Last week’s record heatwave in France may have further weakened Notre Dame, complicating the delicate task of rebuilding the cathedral after its fire in April, writes Tom Heneghan in Paris.
Temperatures hit record-breaking levels in Paris last week, peaking at 42.6 degrees centigrade on 25 July. The day before, the chief architect overseeing the reconstruction of the cathedral sounded an alarm.
“My concern is that, by drying out, the joints or masonry lose their coherence, cohesion or structural quality and that suddenly, wham, the vault can fall,” Philippe Villeneuve told French television. The vault – the church’s stone ceiling – was broken through when the spire over the transept crossing crashed down during the fire.
Radio bulletins promptly announced that “Notre Dame could collapse!” stoking a new wave of concern, even though the medieval structure’s fragility has been known ever since the fire.
Wooden struts have been added around the cathedral to shore up possibly weakened walls, but the soaring vault has been hard to reach. Nets have been hung below it to catch any falling stone – although none has dropped so far – and robots are being used to remove rubble on the cathedral floor for further investigation.
Villeneuve has stressed that sensors attached to the walls have not indicated any movement of building stones that may have partly decomposed after the heat of the fire and then the cold bath of water used to put it out.
Another concern arose after high levels of lead were detected in and near the cathedral. About 300 tonnes of lead covered the roof and its spire and the blaze spread particles of lead around the surrounding neighbourhood.
Two schools near the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a little over a kilometre away, closed down their summer activities for children after lead levels that were five times higher than normal were discovered.
Paris vicar general Mgr Benoist de Sinety was named as the Church’s representative to a committee of public officials and architects to ensure the cathedral’s liturgical function is not overlooked in the reconstruction.