Flanked by ministers, architects, and even the retired General Jean-Louis Georgelin, who oversees the restoration, Macron is inspecting the progress of the ambitious works to give the virus-weary French public some hope that a completion date will one day arrive, if not shortly.
Workers meanwhile continue in earnest to restore the one-time jewel of French Gothic architecture.
Macron famously said the cathedral would be completed by 2024. Yet, officials now openly acknowledge this completion date as unrealistic, as they cite factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic as having slowed down the pace.
The blaze also distributed vast amounts of toxic lead from the cathedral’s burned-out roof onto the site and nearby, complicating the clean-up work that came before restoration efforts could even begin.
The works that currently scar the French capital skyline – with cranes and scaffolds – could indeed take decades. Officials said earlier this month that the burned-out monument and its esplanade could remain in construction for another “15 or 20 years.” However, they now pledge that Notre Dame will be open for prayer and a “return to worship” in time for Paris’ Olympic Games in 2024.
It remains to be seen if the cathedral will be in any position to welcome some 20 million tourists it used to receive each year before the fire. Since 2019, religious ceremonies, including venerating the “Crown of Thorns” during Easter Mass, have been at Notre Dame’s temporary liturgical base at the nearby church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois. This church is a temporary home and lacks the size or the wow factor that drew the faithful to the 12th-century monument for nearly 900 years.
The Elysee said that Macron’s “visit will be an opportunity for the Head of State to thank again all those who helped save the cathedral from the flames” and after.
That includes the carpenters, scaffolders, rope access technicians, crane operators, organ builders, master glassmakers, painting and sculpture restorers, stonemasons, archaeologists and researchers, and donors who helped keep the works going despite the obvious difficulties posed by the current health crisis.
Two years is a blink of an eye in a restoration timeline.
Officials concede that the cathedral is still in the initial consolidation phase, with the actual restoration phase only starting this winter, or two and a half years after the calamity. But the overwhelming feeling for those who love the monument is of relief that the works have been a success so far.
The consolidation phase costing 165 million euros ($197 million) was vital as 40,000 metal tubes from a preexisting scaffold had to be patiently cut off the roof that had melted there during the blaze.
The vaults inside the cathedral also had to be consolidated, with scaffolding installed to support them.
One thousand oaks were also selected and felled in some 200 French forests this spring to make the frame of the cathedral transept and spire — destined to be admired on the Paris skyline for potentially hundreds of years.