- REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
- Notre-Dame Cathedral needed urgent and extensive restoration work in the years before Monday’s devastating fire, experts said.
- One said a disaster like the fire was “bound to happen.” The person said the building needed more money than the French state – which owns the church – was willing to provide.
- Responsibility for fixing the building was also split among several agencies, which an expert said bloated the process of maintaining it.
- French officials are investigating the cause of the fire, which engulfed the cathedral’s roof and destroyed its historic spire.
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Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris had been crumbling for decades before it caught fire Monday, a situation campaigners have long complained about but had little success in changing.
Critics have blamed funding delays on inefficiencies of the French state and its approach to funding religious buildings, arguing for a more comprehensive system of maintenance and restoration.
Experts and heritage campaigners voiced concern about the state of the 12th-century cathedral, with some saying that a disaster like the devastating fire was inevitable.
- REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
“What happened was bound to happen,” Jean-Michel Leniaud, the president of the scientific council at France’s national Heritage Institute, told Agence France-Presse.
“The lack of real upkeep and daily attention to such a major building is the cause of this catastrophe,” he said.
“This is not about looking for people to blame. The responsibility is collective because this is the most loved monument in the country.”
French firefighters said Tuesday morning that the fire had been extinguished and that experts were beginning to assess the damage.
- REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/Pool TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
The fire engulfed the cathedral’s roof and toppled its 19th-century spire. Despite the damage, much of the building avoided destruction, and the bell towers and outer walls still stand.
The cause of the fire is unclear. French prosecutors said Tuesday that it was most likely an accident, possibly related to restoration work that had been underway since 2017. It is also unclear whether any amount of renovation could have prevented such a fire from breaking out, though the effects of this week’s blaze were most likely worsened by weakened structures in the cathedral.
In recent years, the French government had pledged up to 40 million euros, or $45 million, for this restoration project over the next decade, The Times of London reported.
The cathedral is the property of the French government, as is every church in France.
But France’s strict separation of religious and secular life, dating back to the French Revolution, has made it unclear who is responsible for the cathedral’s upkeep.
The situation prevented the government from giving more state money to conservation, Time magazine reported in 2017.
The government owns the cathedral, but an agreement obliges the Archdiocese of Paris to maintain it, according to Time.
Citing Marie-Claude Gauvard, a French historian who wrote a book on Notre-Dame, The Times of London said Paris’ city council and the French government’s ministry of historic monuments also had a say in the upkeep of Notre-Dame.
The result, Gauvard said, was a delay while the agencies worked out what should be done and by whom.
In August 2018, Vice News reported that the cathedral needed more than 164 million euros, or $185 million, to address the destructive effects of time, pollution, and millions of visitors, far more than the 40 million euros then on the table.
Marie-Hélène Didier, the French official in charge of the restoration, seemed sanguine last year about the state of the cathedral.
In a statement reported by The Times of London from 2018, she said: “The cathedral is not going to collapse at all. She is an old lady which has been undergoing the wear of time. We intervene before the disorder creates greater risks.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has now pledged to rebuild the cathedral, and he announced an international fundraising campaign that by Tuesday morning had seen some of France’s billionaires contribute.
“Notre-Dame is our history, our literature, part of our psyche, the place of all our great events, our epidemics, our wars, our liberations, the epicenter of our lives,” Macron said, adding: “So I solemnly say tonight: We will rebuild it together.”