Notre Dame Rector Says the Cathedral May Never Be Saved

Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

The majestic and historic Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of Paris may never be saved after the devastating fire in April, the cathedral’s rector said.

“Today it is not out of danger,” Monsignor Patrick Chauvet told The Associated Press on Christmas Eve. “It will be out of danger when we take out the remaining scaffolding.”

“Today we can say that there is maybe a 50% chance that it will be saved,” Chauvet added. “There is also 50% chance of scaffolding falling onto the three vaults, so as you can see the building is still very fragile.”

Notre Dame dates back to 1160 and it has become a symbol of Paris, France, and Western Christian culture and heritage in general. The cathedral was under renovation at the time of the fire, which destroyed its roof and collapsed its spire. Without a roof to keep the structure stable, the cathedral’s surviving vaults are crucial to keeping it upright, but they are vulnerable.

About 50,000 tubes of scaffolding crisscrossed the back of the structure at the time of the fire, and many were damaged. Removing the damaged pieces without causing further problems poses a serious challenge for the renovation efforts.

“We need to remove completely the scaffolding in order to make the building safe, so in 2021 we will probably start the restoration of the cathedral,” Chauvet said. “Once the scaffolding is removed we need to assess the state of the cathedral, the quantity of stones to be removed and replaced.”

The fire also released toxic lead dust, making the cathedral space inhospitable for a long time.

The rector estimated that it would take another three years after that to make the cathedral secure enough for people to re-enter it, although the full restoration will take even longer. President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants it rebuilt by 2024 when Paris hosts the Olympics.

Although the cathedral cannot host worshipers now, its congregation, clergy, and choir celebrated Christmas at the Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois Church across from the Louvre.

I was lucky enough to visit Notre Dame late last year, just before this tragedy. I went back on my last night in Paris to gaze on the magnificent cathedral one last time, completely oblivious to the fact that in a few months’ time, it would be unrecognizable. Here are some of the pictures I took:

Photo credit: Tyler O’Neil

Photo credit: Tyler O’Neil

Photo credit: Tyler O’Neil

Photo credit: Tyler O’Neil

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.