While the cause of the devastating fire that threatened the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris earlier this week is still unknown, people all across the world are banding together to rebuild. Nearly one billion dollars in aid has been pledged from governments and private individuals to restore the medieval landmark to its pre-conflagration glory. Although, the scope of that restoration remains open for debate.
Discussions have focused, in recent days, particularly on the future of the cathedral’s famous spire. The 300-foot-tall spire that was consumed by flames on Monday was itself a relatively recent addition to the 12th-century cathedral, constructed as part of a restoration program that took place during the 19th century.
While the fire decimated the lead-clad wooden spire along with much of the original roof, officials are adamant that the remaining structure is safe and sound for rehabilitation. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced on Wednesday that the fate of the spire, at least, would be decided by an international competition. Architects and designers from around the world will be invited to submit options to reconstruct the roofline.
Reuters reported Philippe as stating, “The international competition will allow us to ask the question of whether we should even recreate the spire as it was conceived by [its architect, Eugene] Viollet-le-duc. Or if, as is often the case in the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre Dame with a new spire.” Philipe was even open to the idea of rebuilding Notre Dame without any replacement spire at all.
President Emmanuel Macron is pushing for all work on the Notre Dame to be complete within five years, a timeline ending just as Paris will ready to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Construction experts, however, are skeptical that the time frame is possible for such a massive project. But if a new spire were to be erected by that time, a redesigned version would certainly include or pay tribute to at least some of the original’s details.
Especially given that while the spire itself was destroyed in the blaze, much of its famous statuary survived. Sixteen copper statues usually surrounded the structure’s base––twelve human figures portraying Christ’s Apostles and four animals representing the Evangelists. All faced outward save the figure portraying the Apostle Thomas, traditionally known as the patron saint of architects. The Thomas statue faced the spire and was designed with the visage of Viollet-le-duc.
Just four days before the inferno struck their home, the green statues were removed by crane and trucked to southwestern France as part of a then-ongoing $7 million restoration project. It was the first time the statues had been disturbed in more than one hundred years.
The spire was crowned by a copper weathervane in the shape of a rooster, a symbol of the French nation. The weathervane contained several holy items, including a thorn from Christ’s crown of thorns and relics from Saints Denis and Genevieve (both French).
The rooster weathervane and its relics were immediately believed lost as the vaulting underneath the spire was consumed and the cone collapsed. The rooster was recovered, however, from the streets the following day. A tweet by Jacques Chanut, president of the French Builders Federation, shows the weathervane a little battered from its fall but, by his estimation, likely salvageable. No mention is given to the presence or status its holy cargo.
As the fire spread, an action plan was implemented to rescue the rest of the cathedral’s artwork and relics. Volunteers and cathedral staff formed a human chain to save the valuables from destruction.
While a final tally of what was destroyed has yet to be released, the consensus is that far more was preserved than ruined. Surely, enough was saved to ensure that whatever form a new spire takes will commemorate what is gone and suggest a path forward.
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