problem is contamination from a thick layer of lead dust”, said Katrin Wittstadt to DW. As the scientific director of the glass workshop at Cologne Cathedral Builders Works, she is responsible for the restoration of four windows, including works by Jacques Le Chevallier, a 20th-century stained glass artist.

The restoration work has been a long and intense process, as the experts first had to document the damage, clean the windows in a decontamination chamber, glue cracks, replace broken pieces, and repaint. The final step is to solder the lead mesh and cement the exterior. The restoration work is expected to be completed by spring, just in time for the reopening of Notre Dame Cathedral next year.

The restoration work has also highlighted the close ties between the Builders’ Works of Cologne and Notre Dame cathedrals. Matthias Deml, an art historian and spokesman for the Cologne Cathedral Builders Works, noted that “our cathedral is very strongly influenced by the French Gothic style.” The Builders Works at both cathedrals are connected, and they meet regularly for conferences.

And despite the works being well underway, the deadline of 15 April 2024 is an ambitious one, according to Forbes. Although public officials stated they remain optimistic that it can be met.