Notre Dame restoration workers uncover medieval colours

Inside Notre Dame

The need to build scaffolds up to 40 metres high for the 200 workers to repair the high walls and soaring vaults has given art restorers the opportunity to study up close the side chapel ceilings they had no access to before.

They are finding traces of rich polychromatic decorations under the dark levels that have built up over centuries of candle smoke and air pollution. Medieval cathedrals were often covered inside and out with paint that either wore off or was hidden as unfashionable in later eras.

“We’ve found blues, reds, ochres … lilies with some gilding and others whose traces are preserved in negative”, chief heritage curator Jonathan Truillet told the daily La Croix.

Jingle Bells in hard hats

Notre Dame choir in hard hats
Notre Dame hosts Christmas choir in hard hats

In a concession to the fact that the cathedral is still being rebuilt after the massive fire in April 2019, the choristers wore construction hard hats and boiler suits, and there was no audience.

The concert was recorded at the cathedral earlier this month, and was broadcast on French television just before midnight on Thursday (December 24th).

Lasers may help Notre Dame to its former glory

Exterior Notre Dame May 2020
Photo: Thibault Camus
People walk on the forecourt of Notre Dame’s Cathedral, on May 31st, 2020.

French officials are considering cleaning the inside surfaces of the cathedral with one of the newest technologies in art restoration: lasers. Chicago-based art restoration expert Bartosz Dajnowski invented the technique, which his company, GC Laser Systems, tested inside Notre Dame last month.

The technique uses light to weed out contamination without chemicals or mechanical abrasion, he says. Dajnowski’s lasers have cleaned the facade of the U.S. Supreme Court building and the lions in front of the New York Public Library.

The Notre Dame organ has been removed for restoration

Notre Dame organ
Photo: Patrick Zachmann

After the big April 2019 fire at Notre Dame the organ was damaged but repairable. A nearly 30-metre-high scaffolding was erected in the summer to enable the organ’s removal.

The keyboard console was the first element to be lifted out in early August, which freed up space so that a work surface could be installed in front of the instrument. Over the past four months, thousands of metal and wooden pipes and box springs have been taken away in four waterproof containers and transported to a warehouse in the Parisian region. All that remains in the cathedral is the sideboard, some bellows and several pipes that are too fragile or difficult to remove and will therefore be cleaned on site.

The symphonic organ has been the voice of Notre Dame since 1733. Its 8,000 pipes divided into 115 stops make it France’s largest instrument in terms of register.

Things you may not know about the Notre Dame restoration

Notre Dame exterior
Photo: Matt Munro

In order to get the Notre Dame restoration elements correct,  no effort has been spared in locating the correct materials. In order to stabilize and restore the vault, experts must identify limestone with identical properties as the centuries-old blocks already intricately locked in place.

Geologist Lise Leroux studied the stone to find its origin, leading her to quarries beneath Paris, now commonly known as the Catacombs, where she has been able to match micro-fossils found there with the samples from the vaulting stones in the cathedral.

Notre Dame will celebrate Christmas but with a hired organ

Notre Dame organ
Photo: AP

Christmas will not be cancelled at Notre Dame in Paris this year, but there are some changes.

The choir will sing on Christmas Eve as usual  but with 20 singers, safely distanced, and an organ will be rented from a donor bank.

The conductor will be Henri Chalet, with soloists soprano Julie Fuchs and cellist Gautier Capuçon.

A change in calendar?

This is nothing to do with Notre Dame although Donald Trump might put in an offer to buy the cathedral and turn in into a hotel now he’s been defeated as US President.

Anyway, now the UK is leaving the EU, the calendar will be changed to “make everything better”, according to current UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

It has been suggested that January and March will be cut to 30 days and the days added to February so it gets 30 days too.

The extra day every four years to keep the calendar in sync with the seasons will simply be called “leap day” and whilst some people thought it would be best to have it at New Year if needed, in the end a greater number thought it would be best to have it random at the whim of the Prime Minster. However it was absolute that no one could have a birthday on that day.

The UK is confident that if it changes the calendar then every other country will follow the lead and change in a few years too.

What could be better? Or have I got it wrong…