Workers rely on medieval era tech to reconstruct the Notre Dame

Laborers are taking a decidedly old school approach to rebuilding the fire-ravaged cathedral.
Notre Dame de Paris cathedral on sunny day
Carpenters are using the same tools and materials to reconstruct Notre Dame as were used to first build it. Deposit Photos

It’s been a little over four years since a major fire ravaged France’s iconic Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, causing an estimated $865 million of damage to the majority of its roof and recognizable spire. Since then, the French government, engineers, and a cadre of other dedicated restoration experts have been hard at work rebuilding the architectural wonder, which is currently slated to reopen to the public by the end of 2024.

It’s a tight turnaround, and one that would be much easier to meet if carpenters used modern technology and techniques to repair the iconic building. But as AP News explained earlier this week, it’s far more important to use the same approaches that helped first construct Notre Dame—well over 800 years ago. According to the recent dispatch, rebuilders are consciously employing medieval era tools such as hand axes, mallets, and chisels to reforge the cathedral’s hundreds of tons’ worth of oak wood roofing beams.

Although it would progress faster with the use of modern equipment and materials, that’s not the point. Instead, it’s ethically and artistically far more imperative to stay true to “this cathedral as it was built in the Middle Ages,” explained Jean-Louis Georgelin, a retired general for the French overseeing the project.

[Related: The Notre Dame fire revealed a long-lost architectural marvel.]

Thankfully, everything appears to be on track for the December 2024 reopening. Last month, overseers successfully conducted a “dry run” to assemble and erect large sections of the timber frame at a workshop in western France’s Loire Valley. The next time the pieces are put together will be atop the actual Notre Dame cathedral.

As rudimentary as some of these construction techniques may seem now, at the time they were considered extremely advanced. Earlier this year, in fact, researchers discovered Notre Dame was likely the first Gothic-style cathedral to utilize iron for binding sections of stonework together.

It’s not all old-school handiwork, however. The team behind Notre Dame’s rebuilt roofing plans to transport the massive components to Paris via trucks, and then lifted into place with help from a large mechanical crane. Over this entire process, detailed computer analysis was utilized to make absolutely sure carpenters’ measurements and handhewn work were on the right track. Still, the melding of bygone and modern technology appears to perfectly complement one another, ensuring that when Notre Dame finally literally and figuratively rises from the ashes, it will be as stunning as ever.