A Miracle of Timing: The Statues That Escaped the Notre-Dame Fire

PARIS — For years, restoration consultants fearful that the delicate copper figures risked plunging to earth from Notre-Dame cathedral’s 19th-century spire.

Instead, in a miracle of timing, the sculptures of the Twelve Apostles and 4 New Testament evangelists escaped a fiery finish after they had been plucked by cranes and eliminated simply days earlier than the blaze in Paris on Monday. It was a small trigger for celebration after the destruction of two-thirds of Notre-Dame’s roof and spire. People had been additionally cheered to be taught that crosses, a crown of thorns and the well-known rose window additionally survived the flames.

It was a reduction to not ponder the probably destiny of the spire’s sculptures if they’d stayed the place they’d been for the final 160 years. A cock — the Gallic rooster that topped the spire, and the unofficial nationwide image of France — vanished within the inferno, together with three spiritual relics that had been inside.

The statues had been taken to the SOCRA workshop within the Dordogne area, in southwest France.CreditGeorges Gobet/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The badly tarnished copper statues, with their heads indifferent for transportation, had been in a warehouse within the Dordogne area in southwestern France on Tuesday. Restoration consultants there have been getting ready to wash and restore them to their pure brown shade earlier than returning them to Paris in 2022.

But now these plans had been delayed, mentioned Patrick Palem, a veteran restoration professional with SOCRA, the corporate overseeing the makeover. Speaking on French radio on Tuesday, he mentioned that the undertaking was “for the second stopped and delayed. This is now not the precedence.”

The new focus, he mentioned, was on the “reconstruction and renovation of Notre-Dame, which might take between 10 and 20 years, most likely for a price of a number of hundred million euros.”

One of the copper statues from the Notre-Dame spire was hoisted over Paris after it was eliminated on Thursday.CreditBertrand Guay/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The 16 sculptures, every weighing about 500 kilos, had been eliminated on Thursday, delicately hoisted into the sky after which transported by truck to SOCRA’s workshop. They had been put in throughout main reconstruction of the cathedral in 1859 and 1860 by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, whose face was a mannequin for one of many figures, the apostle St. Thomas.

“So he can have survived the hearth, however think about how his coronary heart would break studying about this,” Stephen Murray, an professional in French medieval structure at Columbia University, mentioned in a phone interview.

Viollet-le-Duc was a Gothic Revival architect who was well-known for his personal artistic restorations, introducing Notre-Dame’s gargoyles, which served as rain spouts from the roof and appeared to have survived the hearth. He was additionally fiercely attacked for his imaginative and prescient and accused of vandalizing historical past. Viollet-le-Duc restored the facade of Notre-Dame, inside and outside, together with changing 60 statues.

A statue of Saint John was faraway from the spire of Notre-Dame cathedral by crane on Thursday.CreditPhilippe Wojazer/Reuters

When his sculptures had been eliminated final week, it was the primary time because the 1860s that consultants might get a close-up glimpse. In the SOCRA workshop, Mr. Palem and different consultants examined the top of St. Thomas and the inside of the sculpture to search for weaknesses and cracks. They had intensive expertise engaged on different restoration tasks on the Palace of Versailles and the basilica of Mont-Saint-Michel.

The unique plan was to revive the sculptures two by two since time and air pollution had dramatically modified the unique surfaces. The technique was to weld cracks and clear the works to reveal the unique copper broad shade that had been coated by a layer of chalky inexperienced tarnish.

Instead, the restorers woke as much as a nightmare, with damages that mounted by Tuesday morning. For Mr. Palem, it was an incalculable loss.

“For these of us who labored within the inside, we noticed the disappearance of a great a part of us,” he mentioned on a morning radio present. “That’s what’s horrible. For some, it represents faith. For us, it’s the notion of labor and specifically this lovely roof that has disappeared with all its historical past.”

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