National Post

FOUR THINGS ABOUT THE OAKS FOR THE NOTRE DAME SPIRE

- Shari Kulha, National Post, with files from Reuters

1 A ROYAL FOREST

In what was once a royal forest, 250 km southwest of Paris, grows a tract of centuries-old trees. They’re straight, they’re solid and they’re going to go down — or, rather, up — in history. In the late 1660s in La Fôret de Bercé's already-ancient woodland, Jean-baptiste Colbert instituted a forest management system that encouraged young oaks to grow taller. As head of the French navy, Colbert practised an early and prescient form of supply management, looking ahead decades to the time when the trees’ strength would be optimal for use in the ships plying oceans for trade and conquest.

2 HARVESTING THE TREES

Several descendant­s of Colbert’s oaks were identified earlier this year to be felled for Notre Dame. The cutting had to be done before the end of March, to allow them to dry within the allotted time frame. In Bercé this week, tree surgeons began felling a handful of its best white oaks. Each mast-like pole will now be cured for 18 months before being hewn and to become the new roof and spire elements of the parts of the Notre Dame cathedral.

3 THE WOOD

French President Emmanuel Macron announced in 2020 that the old 96-metre lead-coated spire would be reconstruc­ted as originally designed by Eugene Violletle-duc in the 19th century. And so began the hunt for 1,000 oaks that would be needed to rebuild it and the

frame of the cathedral’s transept. “It’s exceptiona­l,” Aymeric Albert, the forestry commission’s commercial director, said Monday of the sawn trunk of a rod-straight 230-year-old Sessile oak. This one was a requisite 18 metres, exactly what was required for a certain spot in the spire’s support structure. “It’s perfectly straight and without any internal defects,” Albert said.

4 NOTRE DAME SPIRE

The original spire had collapsed through Notre Dame’s burning roof on the evening of April 15, 2019, as the world watched. The shape of the original beams salvaged from the devastatin­g fire are long and narrow, indicating they had grown in a dense, competitiv­e environmen­t, the French national research centre told sciencemag.org. That means the trees were purposely reserved or farmed for the cathedral about 100 years before they were needed.

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