29 December 2020, The Tablet

Notre Dame restoration workers uncover medieval colours

Notre Dame restoration workers uncover medieval colours

Restoration of Notre Dame, which continues even through the night, is uncovering some unexpected detail.
Blondet Eliot/PA

Now that the tangled scaffolding over its transept has been removed, restoration work at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris has begun focusing on unexpected details workers are finding in its interior as they clean and restore the medieval masterpiece.

The cathedral choir has also returned, albeit with only eight members wearing hard hats and protective suits against the still potentially noxious lead dust spread during the April 2019 fire. 

Standing in an unscathed section at the rear of the building, they sang a selection of traditional carols such as Silent Night in French and English and the French hymn Les Anges dans nos campagnes, known in English as Angels We Have Heard On High. 

The short concert, their first from the worksite, was broadcast on French television on Christmas Eve. 

At the other end of the cathedral, the huge rose window of the western facade shines in full glory now that the imposing grand organ that blocked part of the view has been removed for a thorough cleaning. 

The famous blue glass windows, which survived the fire intact, depict the struggle between virtue and vice, a theme repeated in statuary on the facade outside that is blocked off from visitors during the repairs.   

Another discovery has been the remnants of medieval painting found in two of the 24 side chapels where the initial phase of restoration has begun. 

The need to build scaffolds up to 40 metres high for the 200 workers to repair the high walls and soaring vaults has given art restorers the opportunity to study up close the side chapel ceilings they had no access to before. 

They are finding traces of rich polychromatic decorations under the dark levels that have built up over centuries of candle smoke and air pollution. Medieval cathedrals were often covered inside and out with paint that either wore off or was hidden as unfashionable in later eras.

“We’ve found blues, reds, ochres ... lilies with some gilding and others whose traces are preserved in negative", chief heritage curator Jonathan Truillet told the daily La Croix.

“We’ve tested several protocols for cleaning the stone,” he added.

One uses latex to pick up dust when removed and another uses moist compresses. 

A third technique uses laser rays to agitate dust molecules to the point where they simply fall off the contaminated stone. 


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