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The unveiling process for the newly rebuilt spire of Paris’ legendary Notre Dame Cathedral began this week, with the process expected to be completed in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics in July. 

Deconstruction of the scaffolding surrounding the spire — which reaches 330 feet in height — will take several months, the restoration authority, Etablissement Public, told AFP News Agency. The spire’s new cross was mounted on Dec. 6, 2023, and on Dec. 16 a golden rooster — a symbol of France — was blessed and added, replacing one that was destroyed in the fire. 

The cathedral has been closed ever since a devastating fire April 15, 2019, saw the spire crash through the centuries-old timber roof. Major religious and artistic treasures of the cathedral were removed as the fire began, including a relic of Christ’s crown of thorns. Authorities have not yet found any evidence that the blaze was not an accident, with an initial investigation conducted in the months after the fire concluding it may have been caused by an electrical malfunction. 

Almost immediately after the disaster, debate began as to whether the cathedral would be restored as it looked before the fire or if it would be updated with modern architectural designs and flourishes atop the ancient portion of the church. The French Parliament subsequently enacted a law mandating that the reconstruction must “preserve the historic, artistic, and architectural interest” of the original structure. 

The spire was not original to the 800-year-old structure, having been added during a 19th-century renovation. In 2020, President Emmanuel Macron of France announced, amid controversy over the possibility of a new and contemporary design, that the spire would be rebuilt as a replica of the one destroyed. Friends of Notre Dame de Paris, a nonprofit supporting the renovation, said the new spire is constructed of an oak framework covered with lead, just as the old one was. 

Although the scaffolding is coming off, the official reopening of the cathedral is still several months away. According to the Archdiocese of Paris, the consecration of the altar will take place during the first Mass in the restored cathedral on Sunday, Dec. 8. The solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, normally celebrated Dec. 8, will be celebrated this year on Dec. 9 because Dec. 8 is the Second Sunday of Advent. 

The restoration has hit a few delays but has progressed despite the unexpected death in August 2023 of the leader of the restoration project, French army general Jean-Louis Georgelin. Controversies amid the reconstruction continue as well, not only over the toxicity of the lead used in the new spire but also over a proposal supported by the Archdiocese of Paris to add six contemporary stained-glass windows to the building’s interior. 

Construction of the cathedral originally began in 1160 and took nearly two centuries. While most work was done by 1260, it was finally completed in 1345. Due to France’s laws regarding secularization, the French government owns all churches built before 1905, including Notre Dame. The government lets the Archdiocese of Paris use the building for free and will continue to do so in perpetuity. The Archdiocese of Paris is responsible for the upkeep of the church as well as for paying employees.

Before the fire, officials had been in the process of a $112 million fundraising effort to renovate the cathedral against centuries of decay, pollution, and a flow of 13 million visitors annually, which is expected to rise to 14 million after the reopening.

According to the director of the Cathedral Fund, Christophe-Charles Rousselot, the 800 million euros ($844 million) collected from more than 300,000 donors around the world will be enough money to entirely restore the framework and the roof and to redo the spire. 

By Jonah McKeown

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