France reaches out to US donors to help repair Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral

FRANCE 24 screengrab | Notre Dame Cathedral attracts around 14 million visitors a year.

A group of French conservationists have reached out to good Samaritans in the US to help them save Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral – one of France’s most visited monuments, which requires urgent repair work.


Turning 854 years this year, Notre Dame de Paris is one of the largest and most well-known cathedrals in the world, attracting some 14 million visitors a year. But time, weather and wind have taken their toll on the unique gothic architecture, and some of the cathedral’s supporting structural elements are now at risk of crumbling.

“The flying buttresses are in a pretty bad state and we can’t afford them falling down because it would risk the structure of the whole cathedral. It’s urgent!” Michel Picaud, President of the Paris-based “Friends of Notre Dame de Paris” foundation, told FRANCE 24 in an interview on Wednesday.

Aside from the main entrance, which was recently restored, large cracks have appeared across the façade and the supporting structure holding up the cathedral’s impressive stained-glass windows could collapse in the event of a storm.

“The Friends of Notre Dame” foundation was established last year by the Archbishop of Paris and the Diocese of Paris in a bid to help finance the repairs of the state-owned monument after it became clear that the annual €2 million earmarked to maintain the building wasn’t nearly enough to prevent it from deteriorating beyond repair.

“There is no part of the building untouched by the irreparable loss of sculptural and decorative elements, let alone the alarming deterioration of structural elements,” the group said on its website.

“The costs are estimated at a total of €100 million,” Picaud said, noting that the work needs to be carried out within the next six to 10 years. Already, one of the cathedral’s gargoyles has partially collapsed, with another having completely fallen off, he said.

American history in Paris

Although a fund has already been set up in France, the foundation has recently set up another one in the United States in order to reach its fundraising target.

Picaud said that aside from the fact that private American donors have a strong philanthropy tradition in general, Notre Dame Cathedral has a place of its own in American history.

“In World War II for example, when French and American troops liberated Paris from occupying German forces, the celebrations took place in front of Notre Dame,” he said.

The idea to reach out to American donors evolved after several US visitors to Notre Dame contacted the cathedral’s management and offered to help out with financing through private means.

“I think the Americans consider part of the history that took place in Europe as part of their own,” Picaud explained.

When Andrew Tallon, co-author of the book “Notre-Dame de Paris” and associate professor of art at Vassar College in the state of New York, highlighted the possibilities of targeting private American donors, the real work of crossing the Atlantic for funds began.

Picaud said that a first fundraiser would be held in the Parisian cathedral itself in November this year, and in April, 2018, the “Friends of Notre Dame” will embark on a US roadshow, with events planned in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. The roadshow will include keynote speakers and a photo exhibition of the history of the famed cathedral.

In all, “The Friends of Notre Dame” aim to raise enough funds to repair and restore the gargoyles, the pinnacles, the finials, crockets and railings, as well as the stonework, the stained-glass windows, the spire and the flying buttresses.

Outside financial help is nothing new to the Gothic cathedral, which was built between 1160 and 1345 and is located by the River Seine on the Île de la Cité in central Paris.

In 2013, it was equipped with new nine new bells thanks to private donors and in 2014, Russia helped fund the cathedral's annual Christmas tree after the parish failed to reach its financial goals.

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