Notre Dame Raised Almost $1 Billion After Its Devastating Fire—But Now, the Church Says It Needs More

The church is restricted in how funds that came in immediately after the 2019 fire can be used.

The roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after the fire. Photo courtesy of Etablissement Public pour la restauration de Notre-Dame de Paris.
The roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after the fire. Photo courtesy of Etablissement Public pour la restauration de Notre-Dame de Paris.

If there’s any restoration project in the world that should be flush with cash, you would think it would be Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which famously saw a massive influx of donations from around the world when a fire nearly destroyed it in 2019.

But now, the Catholic Diocese of Paris is scrambling to pull together another €5 million to €6 million ($6.1 million to $7.3 million) to renovate the cathedral’s interior.

That’s because when the pledges of €825 million ($967 million) first rolled in from billionaires including Bernard Arnault and François-Henri Pinault, the government passed a law limiting the use of funds to structural restoration and conservation. But in addition to restoring the historic 13th-century building to its former glory, the church also wants to add a new interior lighting and sound system, revamp the tour layout, and install new furniture for visitors.

Such updates are meant “to bring the cathedral into the 21st century, while ensuring the preservation of its identity in the spirit of the Christian tradition,” Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit said in a statement, according to Agence France Presse.

Interior braces supporting the vaults at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during restoration work. Photo courtesy of Etablissement Public pour la restauration de Notre-Dame de Paris.

Interior braces supporting the vaults at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during restoration work. Photo courtesy of Etablissement Public pour la restauration de Notre-Dame de Paris.

On Wednesday, Aupetit celebrated mass in the church’s Saint-Georges chapel in honor of the solemnity of the dedication of Notre-Dame de Paris, which marks the anniversary of the consecration of the new altar by Cardinal Lustiger on June 16, 1989. Despite the extensive damage to the structure, Aupetit also said mass at Notre Dame for the occasion back in 2019, mere months after the fire, clad in a hardhat.

Even with the outpouring of donations that followed the devastating blaze, it remains unclear what portion of those promised gifts have actually been received. Many of the largest donors have been slow to make good on their pledges, compared to those who gave more modest amounts—gifts of $39 million came from 46,000 people and 60 businesses.

To help drum up additional funds, American nonprofit Friends of Notre Dame de Paris is encouraging would-be donors to sponsor individual objects in need of conservation, such as the gargoyle statues. 

Now, the public is being asked for their “generosity to make the heart of Notre Dame beat,” the church said in a statement. Notre Dame expects that artists will also donate their time to help rebuild the Crown of Thorns reliquary box and to construct a new tabernacle, among other projects.

Adding to the complications with fundraising efforts, work on the church has already hit numerous roadblocks, first due to lead contamination released by the roof collapse and then because of the pandemic.

Workers finally finished taking down the partially melted metal scaffolding that predated the fire in November. The church expects actual restoration work will commence late this year.

France is still hoping to reopen the cathedral to the public in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.


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