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Carpenters hail end of Notre Dame roof reconstruction; rector calls it ‘a work of Joseph and Jesus’

Reconstruction of the medieval choir framework of the Notre Dame Cathedral is pictured in Paris Jan. 12, 2024. The cathedral was ravaged by a fire in 2019 that sent its spire crumbling down, and restoration work continues before the whole world will see the cathedral reopen Dec. 8. (OSV News photo/Sarah Meyssonnier, Reuters)

By Caroline de Sury
PARIS (OSV News) — In a historic year for Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which the French capital and the whole world will see reopen Dec. 8, milestones will be reported on regularly, but this one made Parisians shed a tear or two: Reconstruction of the roof structure is now completed.

On Jan. 12, in the freezing cold, a traditional bouquet of flowers was placed on top of the wooden structure of the cathedral apse. The last rafter had been placed under the snow, three days earlier.

Notre Dame Cathedral was ravaged by a devastating fire in 2019 that sent its spire crumbling down, and restoration works continue.

This final structural work on the roof had been entrusted to Ateliers Perrault, a French company with roots in Anjou in the Loire Valley famous for its castles, or châteaux, in southwestern France. The company dates back to the 18th century and specializes in the restoration of historic buildings.

One of its experienced carpenters, Julien Mulvet, was in charge of the rooftop project at the cathedral. Accompanied by his young apprentice, 19-year-old Leonard Laforest, he placed the yellow mimosas bouquet at the top. “This is how it is traditionally done in the carpenters profession,” Mulvet explained to OSV News. “It is a symbol of passing on knowledge to the youngest generations.”

“The bouquet of carpenters was arranged by the youngest of them: the Notre Dame structure is ready!” French President Emmanuel Macron said on X, formerly Twitter, on Jan. 13. “French pride,” he added.

Carpenters and workers posed for a group picture during the ceremony, and just like the president, were visibly proud at the end of the reconstruction of the medieval choir framework. The symbolic flower gesture was warmly applauded by the large number of craftsmen who were standing with their white helmets at the foot of the building and enthusiastically congratulated their comrades.

“What moved me the most was that all the craftsmen who took part in this work had come from all over France for this moment,” Mulvet told OSV News, “including the small-scale craftspeople who passed on to us the skills that were used in the 12th century by the builders of the cathedral.”

“I am very grateful to those small independent craftsmen,” Mulvet explained. “Our company usually works with machines and did not master this (manual) technique. Thanks to them we learnt how to cut the beams with axes, to take account of the wood fibers by following them with the eye, much better than with a machine.”

“The quality of the work has improved considerably as a result,” Mulvet added. “The work is much more solid this way.”

Mulvet remembered how on May 25, 2023, Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, who was at the time in charge of overseeing the reconstruction of Notre Dame, visited Ateliers Perrault to see the assembly test of the cathedral’s choir frame. The carpenter welcomed him and offered him an ax as a symbol of the ancient technique rediscovered on the exceptional occasion of rebuilding the medieval French masterpiece.

Following the tragic death of the general during a mountain hike in August 2023, Mulvet then collaborated with Philippe Jost, who now chairs the Rebâtir Notre Dame public institution responsible for overseeing the reconstruction.

“We worked so much together that we became close,” Mulvet told OSV News. “We respect each other enormously.”

Symbolically, it was Jost, along with the cathedral’s rector-archpriest, Father Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, who put the last two wooden handmade dowels at the top of the structure.

Their hammer blows resounded in the cold, as they fixed the last rafter of the choir, a beam 40 feet long and weighing 770 pounds.

“It was a great moment,” Father Ribadeau Dumas told OSV News. “A moment of resurrection of this oak framework after it had collapsed during the fire on April 15, 2019.”

Father Ribadeau Dumas lives at the very foot of the cathedral where he frequently comes to meet the craftsmen.

“I found these carpenters particularly wonderful,” he told OSV News. “They worked with great peace, strength and joy, aware that they are not working for an ordinary house, but for a church, to make it available for worship and visits.”

“I told them that their job was that of Joseph, and of Jesus!” Father Ribadeau Dumas added with a smile. “Their teamwork was a sight to behold. It was truly beautiful, and for me, as a priest, beauty says something about God. There is a spiritual dimension to this work and this spirit of fraternity that unites so many craftsmen around Notre Dame.”

On Jan. 15, Mulvet was supervising the final details of the finishing work on the site, before leaving it. The weather was still cold, but the sun was shining on Notre Dame Cathedral. The craftsmen responsible for the lead roofing had already taken over and begun their work.

Caroline de Sury writes for OSV News from Paris.

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