Saving Our Lady of Paris…One Year Later
Volume XVIII, Issue 16
Notre-Dame Burning, by Claire White
One year ago yesterday, we watched Notre-Dame de Paris burn, burn badly. It rocked the nation and it rocked the world. The fire started just beneath the roof and up it went in flames, taking with it the spire and the upper walls. Thanks to the stone vaulted ceiling, the damage was actually contained and most of its works of art and religious relics were saved. The altar, the two pipe organs and the 13th-century rose windows were not damaged, but three workers were injured.
It was if the heart of the city had been pierced by an arrow and bled to near death. French president Emmanuel Macron immediately promised to restore it within five years in time for the Paris Olympics in 2024 — a promise we guessed couldn’t be fulfilled, but gave us hope. Fundraising campaigns were launched, raising over €1 billion within the first week!
Today, the work that began instantly to restore Our Lady has come to a grinding halt, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Months of delays had already taken place because of the 300 tons of molten lead from the roof that sent toxic particles flying making it treacherous for the workers, not to mention the immediate vicinity. In addition, heavy winds during the winter threatened the new massive wooden beams used to prop up the arches and gables. The scaffolding that was there when the fire erupted and fused together during the fire into a tangled web has not yet been removed.
A year later, there is still no concrete evidence as to how the fire started. At least, not as reported to the public. Speculators have suggested fault wiring or a lit cigarette…although it was “interdit” (forbidden) for the workers or anyone to smoke on the site. My own feeling is that if it were faulty wiring, we’d know it, and that a lit cigarette is more likely the cause — something they dare not divulge to the public. But, I merely speculate.
Yesterday on my daily walk, I chose to go outside my one-kilometer radius to see Notre-Dame for myself. I regret that I hadn’t taken the time to circle it before now. On the wall that separates the reconstruction site from the pedestrians are posted photos of the devastation by Patrick Zachmann, a Magnum Photos photographer. I can’t republish any of the photos without proper licensing, but you can see some of them here.
Once a thriving center of activity, “Ground Zero” from which all points in France are measured, is now a sea of solitude during this period of confinement. Rue d’Arcole, the street that runs northbound from the Parvis de Notre-Dame, normally buzzing with tourists and souvenir merchants was void of even one single human being other than myself and my companion. The efforts to even stabilize the building are on hold and the press has reported that it has a 50-50 chance of further collapse.
The question remains whether to rebuild Notre Dame as it was, or add a modern touch as Emmanuel Macron suggests? No doubt, there will be much debate over this. Either way, I am sure the French will not be happy! (They are still complaining about Le Pyramide du Louvre and the Centre Pompidou, years later!) Money doesn’t seem to be an issue, with that $1 billion pledged by 340,000 companies and individuals worldwide. (However, “pledged” is not exactly the same as “in the bank.”) There is already some complaint that the money should also be used to help the businesses that surround the cathedral which has suffered from the fire indirectly, to the tune of two-thirds of their revenues lost this past year.
France 2 aired a 1.5-hour documentary Tuesday evening I highly recommend watching it. A film crew provided by producer Gedeon Media Group closely followed the workers responsible for rehabilitating the cathedral to create “Sauver Notre-Dame” (“Saving Notre-Dame”). Throughout the year, up to a few days before confinement, the film crew followed the work to secure the building. The filming didn’t start until early May, but it begins the day after the fire with images of the firefighters. It wasn’t easy to get the permissions to be so up-front and up-close with the cameras and crew. For 70 days over 10 months, the crews worked side-by-side to produce this incredible documentary. It’s an amazing inside look at Notre Dame and the making of history.
Special note: The film is in French, but…first off, you can select French subtitles in the bottom right corner. But, if you watch it using Chrome or a browser that translates French to English, the subtitles will translate to English, too! We have Patty Sadauskas to thank for this tip!!
Watch it here, and enjoy.
Adrian Leeds Group
(at Notre Dame)
P.S. May 12th, Kathy Borrus, was scheduled to present her book, “Notre-Dame de Paris: A Celebration of the Cathedral,” at Après Midi. With confinement in full force until May 11th, we’re hoping to be able to offer you her presentation virtually using Zoom.us so we can all be there, no matter where we are!
Kathy Borrus is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC. She is the author of multiple books including Five Hundred Buildings of Paris, One Thousand Buildings of Paris, The Fearless Shopper, and Stubby, a children’s picture book. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, PurpleClover.com, Fits, Starts, and Matters of the Heart, Art Business News, and FranceGuide among others. Her most recently published book is Notre Dame de Paris: A Celebration of the Cathedral.
For this appearance at Après Midi (via Zoom.us), Kathy will talk informally about Notre Dame, how she came to write and research the book, and the stories that fascinated her about it. Are you game for such an event, held virtually!? Let us know what you think!
P.P.S. Here’s another article of interest about Notre-Dame, “Notre Dame a year after the fire,” by past Après Midi speaker, Annabel Simms,” author of An Hour From Paris.