Notre Dame Is Burning. A Digital Archive Could Hold the Key to Restoring It.

Notre Dame Is Burning. A Digital Archive Could Hold the Key to Restoring It.

Paris’ iconic cathedral, Notre Dame, is burning. Construction began on the church in 1163; it was declared finished in 1345. While it’s been damaged and neglected at various points in its 800+ year history, the core of the building has always remained intact.

The fire today could threaten that record. As of this writing, the cathedral spire and roof had already collapsed and significant damage was known to have been done to the inside of the church. The stone portions of the building may survive more-or-less undamaged, but the artifacts contained within, the stained glass, the organ that dates to 1738, and the various reliquaries could be a complete loss. We won’t know more until the fire dies down and recovery crews are able to investigate the cathedral.

There is one bit of news that might serve to make these events less bad (obviously nothing is going to make them good). Back in 2015, we discussed the work of Dr. Andrew Tallon, an art historian and historical modeler. Tallon used laser-mounted tripods within the cathedral to build a point cloud of information on every surface and internal feature of the cathedral’s interior. At the time, his goal was to uncover clues about the building’s construction and renovation process that weren’t preserved to the present day.

The point cloud data from the laser scans builds a virtual model of the church
The point cloud data from the laser scans builds a virtual model of the church

His work in 2014-2015 uncovered that the Gallery of Kings had shifted almost a foot out of plumb and that this area of the cathedral might have been left untouched for as much of a decade before work began again, giving the soil time to settle. His work also showed that the internal columns of Notre Dame aren’t in perfect alignment and that the church may have incorporated existing structures in its design rather than knocking them down first.

It appears that Dr. Tallon finished his work with Notre Dame and had moved on to other projects; the reports on his laser survey all date to 2014-2015, and his website refers to projects commencing after those dates. Unfortunately, Dr. Tallon appears to have died late last year, and so was unavailable for comment on whether his work would be useful to the eventual cathedral reconstruction/restoration effort.

We can’t imagine that it won’t be.

At this point, the cause of the fire at Notre Dame is unknown. The cathedral was undergoing renovation, and the assumption right now is that the fire was related to the ongoing work.

Feature image credit: LeLaisserPasserA38/CC BY-SA 4.0

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