Notre Dame restoration kicking off in France

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(PARIS) — After 2 1/2 years of cleaning and consolidating — and a pandemic that halted French workers for a few months — the restoration phase of the Notre Dame cathedral is set to kick off this winter.

The night of April 15, 2019, a massive fire tore through the roof of world famous cathedral in Paris, collapsing the spire. The first block of wood to be used in the new spire — at the very base of a structure that should rise 255 feet above ground — was produced in a lumbermill in the western France town of Craon on Thursday.

Rebuilding Notre Dame is a colossal national project. Mickael Renaud, owner of a lumbermill called The Giants, told ABC News, he was proud to play a part, adding that his lumber mill had to expand storage capacity simply to house the huge blocks of wood required.

French President Emmanuel Macron promised in July 2020 that everything lost in the fire would be rebuilt in its original form — over 1,000 centennial trees were carefully selected from French forests and sent to sawmills across the country.

According to the head of the establishment for the conservation and the restoration of Notre Dame, Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, the plan is to reopen the church to the public in 2024.

While hundreds of artisans are focused on reproducing an exact replica of the cathedral, there also are plans to change the interior lighting and liturgic design. Those plans include a different entrance for the public, adding holograms of biblical phrases in several languages and integrating contemporary art, changes that are causing a stir among some critics. The plan was partially validated by the National Commission for Heritage and Architecture on Dec. 9.

For Monseigneur Aumônier, the bishop in charge of the interior design of the cathedral on behalf of the Catholic Church, the updates are part of an effort to recognize the building’s value not just for France but the whole world.

“The Catholic liturgy will be celebrated in Notre Dame as ever,” he told ABC News. “But, naturally with the new visibility of Notre Dame, it’s very helpful for us to guide people who will visit.”

Art Historian Didier Rykner told ABC News that such major changes threatened the integrity of the medieval structure.

“Nobody wants this — we want Notre Dame back as before,” he said. Tourists “will want to see Notre-Dame like it was before, not like it will be now.”

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