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No Makeover Desired – French Senate Votes on Notre Dame Restoration

Nancy Bilyeau
Notre Dame before the fire
Notre Dame before the fire

The restoration of Notre Dame has been voted on by the French Senate. The massive fire in Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral that proved so devastating is now leading to difficult questions on not only how to pay for repairs but what plan to follow in restoring the 850-year-old landmark to glory.

On May 27th, 2018, the French Senate voted to restore the Parisian cathedral to its “last known visual state” prior to the fire,  contradicting other government officials’ hopes for a contemporary design. These questions have generated tension between traditionalists and those who see this as an opportunity to construct a new cathedral. It now seems that a modern makeover is unlikely.

Notre Dame fire

Notre Dame on fire. (Photo by Philippe Wang/Getty Images)

While some wanted to launch an international competition of architects offering different visions, Mayor Anne Hidalgo spoke out in favor of an identical Notre Dame restoration. As CNN reported, “The restoration bill will allow work on the cathedral to be completed in time for the Summer Olympics being held in Paris in 2024, which falls in line with French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to have the structure rebuilt in 5 years.”

Notre Dame restoration

Notre Dame design ideas included a greenhouse roof. Photo Courtesy: NAB Studio

A survey of French citizens conducted after the fire revealed a slim majority (54 percent) in favor of a Notre Dame restoration to its last known state; 25 percent called for a revamped design; and 21 percent had no opinion, according to the Smithsonian. Worth noting is that if Notre Dame’s roof were rebuilt exactly as it once existed, 3,000 tall oak trees would be needed to replace it in its entirety. Given the reduced number of forests in Europe today, this wood requirement poses a challenge, though one medieval historian has pointed out that the Baltic states may hold enough tall trees for the project.

Notre Dame fire interior

Inside Notre Dame after the fire. (Photo credit LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)

The fire consumed Notre Dame on April 15th. The cathedral roof and its support structure of 800-year-old oak timbers had almost completely succumbed to the flames. Firefighters reported the cathedral’s bell towers safe and said that many works of art had been rescued or were already stored in safe places.

Notre Dame history

Notre Dame in the 1860s

The main spire—750 tons of oak lined with lead—collapsed in flames. Police believe an electrical short circuit in a construction area might have caused the fire. Investigators are expected to search the cathedral for remains of cables, lights, or parts of circuitry that might give clues. Investigators are also trying to establish whether all the correct procedures were followed when the first alarm went off at the cathedral. Staff reportedly made checks but did not see anything unusual until a second alarm sounded 20 minutes later.

Related Video: First Ever Motion Picture of Paris Life (including Notre Dame) made by the Lumiere Brothers

The scaffolding firm that had put up a structure of metal scaffolding for renovations admitted “that some of its workers had smoked on the site, but ruled out that a cigarette butt might have started the fire that destroyed the cathedral’s oak-framed roof,” according to The Guardian.

Even though it was one of France’s most iconic sites, Notre-Dame cathedral suffered years of neglect and lacked the funds for some needed renovations before the April 2019 fire. The French Ministry of Culture owns Notre Dame and is responsible for its maintenance. The state used to pay the bills of upkeep. But in recent years the high cost of the repairs Notre Dame needed meant the French Ministry of Culture was struggling.

Related Article: Notre Dame Cathedral Through the Ages – A Beautiful History in Photos

Macron said in April: “Notre-Dame is our history, our literature, part of our psyche, the place of all our great events, our epidemics, our wars, our liberations, the epicentre of our lives. Notre-Dame is burning, and I know the sadness, and this tremor felt by so many fellow French people… Let’s be proud, because we built this cathedral more than 800 years ago, we’ve built it and, throughout the centuries, let it grow and improved it. So I solemnly say tonight: we will rebuild it together.”


Nancy Bilyeau, a former staff editor at Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and InStyle, has written a trilogy of historical thrillers for Touchstone Books. Her new book, The Blue, is a spy story set in the 18th-century porcelain world. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com