22 January 2020, The Tablet

Bavarian historians help restore Notre Dame

Bavarian historians help restore Notre Dame

Firefighters try to extinguish the fire on the Notre Dame Cathedral last April.
Gao Jing unreguser/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

A Bavarian team of art historians has signed a contract that means they will play a central role in the restoration of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

The Bamberg-based team, who were doing research on medieval architecture, spent a lot of time between 2015 and 2018 in Notre Dame capturing details of parts of the cathedral in 3D scans.

Immediately after the fire on 15-16 April, 2019, they contacted the French authorities and offered to help with the reconstruction, an offer that was gladly accepted.

Since then, Professor Stephan Albrecht, the head of the Bavarian team, has frequently visited Notre Dame, and the Franco- Bavarian cooperation has now been officially recognised. A contract has been signed between the French research organisation “Centre national de la recherche scientifique” (CNRS) and the “Bamberg Competency Centre for the Science and Technology of Monuments” (KDWT).

The scans of 50 different positions in the cathedral had turned out to be a “real stroke of luck – even if we did not make them in case the cathedral was destroyed”, Albrecht said. The result was a very detailed view of the transept, which was particularly badly affected by the fire. One could now see “stone for stone” what had been lost. Naturally a second scan was now needed for comparison, which he and his team were ready to carry out. 

Nothing had been decided yet, “but here at Bamberg University we specialise on this particular subject and therefore have the necessary technical equipment for such an undertaking”, Professor Albrecht said. 

The only sensible solution was to reconstruct the original cathedral, he maintained. The mortar and lime layer between the stones, for instance, had been applied in such a way that the masonry could move and that was why the cathedral could withstand extreme wind pressure. “In the Middle Ages, the architects knew that the cathedral was continually moving. It has, after all, survived for 850 years. I’d like to see a skyscraper capable of surviving that long!” he said. 

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