At the base of the Notre Dame construction site, the chill in the air in these wintery days sends shivers down the spine. Shivers of cold, but also of joy and pride. After the rooster was raised to the top of the spire at the end of December, January 12 marked a new stage in the progress of the cathedral’s restoration work. It’s the day the carpenters finished the framework for the roof above the choir.
Construction of this massive oak “forest” began last summer. For Philippe Jost, president of the public establishment in charge of the reconstruction, this is yet another victory.
“We’re very close to reopening, and the cathedral has regained the face and silhouette we all know and love,” he says with a smile. Then he adds with a touch of pride, “It’s a magnificent structure, and beautiful to behold. But it’s also a perennial piece of work. We’re very confident that this solid oak framework will last as long as its predecessor, at least 860 years!”
Marked by a bouquet
To symbolize the end of this long-term project, a bouquet of flowers is traditionally placed at the very top of the structure. The youngest carpenter at Ateliers Perrault, 21-year-old Léonard, had both the honor and the responsibility.
He can be seen hoisted onto the framework. Around him, the silhouettes of his white-helmeted comrades stand out, some striding the iron scaffolding that still imprisons Notre-Dame. Down below, other workers and craftsmen wait, bundled up in their coats, identical caps pulled down to their eyes.
Among them is Julien, a 42-year-old carpenter. “It’s the completion of an extraordinary project. Seen from the outside, since I’m more of a joiner than a carpenter, this project has brought a real buzz to the company. It’s also a celebration of the great cohesion built up around Notre Dame,” he tells Aleteia.
The whistle blows, silencing the chatter: The crane lifts the large bouquet hanging from its end, bringing it close to the apse. Once the bouquet is caught, a pin is placed to secure it. Cheers and applause punctuate the ceremony. “Well done, boys!” exclaim the colleagues who have remained on the ground.
Young, old, French, foreign…
Armand, 16, is an apprentice at Ateliers Perrault, and helped to dismantle the apse of the ceiling framework, which had been assembled in the workshops in Anjou. “It’s wonderful to see all this work being done,” he says, smiling and looking up at Notre Dame. “It’s funny, from here it looks so small, but under the tent it was huge. To be able to contribute to the restoration of a monument like this is just incredible. It’s pure history,” he marvels.
The carpenters have finally come down from their wooden perch. Dorian is one of them. This 30-something with a full beard, his hair wrapped in a blue bandana, was in charge of rendering logs into beams, using a long axe. He makes no secret of his pride in being part of this long-standing enterprise: “I feel proud of the work itself, but also because we continue to perpetuate traditions, values, and a true fraternity.”
13th-century techniques for the future
Further on, Wallerand, 25, chats with his eldest son, Dominique, aka “Doudou.” The young man specializes in tree logistics. He has made sure that the trees chosen from the forest are flawless, so that they could form the 650 parts that make up the framework.
“It’s quite a thrill to be here today. It’s all the result of meticulous work using 13th-century techniques. The wood we saw being cut is now being assembled and put back into place. It’s a splendid sight, this cathedral rising again.”
Dressed in a suit jacket and Gavroche cap, Anck’s style is perfectly suited to the occasion. Aleteia caught up with him six months after meeting him and Will at the Desmonts workshops in Perriers-la-Campagne, Eure. These two Americans left everything behind to work on the Notre Dame site. They both worked on the nave’s roof framework, which is now waiting to be erected. But they didn’t hesitate to join their colleagues laying the bouquet on the choir’s roof framework. “I’ve been working here for a year now, and it’s the great adventure of my life. I’m very moved to be here,” says Anck.
Although this day marks the end of the work for many of the woodworkers, they are all resolutely looking to the future. Are they not the new cathedral builders?
“It’s not the end, it’s just the beginning,” says Dorian. “I’m going to continue on my path and make works that last. I want to choose to inspire new generations.” Notre Dame is definitely more alive than ever.