The world watched in horror on Monday night as the medieval Cathedral of Notre-Dame – an iconic symbol of the beauty and history of Paris – was engulfed in flames. Expressions of sympathy and offers of concrete help have poured in from Czech state officials and ordinary citizens alike.
By dawn on Tuesday, French firefighters had extinguished the flames and specialised teams had begun the arduous and heart-breaking task of assessing the full extent of the damage to the smouldering 850-year-old cathedral.
A tweet by Czech Minister of Culture Antonín Staněk encapsulated this nation’s desire to help in whatever way it can:
“With horror, I am watching the devastating fire of at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. I still hope most of it will be saved. I’m ready to offer France the help of our experts in restoring this extraordinary monument of world importance.”
Enormous sums towards repairing the cathedral – over 300 million euros as of Tuesday morning – had already been pledged by two of France’s wealthiest families which between them own world-famous fashion labels Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton and the champagne Dom Pérignon, named after a Benedictine monk.
But apart from money, a particular expertise will be needed to rebuild the partially collapsed vault and spire of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame consumed by the blaze.
This is where Czech experts in restoration work could step in. In part due to decades of neglect under communism, and in the wake of devastating floods in Prague, this small country has developed an outsized expertise in the field.
Ambassador to France Petr Drulák said that as of yet, no specific request for help from Czech restoration and conservation experts had been received, but preparations of various kinds are underway.
“For the moment, we are awaiting specific requests for help from the French, who are still assessing the damage from the fire. We don’t know if they will ask for international help or what form that may take. That should become clear in the coming days.
“In the meantime, we will be posting information on our website about the official institutions that have created accounts to which people can contribute.”
Monday’s fire consumed most of the cathedral’s roof, spire and interior latticework and some exceptional stained-glass windows. The full extent of the destruction is still unclear. The destruction of its vaults or towers would be a catastrophe, says architect Petr Chotěbor, head of the Heritage Department of the Office of the Czech President.
“If the vaults were to collapse, the statics or equilibrium of the entire cathedral would be under threat. If the vaults survive, the interior can be saved, including at least some ornamentation and flourishes.”