Notre Dame has always been a work in progress – let’s embrace its restoration | Philip Ball

The damage to this magnificent cathedral is tragic, but the challenge now is to match the skill and vision that produced it

The flames leaping above the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral, as crowds of dazed onlookers sung hymns in the twilight, looked apocalyptic, a sight from the end of days – or at least the climactic scene of a Dan Brown novel. The destruction of a building so iconic, so symbolic of a nation, is deeply unsettling. And so it should be, for this irreplaceable loss of 800-year-old heritage is tragic. But setting the calamity in historical context shows us how unusual our age is in investing so greatly in the veneration of ancient buildings – and how accustomed we have become to thinking they can be frozen in time.

Happily, Notre Dame seems to have emerged less ravaged than was initially feared. The main fabric of the church has survived, and the relics and other holy items inside were, largely, rescued. It was easy to forget as smoke and flame belched heavenwards that the roof, made from a forest’s worth of medieval timber, was separated from the interior by the high, arching stone vaults. Some of those have collapsed, but most seem still in place. The glorious stained-glass rose windows, dating from the 13th century (when the cathedral was completed), have been mercifully spared too.

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Source : Notre Dame has always been a work in progress – let’s embrace its restoration | Philip Ball