Notre Dame Is Still Standing, But Not for Much Longer Unless It’s ‘Stabilized,’ Expert Says

by Tim Pearce and Joshua Gill


The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is still standing after suffering extensive damage from a fire that consumed its roof Monday, but the building’s main structure is still in danger, according to one expert.

“It’s wonderful that what has survived, survived,” professional architect and professor James McCrery told The Daily Caller News Foundation. But “it’s vital that the building is stabilized.”

McCrery has designed cathedrals in the United States and is the director of traditional and classical architectural studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Medieval cathedrals such as Notre Dame are constructed so that the entire structure supports itself through a system of vaulted ceilings, flying buttresses and other architectural pressures. The solid construction might keep the building standing for hundreds of years, but if one part suffers damage, the rest of the structure could be compromised until it fails completely.

The fire began in the middle of Notre Dame’s roof around the church’s iconic spire. The roof, covered in sheets of lead and supported by centuries-old wooden trusses, provided the “perfect environment for the rapid spread of a very violent flame,” McCrery said.

French officials say the cathedral appears to be structurally stable following the blaze, though the church will be unsafe to enter for at least a couple days, The New York Times reports.

Between the cathedral’s ceiling, called the vault, and the roof outside is a vacuous, dry space filled wooden beams and plenty of oxygen. The fire began close to the center of the ceiling and spread outward in all directions, the worst-case scenario for firefighters trying to control the blaze.

“It got so hot that it then began to melt the metal roof that covered it on the outside,” McCrery told TheDCNF. “Melting the lead admitted even more oxygen from outside of the roof. Once that was done, once the fire got through the roof membrane of lead and exposed itself to the outdoor air, then the fate of the roof was settled.”

The inferno consumed much of the ceiling’s wooden framework, likely compromising the integrity of the entire building. French officials are in a precarious position where they need to quickly support the rest of the cathedral or risk the entire structure falling down.

The missing trusses were a key part of the building’s structure, sitting on top of the cathedral’s walls and holding the tops of the walls in place.

“Now that those trusses are all gone, 100 percent missing, then there’s a weakness,” McCrery told TheDCNF. “There’s an inherent weakness now, an inherent instability, in the structure that remains.”

McCrery could not give a timeframe within which the French have to save the building. The cathedral has not crumbled yet, though, because most of the building’s vaulted ceiling remained intact after the fire, keeping the walls from toppling inward under the pressure of the flying buttresses pushing the walls in from the outside.

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Tim Pearce and Joshua Gill are reporters for the Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow Tim and Josh on Twitter.
Photo “Notre Dame Fire” by LeLaisserPasserA38. CC BY-SA 4.0.










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One Thought to “Notre Dame Is Still Standing, But Not for Much Longer Unless It’s ‘Stabilized,’ Expert Says”

  1. William R. Delzell

    While I certainly hope it will be financially possible to restore Paris’s 900 year-plus landmark, the welfare of French citizens should come first. What I mean here is that France’s president Macron’s super-rich supporters want him to slash all essential social spending on the grounds that the government cannot support it financially and, yet at the same time, these same stingy rich people are willing to cough up millions of dollars to rehabilitate the Notre Dame Cathedral. If they can afford to repair Notre Dame, there is no excuse to destroy France’s economic safety net that most of the general populace relies on to maintain any middle-class existence.

    As much as they rightly love their cathedral, I seriously doubt if the average French citizen is willing to give up his or her social security, public schools, good public transportation, child welfare, affordable health care, etc. if that is the only way to restore the cathedral.

    Also very troubling to me are these irresponsible comments that God intended the fire against Notre Dame as punishment for the French for allowing large numbers of Arabs and Muslims (mainly from former colonies as Algeria, etc.) to settle in French banlieux (suburbs) ever since 1945. To call the Notre Dame neighborhood a Muslim suburb is absolutely ignorant. Try to get your facts straight before sounding off on the French.