“Well done carpenters!” Applause erupts from the banks of the Seine where onlookers and journalists observe the arrival of the first elements of the new framework of Notre-Dame. The triangular “trusses” appear gigantic, resting in the barge which slides down the river… Then, when the immense construction crane lifts them, it seems that they weigh nothing. They take, without any clash, their respective places on the vaults of the choir. The operation took place last July under the admiring eye of General Georgelin, then president of the public establishment responsible for carrying out the restoration of Notre-Dame and unfortunately died a few weeks later in a mountain accident. His deputy, general manager Philippe Jost, now replaces him.
A demand for perfection for Notre-Dame de Paris
“Only the eight largest farms are transported this way,” explains Rémi Fromont, the chief architect of historic monuments in charge of the frame and the spire. The others arrive disassembled, by truck. » Disassembled, because they have already been “blank assembled” in the workshops where the wood is cut, in order to check the perfection of the assemblies. “We have eight hundred years of feedback to create a frame, beautiful aesthetically but also because it is made with beautiful tools and by the hand of man,” enthuses, lyrically, ‘architect. “No piece was similar in the 12th century framework, transformed in the 13th century, and we must restore these nuances,” specifies Jean-Louis Bidet, carpentry director of the Perrault workshops, in Maine-et-Loire, who take care of restoring the framework of the choir using medieval techniques, while their partner, the Desmonts workshops, in Normandy, are responsible for that of the nave (drawing above) .
It was therefore necessary to select, one by one, slender oaks of a dozen meters and of small diameter, then square the still green wood with an axe: “Ten years ago, I reintroduced this forgotten know-how », says Rémy Desmonts. With his son Loïc, he brought together, thanks to the Charpentiers sans frontières association, seven American professionals who still mastered this technique, to strengthen their French team of around twenty people. Another rare know-how: a group of five cutters was formed to urgently reproduce around sixty axes and doloires (axes for finishing), tools that no longer exist except at second-hand dealers. Thanks to the precise surveys carried out before the fire by the architects Rémi Fromont and Cédric Trentesaux, the workshops’ design offices were able to produce the 1,300 plans and 500 drawings necessary for this colossal work in record time.
“These drawings draw on a real scale on the ground the pieces to be cut and assembled,” continues Jean-Louis Bidet, who recalls that this French “line art” has been classified as an intangible heritage by Unesco. The transept and the spire, already rebuilt in the 19th century, will be restored with modern tools within another group of four companies brought together by Le Bras Frères, in Lorraine. Which does not prevent the artisans concerned from admiring the masterpiece of this spire imagined in the 19th century by the architect-restorer of Notre-Dame, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, and his “spoiler” (director works) a man named Georges. Patrick Jouenne, his counterpart today, insists fervently: “This arrow remains a feat at the limit of what is technically possible, even one hundred and sixty years later. » So, to the carpenters of yesterday and today: Respect!
Tribute to General Georgelin
Certain personalities mark our lives as journalists: General Jean-Louis Georgelin was one of them. His gravelly voice and military stature were impressive. It was for his reputation as an authority that Emmanuel Macron entrusted him with the restoration project of the Paris Cathedral the day after the fire, on April 16, 2019, with the mission of leading it over five years. A challenge that the Saint-Cyrian had accepted, “rushing forward without knowing where he was going because (his) pride in being chosen was so real”, he confided to me. From the outset, the former chief of staff of the armed forces ruled out failure “for the honor of France”. So, he moved forward with determination even if it meant being rough, sometimes, with his colleagues whom he esteemed. Because the man was hiding behind the soldier.
His attachment to our weekly allowed us to break through the armor and enter the cathedral construction site. A history buff, this Catholic from Haute-Garonne was passionate about Christian heritage. A Pyrenees at heart, he died at the age of 74, during a solo hike in the mountains on August 18, at an altitude of 2,000 m, confirming his taste for heights. Hoisted on the scaffolding of Notre-Dame de Paris, he loved to admire up close the battle of vice and virtue on the western rose window, one of the rare joys he allowed himself. “But I don’t have time for poetry,” he concluded, “I have a deadline to meet.”
He dreamed of seeing the cathedral’s spire once again pointing into the Paris sky and declaring “Mission Accomplished.” The companions will say it for him. Catherine Lalanne