Notre Dame stands

The roof is gone, the spire is gone, but the north and south towers of Notre Dame have withstood the conflagration. The rose windows survived, which is a freaking miracle. I thought they were goners for sure. The bells, including the great 13-ton bourdon Emmanuel, the only bell of Notre Dame to survive the cultural holocaust of the French Revolution, are intact. The artistic and religious treasures it held are safe in an undisclosed location.

Watching that spire collapse was so deeply horrifying I still can’t stand to recollect it, but it could have been so, so much worse, as in burned to the ground worse. The statues on the roof, which would have melted into puddles for sure, were removed prior to the beginning of the restoration work on the spire that was ongoing when the fire broke out.

The damage is massive and quite literally irreplaceable in the case of the wooden beams that formed the structure of the roof. They were cut down in the 13th century and there haven’t been any trees left that size in France for hundreds of years. It’s traumatizing to confront that level of loss. What’s gone is gone for good.

At the same time, the soaring Gothic majesty of that wood framing is the reason why the fire burned so thoroughly. Lots of oxygen, lots of combustible fuel, no way to break the fire, no way to fight it from the inside. Whatever architectural solution is devised to reconstruct the roof, I imagine fire security will be a top priority.

The church is owned by the state with the Church having rights of use. In the past this arrangement has caused lots of delays and nonsense when it came to restoration, but the agony of yesterday’s events will, one hopes, remain perpetually sharp and the outpouring of support — French billionaires have already pledge $339 million to the repairs — will keep attention fixed on bringing Notre Dame back.

My mother reminded me when we spoke just after the spire fell that when we lived in Rome many decades ago, a fire raged through St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, my favorite church when I was a kid. She said you could hear the stone cladding explode in the heat. St. Paul’s is far more modest in size and height than Notre Dame, and still the fire burned so viciously that it turned marble into artillery shells. Today it is more beautiful than ever, its gold facade gleaming even brighter than when I was a child with my face pressed against the window of the car to see the brilliant glow of the sun reflect against the mosaic every time we drove by it.

A reminder of what Notre Dame’s bells sounded like when her new ones were inaugurated just over six years ago. They will sound again. Between 43:20 – 45:18 all ten tower bells were rung along with the three in the spire, now lost forever.

(Between 12:15 – 21:50 the ten tower bells are rung in groups from largest to smallest. At 58:12 is the “Grand Solemnity,” beginning with Emmanuel followed by Marie and then the eight smaller ones.)


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Comment by Sluggo
2019-04-16 14:00:59

I wonder if the wooden beams will be replaced with steel girders.

Comment by Shane
2019-04-16 14:11:46

Surely the structure and contents were insured. I would presume coverage for a risk this substantial was provided in layers, shared by multiple underwriters. Perhaps this information will begin to become public before long.

With all the talk about the expense of rebuilding/restoring, the various donation pledges already pouring in, and the fundraising campaigns to come, it will be interesting to see how the financial aspect plays out as well.

Likewise, I’m guessing the leadership of every significant museum and historical site in the world is having updated conversations about their disaster prep, mitigation, response, and recovery plans. At least, I hope so! As we saw at the National Museum in Brazil just a few months ago, not everyone is ready.

Comment by Dom Francisco
2019-04-16 14:26:49

There is possibly a lot that an application of those ‘steel girders’ would depend on, but that’s indeed a not totally unlikely scenario:

The beams used back then are simply not grown any more and not easily available. What seems to be a “forest”, is in Europe mostly a weird sort of “tree plantation”, i.e. all those “forests” are in fact not actually forests, to the unskilled eye they only appear to be forests. People nowadays simply wont have 500 years at hand, in order to grow a proper tree.

Note that the cathedral in Cologne was began in 1248, had been stopped around 1500AD, and as in 1814 the original plan was rediscovered, completed in 1880 (with steel). Also, even one of the oldest cathedrals in Europe, the one in Aachen from 805, is currently held up by a steel ring. Projects of that kind probably never finish, and demand constant effort(s).


Comment by Markus
2019-04-16 15:19:11

What is lost is lost, but Notre Dame will be returned to its prior glory as far as possible. No doubt about it. President Macron has asked the international community for assistance – for starters, France should seek plenty of help from its German friends, who historically have vast knowledge and huge experience in reconstructing and rebuilding damaged and destroyed architectural treasures.

