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Trees From The Forest Of Villefermoy Will Help Rebuild Notre Dame


Two years ago, a fire burned through Notre Dame Cathedral. The damage was so bad that experts have only just now secured the entire structure. And so the real restoration begins. Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The work site of Notre Dame is still so sensitive and even dangerous that few are allowed in. So General Jean-Louis Georgelin, who's in charge of the vast restoration, gave a livestreamed video tour starting by the gaping hole where the nave meets the transept.


JEAN-LOUIS GEORGELIN: (Through interpreter) This is where most of the damage was done. When the spire fell and pierced the nave, it destroyed the floor below and filled the cathedral with lead. This lead has put a huge constraint on us and slowed everything down.

BEARDSLEY: Massive wooden clamps now support the church's famous flying buttresses. Last summer, its delicate stone edifice was set free of 40 tons of melted scaffolding where the fire started. Now, says Georgelin, we're ready to start rebuilding. And it all begins here.

It's a beautiful forest. Oh, wow. Some of these trees are hundreds of years old.

I'm in the Forest of Villefermoy about 50 miles southeast of Notre Dame. Oaks here will be among the 1,000 trees used to rebuild Notre Dame's spire and the beamed roof that supports its vaulted stone ceiling.

RENAUD TRANGOSI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: My guide is forest ranger Renaud Trangosi. He leads me to a felled 200-year oak tree with a 3-foot diameter marked for Notre Dame.

TRANGOSI: (Through interpreter) The first criteria is that these are indigenous oak trees. They are from our French forests and go back to Gallo-Roman times. They were used in the Middle Ages to build the great cathedrals. Now they will restore Notre Dame and the spire of Viollet-le-Duc.

BEARDSLEY: The spire will be rebuilt according to the plans of 19th-century architect Viollet-le-Duc. Trangosi carries a copy of the well-preserved plans on his clipboard.

He says each felled tree is marked with a forestry seal of the state and a small white tag bearing an etching of Notre Dame. Its geolocation in the forest is noted, as will be the place of the tree's wood in the spire. Last year, when the pandemic hit France, work on Notre Dame stopped abruptly.



BEARDSLEY: But President Emmanuel Macron vowed the cathedral would be rebuilt within five years.


BEARDSLEY: Notre Dame's largest bell, known as le bourdon, rang out from the South Tower for the first time since the fire as a symbol of hope and resilience.

Forester Trangosi says the trees weren't chopped down specifically for Notre Dame.

TRANGOSI: (Through interpreter) It's part of our forest management. Every decade, we make way for new trees by taking down old ones. It's about creating the best forest for the future, not about making money from trees.

BEARDSLEY: Trangosi says records of managing this forest go back a thousand years, and it's something special to know where these trees are going.

TRANGOSI: We are very proud to work for this task, It's our little contribution, very little contribution for this marvelous challenge.

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, the Forest of Villefermoy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.