France to rebuild Notre Dame spire from oaks in once-royal forest

The oaks need to meet particular measurements to be chosen for the task

Eleanor Sly
Wednesday 10 March 2021 11:04
<p>‘We won’t do this more than once in our lifetimes’</p>

‘We won’t do this more than once in our lifetimes’

Eight French oaks aged over two hundred years old, have been felled in a move to begin the rebuild of Notre Dame Cathedral’s fallen spire.

On Monday and Tuesday the oaks, which had been standing for hundreds of years, were cut down in the Loire region’s Forest of Bercé, about 150 miles southwest of Paris.

The Forest of Bercé was once a royal forest, belonging to the kings of France, and contains 3000 hectares of oaks. 

The oak trees harvested from it will join about 1,000 in total taken from more than 200 French forests. These forests are both private and public and the trees will be used to construct both the spire and the frame of the cathedral transept.

In 2019, the famous Parisian cathedral’s spire was engulfed in flames and collapsed in on itself, during a fire.

The 19th century structure, designed by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, measured 93-metres high and was made of wood and clad in lead.

Following public outcry last July when French President Emmanuel Macron suggested that the spire could be redesigned and constructed in a more modern style, it is set to be rebuilt exactly as it was before.

Reconstructing a cathedral in wood is a daunting task and the rebuild of the 12th century spire needs wood cut from oaks with extremely precise measurements. Many of the tree trunks need to measure over 1 metre (over 3 feet) wide and must be at least 18 metres (60 feet) in length.

At the scene, Anthony Jeanneau, a forestry technician told AP: “We have just measured one, it fits the required criteria in length and diameter. The only thing left to do is make the beam for Notre Dame.”

The trees in Bercé were harvested by chainsaw, in a delecate operation where all the trees’ branches needed to be removed before the trunks came down. This was to preserve the trunks as much as possible, reported France Bleu

Hugues Bouttier, involved in felling the oaks, told the French radio station that the experience was part of a “historic moment” and that being able to say he had climbed a tree which would be used to rebuild the famous spire is “an honour.”

He added: “We won’t do this more than once in our lifetimes.”

Michel Druilhe, the president of France Bois Forêt, a national forestry network said: “Given the place occupied by the cathedral in the hearts of the French, in the history of France and the world … we are happy [that] the entire industry – from foresters to sawyers – is mobilised to meet this challenge,” reported AP.

The process happened in a race against time, due to the fact that all 1,000 trees to be used need to be felled by the end of March.

The rush to cut the oaks by this date is to prevent tree sap and moisture from entering the fibres of the wood. The tree trunks will then be left out to dry for between 12 and 18 months.

President Macron pledged that Notre Dame will be restored to its former glory and rebuilt within five years of the fire.

Five years from the date of the fire will be 2024, a target which has been widely dismissed as unrealistic. This is especially optimistic given the length of time the wood needs to dry out before it is used.

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