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Notre Dame roof reconstruction reaches important milestone

Notre Dame de Paris, pre fire

Gurgen Bakhshetyan | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 06/05/23

Working with hand tools and using the same methods as in the 12th century, the team of craftsmen have raised the roof in a dry run.

The team responsible for rebuilding the roof of Notre Dame de Paris reached an important milestone in May. Working with hand tools and using the same methods as their 12th-century artisan counterparts, the dedicated craftsmen have completed a dry run of assembling the timber frame at a workshop in the Loire Valley, in western France. The next step will be to bring the materials to Paris so they may restore the roof of the French monument cathedral. 

A report from the Associated Press notes that much of the work whittling the beams into shape was conducted with hand axes. While the work would have gone much faster with modern power tools, Jean-Louis Georgelin, a retired French army general who is overseeing the reconstruction, said that it was important to pay tribute to the past and recreate Notre Dame just as it was and by the same means.

“We want to restore this cathedral as it was built in the Middle Ages,” says Jean-Louis Georgelin. “It is a way to be faithful to the (handiwork) of all the people who built all the extraordinary monuments in France.”

Using axes to chop oak beams for the framework is time consuming and demanding work, but it has given the workers valuable time to reflect on the history of their craft. One of the carpenters of the project, Peter Henrikson, said that he has formed a new appreciation for craftsmen of the past. He commented that it is “mind-bending sometimes” to think that he is essentially working on the same joint as craftsmen did nearly a millennium ago. 

Not all of their methods have reached back through history, however, as the team employs modern computer systems for design purposes. The precision offered by modern technologies will ensure that all the pieces will fit together perfectly, as well as preventing mistakes that would waste materials. The computers are also helping them stay on track for the projected December 2024 reopening.

Architect Remi Fromont said that the team strives to “resurrect” Notre Dame, just as it was before the tragic 2019 fire put it out of commission. In 2012, he completed a detailed drawing of the original wooden frame of the roof, which has been invaluable to the reconstruction effort. He told the AP: 

The rebuilt frame “is the same wooden frame structure of the 13th century,” he says. “We have exactly the same material: oak. We have the same tools, with the same axes that were used, exactly the same tools. We have the same know-how. And soon, it will return to its same place.”

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