What do the bells of Notre Dame ‘hear’?

Notre Dame bell
Photo: Bill Fontana
Emmanuel, the biggest and oldest of Notre Dame’s 10 bells, considered one of the most harmonically beautiful in Europe. It was the only bell to survive the French Revolution,

Two years after a fire destroyed the roof and spire of Notre Dame in Paris, largely silencing the once active cathedral, a contemporary art project could help the historic site regain its voice as part of its reconstruction. The Bay Area artist Bill Fontana is currently working to record the sounds that the medieval church “hears” through its ten monumental bells, with plans to livestream the audio at the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (Ircam) in Paris next year, and hopefully at museums and cultural sites around the world in the future.


A truss constructed entirely with 12th-century techniques – on spec


“I started getting calls as soon as the fire was put out,” said Rick Brown, standing on the lawn at Catholic University the other day. Brown and his wife, Laura, are the co-founders of Handshouse Studio in the USA, an educational non profit organisation that replicates large historical objects using the precise techniques with which they were built.

In 2011, he led a trip to Poland to rebuild by hand the Gwoździec synagogue, raised in the 17th century and then razed by the Nazis. This time, the calls were about a much bigger house of worship: the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.


Notre Dame timbering is progressing

Notre Dame timbering

In the nave of Notre Dame cathedral, huge scaffolding supports a working floor, some thirty-three metres high. It is in this space that craftsmen bustle about supporting the sexpartite vaults of the building, each resting on six pillars.

This “timbering” of the parts damaged in the April 15, 2019 fire was launched in March 2021: several half-hangers, strictly conforming to the shape of the vaults, and each weighing more than 1.6 tons, have already been installed.


And now the lawyers arrive

Crane at Notre Dame
Uperio’s new Potain MDT 809 tower crane working on the Notre Dame Cathedral

There is now a legal action over worrying lead levels around Notre Dame Cathedral.

Lawyers for a branch of one of the country’s most powerful unions, which has joined forced with a health association and local residents, have submitted a legal case for “endangering life … by persons unknown”.

The plaintiffs accuse the authorities of “grave negligence”, which they say exposed city dwellers, particularly children and those working to restore the cathedral, to dangerous levels of toxic lead dust.


We need more money please

Outside of Notre Dame
Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat

The Catholic diocese of Paris said on Monday it was seeking up to €6 million to restore and modernise the interior of Notre Dame cathedral, nearly destroyed by a massive fire two years ago.

The diocese launched a fundraising drive looking for €5-€6 million to complete the work.

President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to complete the monument’s restoration for 2024, and more than €800 million has already been received or pledged from private and corporate donors for the painstaking rebuild of the 13th-century gothic masterpiece.


Notre Dame square closes over lead levels again

Notre Dame forecourt
Photo: Thibault Camus

The Paris prefecture announced on Monday that it would temporarily close the square in front of the fire-ravaged Notre Dame cathedral due to a “concentration of lead-laced dust above the usual level for Paris”.

The square in front of the cathedral reopened on March 31st 2020, but the cathedral itself remains closed while works are ongoing to restore it.


So you can now buy a new Notre Dame handbag

A handbag from the Notre Dame x Sophie Cano collection.

Notre Dame now has an official handbag collaboration.

Improbable fashion collaborations just keep coming, the latest being a crafty Parisian accessories brand with what is likely the most famous cathedral in the world.

Cue the Notre Dame Sophie Cano Paris collection, to be sold exclusively on the Notre Dame de Paris website as well as its concept store, not far from the medieval Catholic cathedral.

It is not clear yet if any of the money from bag sales will be donated to the cathedral reconstruction following the massive fire in April 2019.


Another documentary about Notre Dame in the works

The spire of the Notre Dame collapsing
Photo: Thierry Mallet - AP
The spire of the Notre Dame collapsing on April 15, 2019

“Since the Second World War, no Gothic cathedral of this magnitude has ever been rebuilt, so this series is not just about science or the history of architecture, it is about an extraordinary human effort,” said the producer, Christine Le Goff.

In addition to the exclusive access to the cathedral and its surroundings, “Raising Notre Dame” will also show the constitution of all the cathedral’s scans and data throughout time, as well as original photos, architectural plans and notes compiled during the 19th century, explained Le Goff.


Notre Dame repair is metaphor for France pulling together

Macron visiting Notre Dame
Photo: Lemouton

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has used the reconstruction of the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral as a metaphor for the country pulling together as France reached the symbolic mark of 100,000 deaths from coronavirus.

Macron toured the upper levels of the Notre Dame site in a hard hat and overalls on the second anniversary of the fire that ripped through the roof of the Gothic masterpiece in 2019.


Two years on

Notre Dame exterior
Photo: Alexis Komenda
Two years after the horrific fire engulfed Notre Dame, the long restoration process continues

The world watched on as Notre Dame burned on April 15th, 2019,  a fire that gave great damage to the centuries-old landmark.

Now, two years later, the cathedral is still going through a massive restoration. This jewel of Gothic architecture is being rebuilt with oak trees from local forests, as 200 construction workers operate on-site every day. The goal, according to French president Emmanuel Macron, is to have the cathedral repaired before the city hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics, which is slated to begin on July 26th, 2024, in Paris. But is that a realistic goal, especially now that we have a pandemic?