News,  Paris News

Notre Dame at 4 Years: Where Are We Now?

Somehow, it’s been four years since the terrible fire at Notre Dame. Despite the pandemic, lead contamination, and other challenges (plus a few sarcophogi!), the restoration has been moving along at a good pace. Let’s take a look at where we’re at now!

Before and after the fire. The cherry blossoms are so incongruous!

Way back at the time of the fire on April 15, 2019, President Macron announced that the cathedral would re-open in 2024.  AKA The Year Of The Olympics

Well, he will get his wish for 2024.  But not quite in time for the Summer Olympics!

The State Of The Cathedral

On January 18, the formidable former General Jean-Louis Georgelin, who has been entrusted with overseeing the restoration, informed the Sénat that he was feeling confident in hitting the 2024 target.  With a few luxurious weeks to spare.  He gave his assurances that Notre Dame would be ready for services and tourists by the Feast of the Immaculate Conception…on December 8, 2024.    

Per the Associated Press:

“My job is to be ready to open this cathedral in 2024. And we will do it,” Gen. Georgelin said. “We are fighting every day for that and we are on a good path.”

I’m a military brat and this feels so military to me.  “I’m hitting the deadline.  I was given a deadline and I’m hitting it.  Mission Accomplished.” 😄

To be fair to the general and the thousands of people involved with the restoration, when the 2024 mandate was announced, we didn’t yet know about the structural issues, the lead contamination, and the COVID-19 pandemic.  Plus no one in the history and restoration community felt that Summer 2024 was even remotely realistic.  So to say that she will be ready to serve again by the end of 2024 is a miracle in its own right!

This does not mean that the restoration will be fully complete, mind you.  Just that they expect the interior to be complete enough to open back up to the public.  In fact, Minister of Culture Rima Abdul-Malak has said that the restoration will continue into 2025. I assume most of those works will be on the exterior and non-public spaces.

Money Woes

One of the more esoteric issues with the restoration is how to manage the remaining budget, particularly of the donated funds.  Incredibly, they seem to have managed this budget very tightly.  Which has left them with €146 million (at this time) of donated funds that need reallocation!   Apparently all of the donated funds (as opposed to government funding) were originally earmarked for restoration of only the interior.  But they (hopefully) they won’t need it all for that purpose and the good general and his team would like to use the funds for the exterior works. 

Image of crumbling gargoyles on side of Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris.
Crumbling Gargoyles – from 2016

Why The Exterior?

If you had the opportunity to walk around the outside of Notre Dame before the fire, you probably noticed that a lot of the ornate stonework was literally falling off the building.  There were nets, especially noticeable on the south and east (garden) sides, to catch the pieces and prevent unwitting tourists being taken out by a crumbling gargoyle. There is also apparently some issue with the buttresses built by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. Repairing these pre-existing problems was not part of the restoration mandate.  But now there is a chance for these to be included in the works and resolve these ongoing issues as well. 


But, of course, government officials are pushing back.  The first answer in France is always “non”. So this was not a surprise.

Their arguments include that exterior renovations were not what the donors paid for. They also reminded the general that the government had already committed to provide €60 million for the exterior works.  It’s unclear in the article if the government felt that €60 million would cover the tab or if it was meant to only cover a portion of the exterior costs. 

However, the general was not willing to be deterred in this!  Le Parisien reported his [translated] response as, “I expect of course that there will be debates…But we are going to discuss and I am sure that it will be done in full agreement with everyone. Just as I am convinced that this is what donors want!” My money is on the general.

Your Choice?

I agree with Georgelin. If donors paid into the general donation fund, I can’t imagine they would be very picky about how exactly their funds are being used. I’m also not sure how clear the restrictions were at the time of donation.

If you donated to the fund, how do you feel about this struggle to use the money? Beyond the necessary repairs from the fire, how do you think the funds should be used?

Personally, I just want Notre Dame to be healthy again. It broke my heart to see her fire damaged. Or before, with parts of her crumbling off. Or even when you go to Sainte Chapelle and see all of the parts and pieces on the side of the building and in the lower chapel. I wonder if this was also an issue in the first years after they were built? Have bits of crumbling masonry always been an issue? When people saw the flamboyant gothic details of Sainte Chapelle, were they like, “It’s pretty and all, but Mon Dieu, here we go again?” 😉

Notre Dame On Display

While we wait for next December, we have several cool ways to engage with Our Lady!

Restoration Exhibit

An exhibit, “Notre-Dame de Paris: Au Cœur du Chantier” (The Heart of the Worksite) opened last month in front of the cathedral, under the parvis. This is an interactive and pretty cool looking exhibit, giving us the progress made since the fire, the work and different trades involved in the restoration, and some interactive activities. The complexity of the work is astonishing. Plus there’s a miniature, playable organ!

