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British restoration experts eager to help ‘resurrect’ Notre Dame after fire

Experts at York Minster, which was badly damaged in a fire in 1984, have offered to assist.

The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris following a fire which destroyed much of the building on Monday evening
The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris following a fire which destroyed much of the building on Monday evening

British craftsmen are ready to help those who will be tasked with restoring Notre Dame Cathedral, according to one of the world’s leading experts on medieval stained glass.

Sarah Brown, the director of the York Glaziers Trust, which cares for the windows at York Minster, said her team had already been in contact with colleagues in France.

And Ms Brown said the international network of stained glass experts and stone masons had begun to offer help.

She said: “The stained glass community is not big but it’s close.

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Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris following the fire (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“There are plenty of people willing to help who have a high level of expertise.

“These are skills that have been nurtured and kept alive in the great cathedrals.”

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Lead labourer Andy Bracegirdle walks in front of the 600-year old Great East Window in York Minster after it was restored (Danny Lawson/PA)

Ms Brown, who oversaw the restoration of York Minster’s Great East Window, the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the UK, said it was difficult to speculate at this stage on the losses and damage in Notre Dame.

But she said stained glass was “remarkably resilient” in fire, although the shock caused by the heat and then the huge quantities of water used to fight the blaze meant the individual panes were often left with micro fissures, even if they survive.

Ms Brown said techniques and adhesive materials had moved on since fire devastated York Minster in 1984, leading to the painstaking renovation of the Rose Window.

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York Minster’s Rose Window had to be restored after the 1984 fire (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

She said: “Obviously it’s a terrible shock, a tragedy.

“We in York had our own fire in 1984 so we can connect with what they must be feeling in Paris.”

She added: “York Minster has shown that, when the public mobilise, remarkable things can be achieved.”

She stressed that although the world’s great stained glass windows may be medieval in original design, they had all been extensively restored over the centuries.

Our cathedrals are stone phoenixes, reminders that out of adversity we may be reborn. And from the ashes they may be recreated, renovated, altered and changed as they have been over the centuries by hundreds, even thousands, of men and women into the cultural and heritage icons we know and love today. They will resurrect Dr Emma Wells

Ms Brown said: “Notre Dame is one of the most important gothic buildings in the world. It’s iconic to all of us.”

Dr Kate Giles, from the University of York’s department of archaeology, said: “Cathedrals have a millennium of expertise behind them, and Notre Dame will be able to draw on colleagues from across the world, including the University of York’s Art History and Archaeology departments and York Minster’s Glaziers’ Trust and Stoneyard, to assist with its rebuilding and restoration.”

Dr Giles said: “Historic buildings are no strangers to fires, especially when building or restoration work is under way.

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York Minster after the fire (PA)

“A cathedral like York Minster has experienced a series of devastating fires, not just in 1984 when the South Transept was destroyed by lightning, but in 1840 when a candle was left burning by a clockmaker carrying out repairs in the South West Tower and the nave roof burned, and in 1829, when the choir was deliberately set slight, with similarly devastating consequences.”

She said: “Should Notre Dame be reconstructed as it was on the eve of the fire, including elements of later schemes of restoration and repair, or should new architectural details be included, creating a lasting legacy of the craftsmanship of the 21st century?”

Dr Emma Wells, from the University of York’s Centre for Lifelong Learning, said: “Our cathedrals are stone phoenixes, reminders that out of adversity we may be reborn.

“And from the ashes they may be recreated, renovated, altered and changed as they have been over the centuries by hundreds, even thousands, of men and women into the cultural and heritage icons we know and love today.

“They will resurrect.”

PA

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