(There was a fire in St.Paul when you lived in Rome? When did that happen? Surely you weren’t there in 1823…)

Comment by Heather Campbell
2019-04-16 19:59:27

My daughter’s birthday was yesterday and she was devastated, as she is in love with Paris. She reminded me that April 15th has so many negatives in history… the Titanic sunk, Lincoln died. I found the photos of us visiting Notre Dame 4 years ago on Sunday. So many people are there this time of year- they were lucky that it occured later in the day when hundreds of people weren’t crammed inside. It could ha e been an even bigger tragedy.

Comment by DJ Austin
2019-04-16 20:31:47

Any word about the organ?

Comment by Ambrosius
2019-04-16 22:40:28

@Shane…..Speaking with some knowledge of UK buildings I can say that virtually no old building on this scale Cathedrals. churches, castles, stately homes etc.are insured because they aren’t ‘up to grade’ with electricals, plumbing, exits, fire escapes etc. Not to mention the cost of replacing any part of the building that might come down due to accident or old age especially wooden structures. To insure them would literally casy 10’s of millions a year. Even then the policy would include a raft of exclusions and provisos.

Third party insurance to cover any accidents tourists or workers on site might have or individual items such as special art work are a different matter but still cost vast sums each year to insure.

The fires at Windsor Castle, Brighton Pavillion,
Hampton Court and the Glasgow School of Art were prime examples of the problem. None of them were insured past the very basics and certainly not for replacement of the structure.

I very much suspect this is also the case with Notre Dame.

Comment by a
2019-04-17 00:34:17

On a separate but similar note , it would not surprise me if The Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) suffers a similar fate.

It is riddled with rot and asbestos, infested with vermin, the plumbing is pre-war, the electricals are cobbled together with duct tape, the masonry is rotting away from pollution, the foundations sinking into the Thames mud and the whole building is a giant fire hazard.

In the past 10years over 40 fires have broken out within its walls. It is not a question of ‘if’, rather when. It also is not insured past the basics.

There will be national outrage if it does go up in cinders but every time they try to modernise and renovate there is a national outcry as to the cost so the ditherers prevail and the clock ticks down, perhaps literally re Big Ben.

Comment by DBMG
2019-04-17 00:35:47

@ DJ Austin, I saw a mention somewhere that the organ is almost intact.

Comment by Denis Nardin
2019-04-17 03:16:28

@Shane There is a principle in France that the public buildings are not insured because the state should act as its own insurer. This was the case of Notre Dame (moreover no insurer would ever have agreed to something with *that much* liability). In any case I doubt that any insurance policy could even begin to cover the massive costs of the reconstruction. Thankfully the donations are pouring in.

Comment by Michael
2019-04-17 10:53:10

There are oaks that were planted in the 19th century for this very reason.
“The spire and the beams that supported the roof cover are 160 years old, so ok, just look for a nice weathered wood that replaces them and you can redo the cathedral. But there is no need to look for them: there are already oaks for new beams. They have been waiting in Versailles for over a century and a half to exactly accomplish this task: they are the substitutes for the oaks cut to rebuild Notre Dame in the 60 years after the Terror”.

Comment by DJ Austin
2019-04-17 14:23:47

Thank you

Comment by Fred
2019-04-17 15:45:35

How much has “the Church” donated to restore the cathedral?

Comment by Dom Francisco
2019-04-17 17:29:38

There seem to be -at this point- 1.13 billion USD :eek:

Comment by Ed
2019-04-17 21:32:23

The United States Navy keeps an entire plantation of old white oak trees, for repairs to the USS Constitution. They might part with some.

Comment by Shane
2019-04-18 10:57:18

Thank you for the insight into the conventions of insurance for government properties in France. Upon reflection, it makes sense that the nation self-insures, as they have many high-value properties, a culture where state-owned/connected enterprise is more familiar, and resources that dwarf those of the largest private insurance companies. But to clarify, I am aware of other high-value properties outside of France which are covered by private insurers, and these massive risks are successfully shared in layers by multiple underwriters and re-insurers.

Since the government of France self insures, I remain curious about the mechanism to cover the inevitable expenses and how the financial aspects of this tragedy will unfold. And I remain hopeful that others who manage historic facilities and valuable collections are currently diligent in reassessing their risk of catastrophe, further mitigating the likelihood of loss, if practicable.

Comment by Rick
2019-04-18 16:45:16

Concerns about timbers not being available is misplaced. Possibly not in France but certainly in the US, Russia, Africa of South America. However, I doubt they will be needed as the new structure will likely be steel to meet fire codes. It will look exactly as it does now but the structure itself will be as high tech as money can make it.

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