It’s unclear how long this will be open, but I assume until we get close to the re-opening. The details:

  • Cost: Free, with no reservation required
  • Hours: Tuesday – Sunday (Closed Monday), 10am – 8pm
  • Entrance: Forecourt (parvis) of Notre Dame (look for signs)
  • Languages: Visitors booklets in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian
  • Website:

History of Notre Dame

La Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (The Architecture and Heritage Museum) has a Tribute to Notre Dame exhibit going through the end of April 2024. It features artifacts, recreations, restoration news, and the actual sculptures from the spire (that were thankfully removed right before the fire) and the rooster that was at the top of the spire. The little guy miraculously survived the blaze!

The museum is across the river from the Eiffel Tower in the Palais de Chaillot at Trocadéro. The exhibit is included with your ticket (€9 adults) and covered by the Museum Pass. Reservations are required for entry, even with the Museum Pass. Note that it’s closed on Tuesdays.

Statue of St. Thomas—in the likeness of architect Viollet-le-Duc.
You can see Thomas (safely!) in the museum.
Note also the chunks of stonework on the ground below him.
So. Much. Crumbling.

Virtual Reality Notre Dame

It’s back! The virtual reality experience Éternelle Notre-Dame has returned. From now through September 2023, you can immerse yourself in Notre Dame. Through the power of VR, you get to explore the history of the cathedral in an entirely new way. Assuming you don’t get seriously motion sick with VR headsets (a huge problem pour moi).

The tickets are rather expensive at €22 but it does look pretty cool! This is also located on the Notre Dame parvis – don’t mix it up with the free restoration exhibit above.

There is also a second location in the suburbs, near La Defénse, if you can’t find any available tickets at the cathedral. Be very careful when booking tickets! It’s easy to mix up locations. They appear to be open 7 days a week.

If you decide to go virtual, let me know how it goes!

Video Updates

In honor of the 4 year anniversary, there have been plenty of new videos about the status of Notre Dame. Here are a few:

60 Minutes did a recent segment and a bonus on the spire:

Villeneuve’s confession of how badly the fire hurt him personally puts it into a very human context. That is a heavy burden to carry.

And their short video, focused just on the spire:

You can read an English translation of the Victor Hugo pamphlet Guerre aux Démolisseurs here (opens as a pdf).

While researching this article, I discovered a new channel! Looking 4 (En) is a French-authored channel, featuring English language videos translated from their French channel. The narrator is French, which adds some extra charm to a very informative video. I love getting a French perspective on French events, no translator tools needed!

PBS Nova fans may have already watched this when it aired late last year. It’s a full episode and gives us a lot of detail that is sometimes hard to find in the English media. It’s a little out of date—the December 8, 2024 date was not yet announced—but you feel like you are there!

PBS tends to lock content down, so I’m not sure how long this will be available for viewing. Enjoy it while you can!

There is something so satisfying about the sound effect they used for the staples. Like the sound of Legos or model pieces coming together perfectly. The staples received a lot of press last month—even though we’ve clearly known about them for awhile! Smithsonian Magazine did an article that gives you some more images of them (though the Nova video has more detail).

Need more Notre Dame videos? Never fear! Stay tuned for a Notre Dame France Virtuelle coming soon!

More Notre Dame Resources

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases of items marked “affiliate link” below.

Notre Dame Cathedral: Nine Centuries of History by Sandron, Tallon, and Cook.  This book caught my eye during a webinar with the Friends of Notre Dame after the fire.  This is for the true history enthusiast, full of historical detail and wonderful photos and illustrations, translated from the French original.  Buy the book [affiliate link] or the Kindle (e-textbook) version [affiliate link]. 

Notre-Dame de Paris: History, Art, and Revival from 1163 to Tomorrow by Antonia Felix.  More interested in photos and illustrations?  This is the book for you!  I really enjoyed the layout of this one and the history is well done, unlike a lot of coffee table books.  Only available in hardback via Amazon [affiliate link]. 

For something more hands-on, NatGeo has created a 3D puzzle of Notre Dame for children and adults [affiliate link].  It also comes with a booklet about Notre Dame and Paris, so the learning keeps going!  Note that this is not for small children. 

PGB Podcasts on Notre Dame

There are 3 already!

PGB 1: Notre Dame, Property of France?
PGB 2: Sarcophagus Found at Notre Dame!
PGB 12: A Knight And A Churchman: The Unlikely Duo of Notre Dame

What are your thoughts on the pace of the restoration? Unhappy at the delays or happy that they are taking a bit more time to do it (hopefully) right? I want them to do it right. And take all the time they need to investigate the building techniques and history that we’ve never been able to see before. Within reason, bien sûr. I do sorely miss her and can’t wait to visit her again!

À bientôt!


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Image Credits

Header: Notre Dame photo by Felix Fuchs on Unsplash, uploaded April 2023. Cropped and edited by Michelle Keel.
Before and After GIF:Notre Dame before and after 2019 fire” from Wikimedia Commons. Author: Peter Cadogan, 21 April 2021. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Crumbling Gargoyles:Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris Gargoyles (28035213720)” from Wikimedia Commons. Dated 14 July 2016, 22:13. Author: Gary Todd, from Xinzheng, China. Public Domain.
St. Thomas:Notre-Dame de Paris 086” from Wikimedia Commons. Author: Harmonia Amanda, from 2005. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

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