UC Berkeley history professor: Challenge to replace 13th century Notre Dame fixtures

French President Emmanuel Macron is calling for national unity to restore the national symbol of France, Notre Dame de Paris.

"We will build the Cathedral of Notre Dame even more beautiful, and I want for this to be done within the next five years," said Macron Tuesday night.

The damage from Monday's fire was clearly seen in the daylight, with new photos of the damage inside the sanctuary. Debris from the fallen roof was piled in front of the altar. Gaping holes in the ceiling showed where the cathedral's spire and roof had collapsed. 

Experts say Notre Dame's famous bell towers and three rose windows can be saved.
"As a whole, the structure is holding up. Some vulnerabilities have been identified," said Laurent Nunez, France's Deputy Interior Minister.

Engineers examined the building to make sure it is safe to enter. A team of inspectors are assessing the damage and investigating the cause. They are interviewing employees from five companies who had been working on the roof before the fire started about 6:20 p.m. Monday.

French officials say the cathedral was just 30 minutes away from total collapse. A force of more than 400 firefighters battled the blaze and 20 firefighters risked their lives to enter the twin bell towers and save them from destruction.
Also rushing into the flames with firefighters Monday was a French priest, Jean-Marc Fournier, who is credited with rescuing a crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus.

Parisians gathered outside the Notre Dame Cathedral Tuesday night, singing holy songs. 

The Notre Dame is one of the designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the United Nations pledged support in the restoration efforts. 

UC Berkeley history Professor Ethan Katz, who has researched modern French history and society says it will be a challenge replacing the 13th century wooden beams and artistic features created over centuries.

"The artisans who began it, knew that they would not live to see the cathedral completed but their sense of dedication and piety was so great they were moved to spend decades working on it," said Katz.

There is also a question of how decisions will be made moving forward about the Notre Dame restoration, with France's divisive political climate and navigating a balance of power between the secular and religious institutions.

"It's possible that as people begin to frame reconstruction efforts there will be competing ideas of how those should be understood. Should they be understood in more nationalist terms, should they be understood in more religious terms," said Professor Katz, "If Macron is thoughtful about it, he may create some kind of commission."