Notre Dame Updates – Sept 2023

As summer theoretically winds down, it’s time to check back in with our favorite lady!

Photo of south side of Notre Dame, pre-fire.

Général Jean-Louis Georgelin: 1948-2023

On August 18, 2023, Notre Dame lost one of her greatest modern champions. Général Jean-Louis Georgelin unfortunately died in a hiking accident in the Pyrenees, while taking a hard-earned break from his duties as commander-in-chief of the Notre Dame restoration.

The general had been hand-appointed to lead the restoration by President Emmanuel Macron. It was an inspired choice. Georgelin not only had the skills and experience to lead large complex projects and groups, but he was also a lover of art and architecture, as well as a practicing Catholic. A perfect balance for the restoration of an iconic cathedral.

Photo of Gen. Georgelin in Reims in 2014

Jean-Louis was not afraid to speak his mind and speak it plainly, but his forwardness and passion for the project made him well-regarded by the restoration team.

I admit at first I wasn’t sure what to make of him, but, like his peers, Georgelin’s straight-forward manner and clear dedication to Notre Dame won me over. He will be missed.

If you would like to watch his full funeral service, you can do so here (in French).

Works Done So Far This Year

One of the coolest aspects of the restoration is that we can envision what it must have been like for the medieval building (and 19th-century restorers) to tackle such a project. While we may now have giant mechanized cranes and tools of steel, the basic problems are still the same. How on earth do we get these giant pieces of wood and stone up to the top?!

Roof Trusses

Over the summer, the trusses that will support the roof were delivered and hoisted up to the top of Notre Dame. They came in by river, just as they would have done 800 years ago. And then they were delicately as possible lifted by cranes and gently put in place. Just as they would have been when the Forest of roof timbers was first built.

Here are a few shots of the experience:

Curious about the medieval method? Tom Scott got a good look at the medieval cranes being used at the Guédelon Castle site:

Why do we need experimental archeology like Guedélon? Because we are largely left with guesses based on artwork such as this. I’m glad we are not fighting off dragons at our construction sites!1


What goes up must come down. In order to do necessary repairs to the north tower, the bells needed to be removed. Several of the bells were also damaged by the heat and needed some repair.

But how do you remove giant bells from a giant tower? Through the trap door, naturally!

Built into the tower is a trap door that allows for (relatively) easy removal and replacement of the bells. The tricky part is actually supporting the bells and their yokes (the wooden bar they hang from, which are unique to each bell) on their way down. So a metal hoist was put in place and eight bells were carefully lowered to the bottom.

If you’ve ever climbed the stairs in that tower, you know how high that is!

Check out a few photos from the experience:

And see even more on the official restoration website (the French version has more info). Plus their whole IG page is worth checking out—lots of cool photos of the ongoing work!

Fun and random side note: In French, apparently the yokes are commonly called “mouton.” Yes, sheep. This lead to some pretty weird translation errors and google searches. Thank goodness for this site!

Post-Georgelin Restoration

Who will replace Georgelin is still TBD. It’s assumed that the decision will be made relatively quickly, if they are to keep to the very tight schedule.

The spire is set to begin construction in October, with the support structures mostly in place already.

The roof also needs to be finished, with more framing and then replacing the lead tiles.

And then the interior will become the bigger focus, with a lot of the décor effort being handled by the diocese, including new furniture and lighting.

What’s Up With The Sarcophagi?

It seems we will have to wait until the end of the year for updates on our two buddies, the sarcophagi of The Knight and The Churchman. According to a Radio France podcast with some of the scientists, the research is progressing but they won’t have any public info for the next few months. So we must stay tuned a bit longer!

Your Favorite Part of Our Lady?

We are now only about 16 months out from the planned re-opening! What are you most excited about seeing again (or for the first time)? Let me know below!

I’m not sure I can choose a specific thing. As weird as this sounds, I want most to just sit with her again. Feel her energy, the centuries of her experience.

I do fear I may hug a column or other bit of her in my enthusiasm for her return. Don’t tell the guards…

À bientôt!



  1. Interestingly, this is not St. George slaying his dragon. It is Cadmus, a hero from Greek mythology who was also a slayer of beasts. The image comes from the early 1400s in a manuscript by Christine de Pizan. The text mentions the myth that he founded Thebes, so I’m guessing that is what they are building in the background. Also interesting: Cadmus’ sister was Europa, namesake of Europe and a consort of Zeus. Unrelated side note to the footnote: WordPress now has native footnotes! It is game on, people. Footnote lovers rejoice! ↩︎

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Image Credits

Notre Dame South Side: Photo by Cassie Gallegos on Unsplash.
Georgelin: Georgelin in Reims 2014. From Wikipedia, uploaded originally by Garitan, updated by Ctruongngoc. Shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.
Medieval Manuscript: Excerpt from The Harley MS 4431 from the British Library: “The Book of the Queen” collected manuscript (image f.109r, from the L’Épistre de Othéa a Hector) by Christine de Pizan, c1410-c1414.

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