Tons of rickety scaffolding is threatening to damage the Cathedral of Notre Dame even further after work crews halted restoration on the historic cathedral over the coronavirus.
Notre Dame suffered extensive damage in April 2019 after a fire broke out in the cathedral’s roof, which was supported by hundreds of centuries-old, wooden beams. The fire melted hundreds of tons of lead from the roof on top of the church’s vaulted ceiling, destroyed Notre Dame’s iconic central spire, and seared and distorted parts of a 250-ton network of scaffolding erected for an earlier restoration project.
France locked down to slow the spread of the coronavirus on March 17, stopping work crews who had planned to remove the unstable scaffolding from the church before it could cause further damage, according to The Associated Press.
“As long as we have this scaffolding around, there’s still sort of a 50% chance that more damage can be brought to the cathedral,” Notre Dame chaplain Brice de Malherbe told reporters after streaming a Good Friday service from inside the damaged cathedral.
At the time of the fire, about half of the cathedral’s roof was covered in scaffolds as crew worked on restoring the church’s back end, roof, and spire. Investigators suspect that a lit cigarette from one of the construction workers or an electrical malfunction may have sparked the fire.
While the church is still threatened by precarious scaffolding, the structure has remained sound. Sensors placed on the cathedral to monitor any shifts in the structure or its foundation have not picked up any movement since work crews stabilized the high walls and vaulted ceiling of the church, The Associated Press reports.
French officials still hope to have the scaffolding removed by the fall and have Notre Dame fully restored in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, a controversial timeline as surveying and refurbishing the medieval structure should take decades, according to experts.
“Surveying a medieval monument is the work of a dozen different specialists. You have to get these people together to understand what they can bring because an edifice like this one is so complex that no single person has all the expertise necessary,” one historian told France 24.
“From an archaeological point of view, one of the risks of rushing in is that you can’t guarantee the sustainability of the work,” he added. “Building a monument is something that can be done rapidly. Restoring a monument is infinitely more complex.”
The complete restoration is estimated to cost as much as $670 million, according to early assessments. Fortunately, over $1 billion has been pledged or donated to the cause already, largely by people across France and the United States.
Whether Notre Dame is restored to look as it did before the fire or include contemporary touches remains to be seen. French President Emmanuel Macron and the French government announced an international architecture competition in the days following the fire to determine how the church would be restored.
Any attempts to modernize the cathedral may prove unpopular with the French people, however. According to a poll conducted last year by Odoxa-Dentsu, 55% of the French people want to see Notre Dame restored to exactly how it was before the fire, NPR reports.