Re-building the Notre Dame Cathedral - How medieval woodworking skills are achieving the impossible

Published on
December 13, 2022
Mark Angelo

Following the destruction of the roof structure of world heritage listed Notre Dame due to a fire in April 2019, the task of rebuilding was seen as challenging and many thought impossible.

As reported by the Guardian,  Frédéric Épaud, a medieval wood specialist, told the Observer that “After the fire, there were a lot of people saying it would take thousands of trees, and we didn’t have enough of the right ones, and the wood would have to be dried for years, and nobody even knew anything about how to produce beams like they did in the Middle Ages. They said it was impossible. But we knew it could be done because Guédelon has been doing it for years.”

The Guédelon project, started 25 years ago in a forest clearing in northern Burgundy, allows today’s artisans to re-learn and perfect long-forgotten woodcrafting skills using only tools and methods available in the Middle Ages and, wherever possible, locally sourced materials.  Skilled artisans were already undertaking the building of a 13th century style castle, using medieval tools, designs and techniques.  Now, in an unforeseen twist of fate, Guédelon is able to play a vital role in restoring the Notre Dame cathedral.

Stéphane Boudy is one of a small team of carpenters at the medieval site, who explained how hand-hewing each beam – a single piece from a single tree – respects the “heart” of the green wood that gives it its strength and resistance. “This isn’t just nostalgia. If Notre Dame’s roof lasted 800 years, it is because of this. There’s no heart in sawmill wood,” he says.

* Update on Notre-Dame Cathedral's 2023 Reconstruction Progress

As at November 2023, significant progress has been made in the restoration of Almost 1,000 workers are involved in the efforts, both on-site and in workshops across France. Scaffolding is being removed in phases, and the Grand Organ, stained-glass windows, and wrought iron railings have undergone restoration. Key structural elements like vaults and buttress walls have been repaired or replaced. The timber framework for the nave and choir is being prepared in workshops for future installation. The reconstruction of the iconic spire has also commenced. Overall, the progress report indicates steady advancement towards the cathedral’s complete restoration.

** Update on Notre Dame Re-Opening in 2024

According to Reuters, ArtNet News& the French daily Le Figaro:

The French culture minister Rima Abdul-Malak announced that Notre-Dame cathedral, should reopen in 2024 to coincide with the Olympic Games in Paris—timing that is sure to bring the eyes of the world to the city of lights.  After re-opening in 2024, more work will be required in many background areas, and will be ongoing for some time.

© Zachary Zachmann, courtesy of the Établissement Public

The Friends of Notre Dame have established a Website to inform on progress:

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