Sharing in Notre Dame Cathedral’s revival

When the famed Notre Dame Cathedral reopens, some U.S. college students will have firsthand knowledge of how the cathedral’s roof was originally built.

Architecture students from Catholic University used classical building techniques from the 1200s to construct a replica of part of the cathedral’s roof support, which was destroyed by a fire in 2019.

Students and volunteers raised a full-size replica of the cathedral’s truss in August 2021 on the National Mall and on the university campus in September 2022. Both sites are in Washington.

“It is amazing to see, 6,000 kilometers away from Paris, the same spirit that we ourselves have for Notre-Dame,” said French architect Philippe Villeneuve. He and Rémi Fromont, leading French architects responsible for the cathedral’s restoration in Paris, visited the campus when the replica was raised.

Hands-on experience

Wood truss on National Mall with Washington Monument in background (© Patrick G. Ryan/The Catholic University of America)
Catholic University students help raise a replica Notre Dame truss on the National Mall in August 2021. (© Patrick G. Ryan/The Catholic University of America)

The university’s course on building a replica beam for the cathedral gave students the chance to get hands-on experience with classical architecture. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Catholic University student Jack Antony told Voice of America.

Handshouse, an organization in Boston that leads community education projects, organized the rebuilding project in the United States.

To make the experience more authentic, Rick Brown, who founded Handshouse with his wife, Laura, ordered handmade axes from a blacksmith in France. The construction team hauled wood by horse carriage and used handheld tools to hew the wood.

Virginia granted permission to chop down 20 oak trees that closely resembled the wood used to construct Notre Dame.

Man holding up hands to indicate architecture detail while group of people watch (© Patrick G. Ryan/The Catholic University of America)
Rémi Fromont, one of the chief architects of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral reconstruction, inspects and discusses with Catholic University students their replica of the truss in September 2022. (© Patrick G. Ryan/The Catholic University of America)

“We believe collaboration is intrinsic to the effort to revive the Notre Dame de Paris’s iconic edifice,” Brown said. “The true value of this process is the embodied energy created by the thought, care, skill, and learning that comes from rebuilding objects as they were originally made.”

Other U.S. organizations have pitched in to help. The French Heritage Society, a nonprofit organization based in the U.S., raised $2.5 million toward reconstruction efforts.

The structure was moved to the National Building Museum in Washington after the latest ceremony.

The cathedral is scheduled to open for visitors at the end of 2024.