Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the day after a massive fire damaged parts of the roof and structure. UlyssePixel / Shutterstock. (Courtesy of Catholic News Agency)

Solène Tadié
Catholic News Agency

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, whose spire and roof were destroyed by an April 15, 2019, fire, is expected be rebuilt within the five-year deadline set by the French government.

As confirmed by the head of the construction site, French Army Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, in an interview with the Associated Press, the faithful and tourists should have access to the site again by the end of 2024.

Reconstruction work only began some 24 months after the tragic incident occurred, with the first phase consisting of cleaning and securing the site, involving more than 200 different companies.

Although the beloved cathedral will not be ready for the Olympic Games to be held in the French capital in July and August 2024, it should have regained its former shape by then, with the reconstruction phase of its emblematic spire to begin in April.

Before the end of the year, therefore, it should reappear in the Parisian sky as it was originally designed by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-duc in the 19th century, contrary to the initial wish of French President Emmanuel Macron, who had called for a “contemporary architectural gesture” in the restoration of the spire.

In a Dec. 1, 2022, communiqué issued by the Public Establishment in Charge of the Conservation and Restoration of the Cathedral, Georgelin had already announced “major advances” in the progress of the project.

“The completion of the reconstruction of the first of the collapsed vaults marks an important step, while the interiors are already regaining their beauty,” he said.

After the spire and transept, reconstruction of the large roof of the nave and of the choir, whose frameworks date back from the beginning of the 13th century, will take place.

The wood that will be used to rebuild the frame was blessed by the rector of the cathedral, Bishop Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, on Dec. 15, 2022. The beams were entirely handmade in the medieval manner. The blessing was perceived as the real kickoff of the effective reconstruction of Notre-Dame’s roof after several months of study and preparatory work.

The project officials have estimated that approximately 1,000 people throughout France are working daily on the restoration process.

Georgelin expects the exterior restoration of the blaze damage will cost about 550 million euros ($580.5 million), 150 million euros ($158 million) having already been spent to secure the building. In 2021, several observers expressed their concern over the additional costs incurred during this preliminary phase, wondering if the available funds would be sufficient for the completion of the work.

According to the director of the Cathedral Fund, Christophe-Charles Rousselot, the 800 million euros ($844 million) collected from more than 300,000 donors around the world will be enough money to entirely restore the framework and the roof, and to redo the spire.

“It will be enough to repair the consequences of the fire. But there will not be enough money to repair the whole cathedral,” he said in an interview with Le Parisien in March 2022, estimating that a total of 1 billion euros ($1.5 billion) would probably be needed to repair the north and south facades of the building, which are not included in the current rebuilding project.

In the same way, the sum of the donations managed by the Public Establishment for the renovation does not include the cost of the interior fittings, which are the responsibility of the Diocese of Paris, the cathedral’s allocator. As of last March, according to Rousselot, the diocese was still between 6 million euros ($6.3 million) and 7 million euros ($7.4 million) short of donations to cover these expenses. The diocese has not communicated on this subject since then.

However, it announced last February that it had officially selected two candidates to design the 1,500 chairs that will furnish the monument’s nave and that the name of the winner would be known during the second half of 2023.

The design of these chairs has been a central point of contention in the heated controversy over the diocese’s overall interior redesign project, approved by France’s heritage authorities in December 2021 and which is oriented toward a more contemporary style.

The project also includes the installation of contemporary art in the side chapels, the projection of biblical messages on the walls, and a new “catechetical path” for visitors throughout the chapels, which, according to the diocese, would help them rediscover the Christian faith along the way.

“At a time when many tourists visit the monument without knowing its real spiritual meaning, the [diocese’s] goal is to remind people of the reasons why the cathedral was built in the first place, beyond the heritage treasure it represents,” Karine Dalle, the spokesperson for the diocese at the time, told the National Catholic Register at the height of the debate surrounding the draft project.

If all goes according to plan, it is envisaged that the cathedral will be open for worship on Dec. 8, 2024, on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

Until then, the numerous lovers of this Gothic jewel can visit the exhibition “Notre-Dame de Paris: At the Heart of the Construction Site,” which opened on March 7 and pays tribute to the know-how of the many artisans working on its reconstruction. The exhibition, located in an underground room in front of the cathedral, is free and open to the public.

A virtual show offering a complete immersion in the cathedral’s eight centuries of history has also been offered under the cathedral’s forecourt since the fall of 2022. The virtual-reality expedition titled “Eternelle Notre-Dame” is meant to be presented later throughout France, Europe, and then for the rest of the world.