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'There’s no heart in sawmill wood': Experts trained in medieval carpentry work to restore roof at Notre Dame cathedral

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Photo by Eric BOUVET/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Glad tidings of great joy for those hoping to see the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France, fully restored to its former glory. A team of medieval wood specialists in France believe they have the skills and the materials necessary to rebuild the roof almost exactly as it was originally constructed 800 years ago.

The return to medieval building practices actually began 25 years ago when people from all walks of life began gathering in northern Burgundy to restore Guédelon Castle. In order to approximate the original structure of the castle as closely as possible, workers there learned how to build using the same tools and techniques as they did centuries ago. They also utilize locally-sourced materials whenever possible, according to the Guardian.

Now, some of these well-trained carpentry artisans have already been commissioned to help rebuild the cathedral which was partially destroyed by a fire in April 2019. Construction companies looking to help in the rebuild have already hired experts from Guédelon, and despite doubts expressed by millions around the world, those experts believe they are up to the task.

"After the fire, there were a lot of people saying it would take thousands of trees, and we didn’t have enough of the right ones, and the wood would have to be dried for years, and nobody even knew anything about how to produce beams like they did in the Middle Ages," said Guédelon carpenter Frédéric Épaud. "They said it was impossible."

"But we knew it could be done because Guédelon has been doing it for years," he added.

Perhaps the only major impediment to their success would be speed, they said. Without the use of modern equipment, medieval construction methods require a lot of time. The process may be long and tedious, but the experts at Guédelon say it's the only means of restoring Notre Dame.

"There’s no heart in sawmill wood," said Stéphane Boudy, another Guédelon carpenter.

"We have 25 years’ experience of cutting, squaring and hewing wood by hand,” Boudy also said. “It’s what we [have done] every day for 25 years. There are people outside of here who can do it now."

However, French President Emmanuel Macron has already pledged to reopen the cathedral by 2024, in time for the Summer Olympics, which will be held in Paris that year.

"[I]t shouldn’t be rushed," Épaud said. "Macron’s insistence that the cathedral be open by 2024 is idiotic. We are talking about a cathedral. We’re not in a hurry, and we have the money to do it the right way. If we rush it, there’s a risk it [will] be done badly and something is missed. Sadly, I fear Macron doesn’t understand that."

According to co-founder Maryline Martin, the Guédelon project receives no public funds. Though the organization does partner with some "state research bodies," she claims that it depends entirely on private donations and on the fees collected from visitors.

"Now, after 25 years, we are the only ones who can understand and are able to do what has to be done," Martin said, "and they discover we have not sold our soul to the devil. Our people will be working on Notre Dame, one way or another."

Experts have estimated that the restoration of Notre Dame will cost a staggering $72 million.

To learn more about the Guédelon project, check out this short video from NBC News Learn:


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