Notre Dame de Paris: When Good Comes of Evil

Source: FSSPX News

After the fateful evening of April 15, 2019, which saw the collapse of the spire of the Paris cathedral, and when the future of the building seemed definitively compromised, who could have believed that, five years later, the work of restoration would have deepened our understanding of Notre Dame and enabled it to face the centuries to come with serenity?

Five years spent using cutting-edge technologies made it possible for us to evaluate the damage in detail: “The fire transformed the cathedral into a shell, which allowed the appearance of numerous unknown elements which had been concealed by the structures. In fact, despite the disaster, this constitutes an extremely important source of knowledge,” Aline Magnien, director of the Historical Monuments Research Laboratory, said on April 23, 2024.

A group of scientific disciplines thus had the opportunity to look at Notre Dame and gain new knowledge: “Not only were essential discoveries made about the history of Notre Dame, but this project has allowed vital restoration works for which we would not have had the funding,” the chief architect of historical monuments in charge of the restoration summarized.

And Philippe Villeneuve added: “It has for that matter brought to light the mural paintings created especially for the occasion of the marriage of the Duke of Berry [Editor’s note: June 17, 1816] and which had not been removed.” Paintings used as cover-ups, because as Victor Hugo writes in unforgettable verse, the cathedral seemed quite dilapidated in the 19th century.

The discoveries made it possible to do justice to the restoration work of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1845, systematically criticized in the 20th century: “As we did, Viollet-le-Duc knew how to take advantage of the technologies of his century to adapt them in his restoration. [...] All his work drew inspiration from the Middle Ages: this can be seen in the stained glass, the mural paintings, the furnishings. He built a cathedral of the Middle Ages, but as it was imagined in the 19th century,” emphasized Philippe de Villeneuve.

The restoration allows Notre Dame to look forward to the 3rd millennium with serenity: “For the framework, the wood guarantees us a structure that can last 800 years,” estimates Villeneuve, who explains the advantage of wood over concrete; at Reims, “the prefabricated concrete structure put in place following the cathedral fire in 1914 already needs work due to the oxidization of the steel.”

Another discovery: the uncovering of parts of the building belonging to an older place of worship, on the ruins of which Notre Dame began to be constructed, starting from 1163. “Tie beams (horizontal pieces of framework) were found which date to the 12th century, therefore from the first framework. The question arises whether the current vaults are those of this period,” specifies Philippe Dillmann, Head of Research at CNRS.

Knowledge of the art of stained glass has emerged from the fire strengthened: the disappearance of the art of stained glass in the 18th century had led to the use of painted glass in lieu of colored glass. In the 19th century, this art was resurrected, but “there is a tendency to make stained glass with patina, a little obstructed, because this is what the stained glass of the Middle Ages looked like. But, in the oldest stained glass, what we took for patina was dirt,” explains Philippe de Villeneuve.

The immense pride felt by the teams gathered on April 22 to close the chapter of scientific expertise of a cathedral reconstructed identically, respecting the work of the first builders, was palpable.

As for the question of the future liturgical furnishings and the new stained glass windows, it will probably allow us to see visually the clear solution of the continuity between the expression of Faith in the Middle Ages and the liturgical decline that appeared in the wake of the conciliar aggiornamento.