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These carpenters show off medieval techniques for building Notre Dame's new roof

notre dame roof

Sameer Al-DOUMY | AFP

John Burger - published on 09/21/20

Artisanal carpenters demonstrate how the cathedral's roof was first put together centuries ago — and how it can be done once again.

The “forest” of Notre Dame will yet grow again.

The devastating April 15, 2019, fire in the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris destroyed the church’s roof structure, known as the “forest” because of the great oak beams that held up the roof. Some speculated that the 800-year-old cathedral could never be the same because of the scarcity of trees big enough in France to produce such timbers.

But a demonstration in front of the cathedral on Saturday, in which artisanal carpenters fashioned a truss out of recently felled oaks, gave hope that such a project may yet be possible.

Using medieval saws and axes, members of Charpentiers sans Frontieres — Carpenters Without Borders — hand-hewed oak lumber into precisely-measured beams and fitted them together in the triangular form needed to support Notre Dame’s roof. The demonstration was part of a public celebration of European Heritage Days.

The group, which felled the trees themselves, put on a fascinating show, but it is not yet known what technique will be used to create and install the wooden trusses, the Associated Press pointed out.

But the demo showed that the decision to replicate the cathedral in its original form was the right one, said Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, who heads the cathedral’s reconstruction.

“It shows … firstly that we made the right choice in choosing to rebuild the carpentry identically, in oak from France,” Georgelin told the Associated Press. “Secondly, it shows us the … method by which we will rebuild the framework, truss after truss.”

Read more:
Notre Dame will be restored to exactly the way it was

The carpentry might turn out to be the easy part, compared to what must support the trusses.

“We have the wood. We know how to do it,” Philippe Gourmain, a forestry expert working on the cathedral project, told AP. “The big issue is regarding the stone.”

The wire service explained that some stones were damaged by the fire and “it’s not so easy now” to find similar stone, Gourmain said.

To get a flavor of what went into the building of Notre Dame’s roof, some eight centuries ago, check out this video.

Notre Dame
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