‘One in a Millennium Opportunity’: American Carpenter Helps Rebuild Paris Notre Dame Cathedral Using Antique Building Techniques

When the wonderful 861 year-old Notre Dame of Paris Cathedral caught fire about five years ago, it shook to the core both Christians and lovers of Architecture marvels alike.

The iconic spire and timber roof were destroyed in the hellish blaze and collapsed in a nightmarish vision.

Many of us saw in that suspicious fire a horrendous metaphor of the decadence of the western world – I know I did. And also, how many of us secretly hoped there was something we can do to rebuild it again.

This is a story of an American who got this opportunity, and embraced it wholeheartedly.

As Paris prepares itself for the Summer Olympics in 100 days, the work to restore the beloved Church to its former glory is ongoing.

And among the skilled workers involved in the literally monumental project is an American carpenter, Hank Silver, who was given a rare chance to take part in this historic restoration project.

He was running a small carpentry business in Massachusetts, when a carpentry contact in France asked him if he wanted to join a team in Normandy to prepare timber to rebuild the nave of Notre Dame.

CBS News reported:

“‘I could not say no to that opportunity’, Silver told CBS News. ‘It’s an opportunity that happens — once in a lifetime wouldn’t even be the right term, it’s once in a millennium, really’.”

Silver shut up his shop and joined the French Atelier Desmonts’ carpentry team, all of them skilled in traditional building methods.

“‘In our shop in Normandy, we received about 600 oak logs, and it was all freshly cut oak, which is as it was done traditionally. You work with green wood, unseasoned wood, which is what I’m accustomed to doing in the U.S. as well’, Silver said. ‘We first hewed all the logs using axes in order to recreate that rippled finish that you were able to see in the original cathedral in the 13th century framing’.”

The work to remake the centuries-old presented unique challenges for Silver and his colleagues.

“The architects asked us to reproduce all of the deformations that had accrued over 800 years. So, the ridge is not a straight line, and so we had to follow this curvature, and the walls, even though they were rebuilt by the masons, they’re not level and straight. And that led to a lot of complexities that the original carpenters in the 13th century never would have dealt with.”

Artisans from several countries applied to be part of the historic project. The man in charge of the restoration, Philippe Jost:

“‘Many carpenters came from the United States, from England, from Denmark, from Spain, because they were fond of these techniques, fond of oak’, Jost said, noting a ‘spirit of unity’ among the artisans. ‘There is pride and humility’, he said, adding that all the workers on the site ‘have been marked for life’.”

The nave was entirely assembled under a tent in Normandy, before it was shipped to Paris last August.

Silver was lucky enough – and skillful enough – to be part of a smaller team that reassembled each of the trusses and then installed them in the nave of the cathedral.

It is perhaps not surprising that Silver would like to stay in France. He even took advantage of a site visit by the French president to hand him a letter asking for citizenship.

Emmanuel Macron has promised that Notre Dame will re-open to the public on December 8 this year. But there’s still a lot to do. Knock on wood.

This post was originally published on this site