Painstaking organ repair starts at Paris’ Notre-Dame cathedral

PARIS (AFP) – Workers began a painstaking four-year process Monday (Aug 3) to restore the great organ of the Paris Notre-Dame cathedral, ravaged by fire in April last year.

The fabled instrument was not badly damaged in the devastating blaze, but there was limited relief for admirers as it was covered in lead dust and has also suffered from temperature fluctuations in the cathedral since the fire.

A file photo shows the grand organ in the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, on July 17, 2019.
A file photo shows the grand organ in the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, on July 17, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

A 30-metre scaffolding has been erected around the organ to allow it to be safely dismantled piece by precious piece and lowered to the ground.

The voice of the monument since 1733, the organ has 8,000 pipes and a sound when in full flight that its players describe as truly symphonic.

While the April 2019 fire toppled the spire of the cathedral and destroyed much of the roof, the organ was spared by the flames and was doused with relatively little water as firefighters fought to save the historic structure.

But the instrument still needs a deep clean and restoration is expected to last until 2024.

The keyboard was the first part to be removed, successfully lowered to the ground with the help of a winch to the relief of all those present, an AFP correspondent said.

Its removal will be followed by that of all 8,000 pipes by the end of the year. The reconstruction itself will start in January 2021.

“It’s a painstaking operation that we have prepared for a long time,” said Jean-Louis Georgelin, the former French general spearheading the cathedral’s restoration effort.

French President Emmanuel Macron wants the work finished by April 2024 – in time for Paris’s hosting of the Olympic Games – and Georgelin emphasised there was no time to lose.

Georgelin said that the the aim was for the organ to sound again on April 16, 2024, just after the anniversary of the blaze, with a Te Deum.

The reconstruction of the cathedral has been plagued by delays due to bad weather, concerns over lead pollution, and most recently the coronavirus pandemic.

It was only in early June that workers began the delicate task of removing tons of metal scaffolding that melted together in the fire.

Macron in July gave his blessing to a faithful reconstruction of the cathedral’s spire, in a change of heart after previously calling for a “contemporary” touch.

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