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French media reports that work will resume on Notre Dame Cathedral next week as the country races to complete renovations on the centuries-old church before the 2024 Summer Olympics, scheduled to be held in Paris.
The cathedral nearly burned to the ground last year, just days before Easter, in a shocking fire ignited, authorities now believe, by an electrical short from equipment left by a worker involved in a separate restoration project, shoring up the cathedral’s sagging roof.
Before the fire was even extinguished, French president Emmanuel Macron pledged to rebuild the Parisian landmark, and gave the country a five-year timeline for completion — a deadline that bristled historians who assured Macron that the cathedral’s roof, spire, and ceiling could not be fully repaired in such a short time.
Then, in March, France, like other European countries, locked down to slow and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, temporarily halting work on the cathedral.
Now, Fox News says, construction workers are being asked to report to work at the cathedral next Monday in order to resume cleanup efforts, even though the rest of the country remains under a shelter-in-place order.
“Staff started re-arranging the site to make it virus-safe, such as moving showers and coat rooms to allow more distance between workers and installing a place to eat because restaurants in France are currently closed, according to Notre Dame rector Monsignor Patrick Chauvet,” per Fox.
“It’s a difficult job. It requires the climbers to be calm,” Chauvet said. “We can’t have COVID there to cause them stress.”
Workers selected to participate in the project will also be given separate housing quarters in the event they need to quarantine and so that they can avoid the Paris Metro which, like many subway systems, is considered a prime spreader of the virus: “Chauvet says most workers will stay in nearby vacant hotels so they won’t have to take public transportation.”
Macron added that he is desperate to see work get back on track. “We will do everything to keep this deadline,” he told reporters when work first halted over coronavirus concerns. The cathedral, he added, is “symbol of our resilience, our capacity to overcome challenges and stand aright.”
The first order of business, officials say, will be to remove the 250 tons of scaffolding that has been shoring up the building since last year. At that point, workers and scientists, hired by France’s Ministry of Culture, will review each individual stone and piece of mortar, glass, and metal, for signs of stress. If any item shows signs of wear or weakness, it will have to be carefully replaced and the cathedral “stitched” back together, according to Science Magazine.
The stones will each be judged on color. “At 300°C to 400°C, she says, iron crystals that help knit the limestone together begin to break down, turning the surface red. At 600°C, the color changes again as the crystals are transformed into a black iron oxide. By 800°C, the limestone loses all its iron oxides and becomes powdery lime.”
“It’s an entire progressive process,” one of the leading preservationists told Science Magazine. “Any colored stones or parts should not be reused.”
Crews are also anxious to clear the smoke- and water-stained debris from the church’s vaults so work can begin on restoring the cathedral’s ceiling and spire, and to test the surrounding areas for lead, which may have leaked out while firefighters battled the blaze. France hopes that the lead hasn’t permanently polluted the Seine River which runs right by the cathedral.
Scientists and historians are also using the restoration as a massive research project, in the hopes that evidence of Notre Dame’s many restorations and rebuilds, uncovered by the fire, can yield clues into the city’s history.
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