how medieval carpenters rebuilt Notre Dame.  » Live TV

how medieval carpenters rebuilt Notre Dame. » Live TV

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At the Château de Guédelon, we are in 1253 and the little nobleman, Gilbert Courtenay, has left to fight in the Crusades, leaving his wife in charge of the workers who are building the family’s new residence: a modest castle which corresponds to his social position. humble knight in the service of King Louis IX.

Here, in a clearing in northern Burgundy, history is remade to the sound of chisel against stone and ax against wood, as 21st-century craftsmen relearn and perfect long-forgotten medieval techniques.

The Guédelon project was imagined as an exercise in “experimental archaeology” 25 years ago. Instead of digging downwards, it was built upwards, using only the tools and methods available in the Middle Ages and, where possible, locally sourced materials. Today, by an unforeseen twist of fate, Guédelon plays an essential role in the restoration of the structure and soul of Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The imposing 13th century Paris cathedral, listed as a World Heritage Site, was ravaged by a fire in April 2019, destroying the complex structure of its roof, called The forest due to the large number of trees used for its construction. The general opinion was that it would be impossible to rebuild it as it was.

“The frame was extremely sophisticated, using advanced techniques for the 12th and 13th centuries”, explains Frédéric Épaud, specialist in medieval wood, on the show. Observer.

“After the fire, many people were saying that it would take thousands of trees, that we didn’t have enough of the right trees, that the wood would have to be dried for years and that nobody knew how to produce beams like in the middle Ages. They said it was impossible.

Notre Dame is on fire in 2019. Hopes rest on Guédelon’s know-how to restore its famous La Fôret roof. Photo: Alexis Lopez/ZEPPELIN/SIP/REX/Shutterstock

“But we knew it was possible because Guédelon has been doing it for years.”

A number of companies bidding for the Notre Dame works have already hired carpenters trained at Guédelon, and more are expected to make their way to the Burgundy glade, located 200km from Paris on the Autoroute du Soleil .

It might be faster and cheaper to get wooden beams out of a sawmill – especially with French President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to reopen the ravaged cathedral in 2024 – but you won’t find anyone in Guédelon who thinks that. should be done this way.

Stéphane Boudy is part of a small team of carpenters on the medieval site, where he has worked since 1999. Stéphane Boudy, 51, trained as a baker, then as an electrician, before discovering his vocation in Guédelon. He explains how hand-hewing each beam – a single piece from a single tree – respects the “heart” of the green wood that gives it its strength and resistance.

“We have 25 years of experience in cutting, squaring and trimming wood by hand,” he says. “That’s what we [have done] every day for 25 years. There are people out there who can do it now, but I’m telling you they all came here to learn how to do it. If this place did not exist, perhaps the experts would have said: no, it is not possible to reproduce the roof of Notre Dame. We [have shown that] it’s possible.

“It’s not just nostalgia. If the roof of Notre Dame lasted 800 years, it is thanks to this. There is no heart in sawmill wood,” he says.

Maryline Martin is co-founder of the Guédelon Project which attracts around 300,000 paying visitors each year and was featured in a 2014 BBC documentary series, The secrets of the castle. She explains that the castle blacksmith was commissioned to make the axes that will cut the wood of Notre-Dame, and that his carpenters are supposed to train others to work on the cathedral.

Guédelon's carpentry experts will be of invaluable assistance in restoring the roof of Notre-Dame.
Guédelon’s carpentry experts will be of great help in restoring the roof of Notre-Dame. Photography: Guedelon

“It is prestigious for us that Notre Dame is restored by those who learned their trade in Guédelon. We are a private company lost in our forest that does not receive any public money. We work with many state research organizations, but some have taken us for an amusement park,” she says.

“Now, after 25 years, we are the only ones who understand and can do what needs to be done, and they find out that we haven’t sold our souls to the devil. Our staff will work on Notre-Dame one way or another, but why would we want to go to Paris? We will continue our 13th century work here.”

Florian Renucci, head of the Guédelon site and philosopher who has become a master mason, has already been responsible for supervising the training of craftsmen called upon to work on Notre-Dame.

“All we heard on repeat after the Notre-Dame fire was that it was not possible to rebuild the roof as before. There was no wood, no know how – it was an argument used by those who wanted to modernize. We showed that it was possible and that we knew how to do it,” he says.

Mr. Épaud is a member of Guédelon’s scientific committee and of the committee overseeing the reconstruction of Notre-Dame. He is also a member of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), the French national research organization. For him, going back to build the future is not just nostalgia.

“I have studied the 13th century technique for many years and if we respect the internal shape of the tree, the beams will last 800 years. Guédelon is the only place in France, and I believe in Europe, where this kind of wooden frame is built. All those who did not think it was possible did not know Guédelon”.

He adds: “But we must not rush. Macron’s insistence that the cathedral be open by 2024 is silly. We are talking about a cathedral, we are in no rush and we have the money to do it the right way. If we rush, there is a risk that she [will] is badly done and you miss something. Unfortunately, I fear that Macron does not understand this. »

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