Carpenters wow public with medieval techniques at Notre Dame

Noble Horvath

PARIS — With precision and boundless energy, a team of carpenters used medieval techniques to raise up — by hand — a three-ton oak truss over the weekend in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, a replica of the wooden structures that were consumed in the landmark’s devastating April 2019 fire […]

PARIS — With precision and boundless energy, a team of carpenters used medieval techniques to raise up — by hand — a three-ton oak truss over the weekend in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, a replica of the wooden structures that were consumed in the landmark’s devastating April 2019 fire that also toppled its spire.

The demonstration to mark European Heritage Days gave the hundreds of people a first-hand look at the rustic methods used 800 years ago to build the triangular frames in the nave of Notre Dame de Paris.

It also showed that the decision to replicate the cathedral in its original form was the right one, said Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, who heads the cathedral’s reconstruction.

“It shows … firstly that we made the right choice in choosing to rebuild the carpentry identically, in oak from France,” Georgelin said in an interview. “Secondly, it shows us the … method by which we will rebuild the framework, truss after truss.”

A debate over whether the new spire should have a futuristic design or whether the trusses should be made of fireproof cement like in the Cathedral of Nantes, which was destroyed in a 1972 fire, ended with the decision in July to respect Notre Dame’s original design and materials.

A total of 25 trusses are to be installed at an unknown date in the cathedral nave. Philippe Gourmain, a forestry expert working on the cathedral project, said the carpentry phase will not come before 2022.

“The problem of Notre Dame is not a carpentry problem. We have the wood. We know how to do it,” Gourmain said. “The big issue is regarding the stone.”

Some stones — which support the carpentry — were damaged by the fire and “it’s not so easy now” to find similar stone, he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron wants the cathedral reopened in 2024 in time for the Paris Olympic Games, a deadline that many experts have called unrealistic.

For the moment, the delicate task of dismantling melted scaffolding, which was originally erected to refurbish the now-toppled spire, continues. That job, started in early June, will be completed in October.

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