Rebuilding Notre Dame: The next steps for Paris’s famous cathedral

On Monday, flames engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral's roof, toppling its steeple.
A frame of massive centuries-old wood beams under the roof fueled the fire.
Debris from the collapsed steeple and roof fell onto the vaulted ceiling below, creating three large holes.

Hole

where

spire was

Hole

Scaffolding

Vaulted ceiling

and burned wood

Hole

Image from Gigarama.ru via AP

Hole

where

spire was

Hole

Scaffolding

Vaulted ceiling

and burned wood

Hole

Image from Gigarama.ru via AP

Hole

where

spire was

Hole

Scaffolding

Vaulted ceiling

and burned wood

Hole

Image from Gigarama.ru via AP

Officials began inspecting the damage of Notre Dame Tuesday. They declared the cathedral structurally sound while identifying “some vulnerabilities,” according to French Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez. Specifically, the vault and gable of the north transept were of concern. Inspectors are also worried about structural damage that may be hidden.

On Monday, flames engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral's roof, toppling its steeple.

A frame of massive centuries-old wood beams under the roof fueled the fire.

Debris from the collapsed steeple and roof fell onto the vaulted ceiling below, creating three large holes.

On Monday, flames engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral's roof, toppling its steeple.

A frame of massive centuries-old wood beams under the roof fueled the fire.

Debris from the collapsed steeple and roof fell onto the vaulted ceiling below, creating three large holes.

On Monday, flames engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral's roof, toppling its steeple.

A frame of massive centuries-old wood beams under the roof fueled the fire.

Debris from the collapsed steeple and roof fell onto the vaulted ceiling below, creating three large holes.

On Monday, flames engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral's roof, toppling its steeple.

A frame of massive centuries-old wood beams under the roof fueled the fire.

Debris from the collapsed steeple and roof fell onto the vaulted ceiling below, creating three large holes.

Main entrance

South

transept

Sacristy

Nave

Debris

from

collapsed

roof and

spire

High

altar

North

transept

Main entrance

South

transept

Nave

Debris from

collapsed

roof and

spire

Sacristy

High

altar

North

transept

South

transept

Main entrance

Nave

Sacristy

Debris from

collapsed

roof and spire

High

altar

North

transept

South

transept

Main entrance

Nave

Sacristy

Debris from

collapsed

roof and spire

High

altar

North

transept

Kirk Martini, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Architecture with a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in structural engineering, said the transept is probably the greatest vulnerability. To ensure the structure is stable, additional shoring may be necessary after the full extent of the damage is assessed.

[Notre Dame fire came at a difficult time for French Catholics]

Limestone is a key building element of the structure, and stone is susceptible to damage from heat and water. “There may have been some damage to the stone, even the places that currently appear to be intact . . . because of the weaknesses of the material,” Martini said. “That’s a big unknown. . . . I don’t think anybody knows the extent of that damage.”

Hole

where

spire was

Hole

Scaffolding

Vaulted ceiling

and burned wood

Hole

Image from Gigarama.ru via AP

Hole

where

spire was

Hole

Scaffolding

Vaulted ceiling

and burned wood

Hole

Image from Gigarama.ru via AP

Hole

where

spire was

Hole

Scaffolding

Vaulted ceiling

and burned wood

Hole

Image from Gigarama.ru via AP

French President Emmanuel Macron hopes the country can rebuild Notre Dame within five years. With the scale of the project, Martini is skeptical that timeline will be met, even with the number of resources being promised for restoration. Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been pledged for the rebuilding efforts.

How the cathedral will be restored is also up for debate. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced an international competition to replace the iconic spire that collapsed into Monday’s blaze.

Workers on the north face of Notre Dame Cathedral on Wednesday. (Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

A crane lifts a robot examining the north wall of the cathedral. (Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)

Paris

Louvre

Museum

Eiffel

Tower

Notre

Dame

1 MILE

Notre Dame is of geographic and cultural importance to Paris. It sits purposefully near the center of the city on a small island surrounded by the Seine River. It is also the landmark next to which all other Parisian monuments are measured.

Martin Moeller, senior curator for the National Building Museum in Washington, said it is not coincidental that Notre Dame is one of the most famous Gothic churches. “The plaza in front of the cathedral was built specifically to give a good viewing point,” he said. “It's not an accident that so many people have taken photographs of the front of the church.”

Notre Dame Cathedral, on the Ile de la Cite in Paris, shown in 2010. (Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images)

There is already a debate brewing about how the church should be restored. Whether the efforts will include building materials similar to destroyed in the fire or more modern materials will be up for more discussion once officials fully assess the damage, to the building and to its artifacts.

Much of the art and relics were saved from the flames. The cathedral’s large stained-glass windows appear to be undamaged, and there’s a strong case for restoring the famed structure as closely as possible to its former glory.

Even the White House offered assistance in the rehabilitation of the cathedral. While Notre Dame is revered around the world, Moeller stressed the importance of considering how other catastrophic fires of major landmarks are handled.

[France honors Notre Dame firefighters; protects rose window]

The stained-glass windows inside Notre Dame, seen in the aftermath of the fire. (Pool photo by Christophe Petit Tesson/Reuters)

In St. Landry Parish, La., three black churches burned down from arson within 10 days in late March and early April. Before Monday, a GoFundMe for the churches had raised just below $50,000 in rebuilding aid. After a Twitter campaign urged people to remember the Louisiana churches amidst the devastation of Notre Dame, the total skyrocketed to $1 million by Wednesday.

“Obviously it's one of most famous buildings in the world,” Moeller said of Notre Dame. “But we want to make sure that people remember that there are other buildings that are important to other communities. It may not be as famous, but when tragedy strikes there it can be devastating to a particular community or a particular group of people, and sometimes it doesn't get the attention it deserves.”

Brittany Renee Mayes

Brittany Renee Mayes joined The Washington Post as a general assignment graphics reporter in June 2018. She previously worked at NPR on the visuals team as a news applications developer.

Aaron Steckelberg

Aaron Steckelberg is a senior graphics editor who creates maps, charts and diagrams that provide greater depth and context to stories over a wide range of topics. He has worked at the Post since 2016.

Lauren Tierney

Lauren Tierney is a Graphics Reporter and cartographer at The Washington Post. She was previously a Graphics Editor at National Geographic Magazine, and has a masters degree in geography from the University of Oregon.

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