France's president visits Notre Dame a year before the fire-damaged cathedral's planned reopening
Charles, one of the carpenters puts the skills of their medieval colleagues on show on the plaza in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. France's Notre Dame Cathedral's reconstruction is progressing enough to allow its reopening to visitors and masses at the end of next year, less than six years after the after the shocking fire that tore through its roof, French officials said as an exhibit pays tribute to hundreds of artisans working on it. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)
Thomas Adamson And Sylvie Corbet, The Associated Press
Published Friday, December 8, 2023 7:30AM EST
Last Updated Friday, December 8, 2023 3:12PM EST
PARIS (AP) - French President Emmanuel Macron visited Notre Dame Cathedral on Friday, one year before its scheduled reopening in 2024.
After a blaze burned through the roof and spire on April 15, 2019, Macron's visits have become a tradition, with Friday marking his sixth to highlight the rebuilding progress. Huge oak beams have been hoisted skyward so the cathedral can be re-roofed.
The French leader on Friday went up the spire, reconstructed from its previous design by the famed 19th-century French architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. It stands at 96 meters (315 feet) and was crowned with a cross earlier this week. It is soon to be topped by a rooster, restoring an emotional symbol for the French of their heritage. The rooster was first used as a symbol of hope and faith in the Middle Ages, gaining its association with the French nation during the Renaissance.
“Since April 2019, the entire nation has been rebuilding,” Macron told reporters. “And it's very moving to be here a year before. You can see the extraordinary progress of the work on this nave, the choir and the frames and the spire.”
The schedule calls for the completion of the penultimate restoration phase by the end of the year, with the cathedral's much-anticipated reopening set for Dec. 8, 2024.
During his visit, Macron paid homage to Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, who oversaw the reconstruction and died in August. Wearing a hardhat, Macron was given a tool to assist as Georgelin's name was inscribed in the wood of the spire under the aegis of an artisan, memorializing the general's contribution to the cathedral.
Macron's visit underscored a personal attachment to the architectural jewel, a symbol of the country's rich cultural, literary, and religious history.
An evocative scene also unfolded as Macron, accompanied by his wife Brigitte Macron, observed the restoration works. The French first lady stood attentively before excavations by France's National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research where archaeologists uncovered a 13th-century skeleton, adding a layer of historical depth to the restoration efforts.
To prevent lead contamination, all workers and visitors - including the presidential party - wore protective suits, adhering to the meticulous safety precautions in place.
Macron also surveyed improvements in the cathedral's nave and choir and discussed future projects. including a new museum and contemporary stained-glass windows
He announced a contest for artists to design six new stained-glass windows for some chapels of the cathedral to memorialize post-fire restoration.
The former stained-glass windows, from the Viollet-le-Duc period, will be shown in a new Notre Dame museum located nearby. The former cathedral-capping rooster, which survived the fire but deformed by the high heat and long fall, also will be on display at the museum.