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Final-stage renovations begin on Notre-Dame, 30 months after fire

01 October 2021

Alamy

A picture taken on 12 July shows Notre-Dame de Paris during a rehearsal before the Bastille Day military air parade

A picture taken on 12 July shows Notre-Dame de Paris during a rehearsal before the Bastille Day military air parade

FORMAL renovation has begun on Notre-Dame Cathedral, in Paris, in line with the French government’s pledges to have the Gothic landmark reopened in time for the 2024 Olympic Games after the fire two-and-a-half years ago (News, 18 April 2019),

“We are now officially declaring the cathedral saved — it’s standing solidly on its pillars again, with its walls firm,” Jean-Louis Georgelin, the former army chief charged with restoration by the President, Emmanuel Macron, said.

“Despite delays caused by the pandemic, and the lead scattered during the blaze, we are determined to win this battle. It will be France’s honour to do so, and we are all united behind our goal.”

Speaking to French TV, General Georgelin said that work had focused on making the 850-year-old structure safe, by reinforcing its flying buttresses and removing 40,000 pieces of fire-damaged scaffolding. Notre-Dame’s gargoyles and interior walls and floor would now undergo “thorough cleansing”, he said, while its historic 8000-pipe grand organ would be reassembled by October 2023.

Hundreds of French firefighters battled to save Notre-Dame after the overnight fire, blamed on an electrical fault, brought down its 300-foot spire and most of its 13th-century oak roof, and also destroyed much of its wooden interior and masonry.

Rescue teams removed artworks and sacred objects, including a gold tunic worn by the medieval king St Louis IX (1214-70) and the crown-of-thorns relic, to a place of safety

More than €800 million has since been pledged by private and corporate donors for the state-managed rebuilding of the cathedral, which previously attracted 13 million visitors a year.

The Archbishop of Paris, the Most Revd Michel Aupetit, whose diocese will now be responsible for its interior renewal, pledged this summer to render Notre-Dame “more beautiful than ever” in time for a projected rededication mass on 16 April 2024, three months before the Paris Olympics.

News of the final-stage renovations came as a French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) survey suggested a further decline in religious engagement in the country, especially among the young. The survey suggested that fewer than half the country’s citizens professed belief in God, compared with 55 per cent in 2004.

Whereas more than half the respondents had discussed religious faith regularly a decade ago, the IFOP data suggested that barely one third now did so with family and friends. Although 68 per cent still thought that religion could “transmit positive values”, only 47 per cent considered that it had a “positive contribution to offer” in public debates on bioethics, family life, and economic morality.

The survey appeared to contradict the suggestion made that the 2019 Notre-Dame disaster had reawakened religious feelings in France: almost four-fifths of respondents said that it had “not altered their spiritual situation”.

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