Notre-Dame needs your help!

France reaches out to US donors.

Vocable (All English) - - Édito | Sommaire - AURELIEN BREEDEN

When stand­ing be­fore this ma­jes­tic cathe­dral, Notre Dame is a beau­ti­ful sight. But if you take the time to look more closely, you will no­tice gar­goyles with­out heads, balustrades on their last legs, and spires crum­bling… The cathe­dral is in dire need of ma­jor restora­tion. To fi­nance the work, an ap­peal is be­ing aimed at Amer­i­can pa­trons.

Bro­ken gar­goyles and fallen balustrades re­placed by plas­tic pipes and wooden planks. Fly­ing but­tresses dark­ened by pol­lu­tion and eroded by rain­wa­ter. Pin- na­cles propped up by beams and held to­gether with straps.

2. Lit­tle of that de­te­ri­o­ra­tion is im­me­di­ately vis­i­ble to the mil­lions of awe-struck tourists who visit the Notre Dame Cathe­dral in Paris ev­ery year, many of them too busy ad­mir­ing the in­tri­cately sculpted front to no­tice the wear and tear.

3. But on a re­cent af­ter­noon, An­dré Finot, the cathe­dral’s spokesman, pointed out the de­cay. One patch of lime­stone crum­bled at a fin­ger’s touch.

4.“Ev­ery­where the stone is eroded, and the more the wind blows, the more all of these lit­tle pieces keep fall­ing,” said Finot, gin­gerly step­ping over fallen chunks of stone on the cathe­dral’s rooftop walk­way. “It’s spin­ning out of con­trol ev­ery­where.”

5. This is not the first time that the cathe­dral, a jewel of me­dieval Gothic ar­chi­tec­ture, has re­quired an ex­ten­sive makeover. But ex­perts say Notre Dame, al­though not at risk of sud­den col­lapse, has reached a tip­ping point — and an ex­pen­sive one at that.

6. To foot the bill — an es­ti­mated 150 mil­lion euros — they are hop­ing to cap­i­tal­ize not only on the ar­chi­tec­tural pa­tri­o­tism of the French, but also on the fran­cophilia of US donors.

There is a real need for ur­gent restora­tion work,” said Michel Pi­caud, who heads the newly cre­ated Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris foun­da­tion, which aims to raise money in the United States.

8. Notre Dame de Paris, which sits at the heart of the cap­i­tal, is on many peo­ple’s to-do lists, in­clud­ing the likes of Me­la­nia Trump and Bey­oncé. It is part of a “sen­ti­men­tal bond” be­tween France and the United States, forged through wartime al­liances, com­mon val­ues and a re­cip­ro­cal fas­ci­na­tion for each other’s cul­ture, Pi­caud ar­gued.


9. Built in the 12th and 13th cen­turies, Notre Dame re­ceived one of its most sig­nif­i­cant over­hauls be­tween 1844 and 1864, when the ar­chi­tects Las­sus and Vi­ol­let-le-Duc re­did the spire and the fly­ing but­tresses and added sev­eral ar­chi­tec­tural tweaks.

10. That restora­tion fol­lowed decades of ne­glect and par­tial dam­age at the hands of French rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, and was prompted in part by Vic­tor Hugo’s pub­li­ca­tion of his 1831 novel “Notre-Dame of Paris,” which shone a light on the build­ing’s de­crepit state.

11.“As­suredly, the Cathe­dral of Notre-Dame at Paris is, to this day, a ma­jes­tic and sub­lime ed­i­fice,” Hugo wrote. “But noble as it has re­mained while grow­ing old, one can­not but re­gret, can­not but feel in­dig­nant at the in­nu­mer­able degra­da­tions and mu­ti­la­tions in­flicted on the ven­er­a­ble pile, both by the ac­tion of time and the hand of man.”

12. The words ring true to­day. “Here we are 150 years or so af­ter he wrote that, and it works again now,” said An­drew Tal­lon, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of ar­chi­tec­ture and art his­tory at Vas­sar Col­lege. 13. Notre Dame, he said, now faces a “very ex­cit­ing — if not scary — sit­u­a­tion, where it needs all its help.”

14. Wa­ter reg­u­larly seeps through cracks in the lead-cov­ered spire, weak­en­ing its wooden frame. Rain, some of it acid, is slowly erod­ing the fly­ing but­tresses and their dec­o­ra­tive pin­na­cles, built with del­i­cate lime­stone.

15. Gar­goyles have fallen to the ground and have been re­placed with PVC pipes. On a small lawn at the back of the cathe­dral, ma­sonry that has bro­ken away or that was taken down as a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure over the years has been neatly piled up.

16. Philippe Vil­leneuve, the chief ar­chi­tect in charge of the cathe­dral’s ren­o­va­tion, ex­plained that Notre-Dame is tricky to re­store be­cause in Gothic ar­chi­tec­ture “the el­e­ments all have dy­namic struc­tural roles.”

17. Pin­na­cles, for in­stance, help an­chor and sta­bi­lize the fly­ing but­tresses, which take on the weight of the cathe­dral. The twisted and mock­ing faces of the gar­goyles serve as much to dec­o­rate as they do to evac­u­ate rain­wa­ter. 18.“If you re­move one of those el­e­ments, there is a dis­e­qui­lib­rium some­where,” Vil­leneuve said. “The whole build­ing isn’t go­ing to crum­ble just be­cause you lose three pin­na­cles, but it will un­bal­ance it.”


19. The Friends of Notre-Dame foun­da­tion es­ti­mates that it needs nearly $40 mil­lion for ur­gent re­pairs, and it hopes to raise more than $110 mil­lion in the next decade for com­plete ren­o­va­tions.

20. The French state, which owns the cathe­dral, al­ready de­votes up to 2 mil­lion euros a year in up­keep, or about $2.4 mil­lion. It re­cently pledged to dou­ble that amount for the next 10 years, ac­cord­ing to Pi­caud.

21. The Friends of Notre-Dame Foun­da­tion has just be­gun fundrais­ing with a small group of vol­un­teers. Pi­caud said that group planned to or­ga­nize gala din­ners, con­certs and other events in France and the US.

22. Finot, the spokesman, said it was im­por­tant to em­pha­size that the cathe­dral is not just a re­li­gious ed­i­fice, but a shared her­itage. “My great­grand­par­ents, even those be­fore them, ad­mired this mon­u­ment,” he said. “I don’t see my­self com­ing with my own great grand­kids to visit a pile of ru­ins.”

(Kostyukov/ The New York Times)

Fallen stones on the roof of the Notre Dame Cathe­dral in Paris.

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