PARIS — For years, restoration specialists nervous that the fragile 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 once 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 aid to not ponder the doubtless 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 — was present in the particles with vital injury.
The badly tarnished copper statues, with their heads indifferent for transportation, had been in a warehouse in the Dordogne area in southwestern France on Tuesday. Restoration specialists had 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, stated Patrick Palem, a veteran restoration professional with SOCRA, the firm overseeing the makeover. In an interview, he stated the venture was halted briefly whereas staff helped in Paris with extra urgent wants, akin to defending Notre-Dame’s well-known gargoyles, a few of which had been broken in the hearth.
The new focus, he stated, was on the “reconstruction and renovation of Notre-Dame, which could take between 10 and 20 years, probably for a cost of several hundred million euros.”
The 16 sculptures, every weighing about 500 kilos, had been eliminated on Thursday, delicately hoisted into the sky and then 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 in all the figures, the apostle Saint Thomas.
“So he will have survived the fire, but imagine how his heart would break learning about this,” Stephen Murray, an professional in French medieval structure at Columbia University, stated in a phone interview.
Viollet-le-Duc was a Gothic Revival architect who was well-known for his personal inventive restorations, introducing the 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 out, together with changing 60 statues.
When his sculptures had been eliminated final week, it was the first time since the 1860s that specialists might get a close-up glimpse. In the SOCRA workshop, Mr. Palem and different specialists examined the head of Saint Thomas and the inside of the sculpture to search for weaknesses and cracks. They had in depth expertise engaged on different restoration initiatives at 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 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 me, it’s like losing a dear friend, like your grandparents have died,” he stated. “I think it’s terrible. It’s not just because of religion, but because it is such a grand part of our patrimony.”
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