- On April 15, 2019, a fire broke out at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, causing the roof and spire to collapse.
- French billionaires, wealthy families, and corporations rushed to pledge their money to rebuild the monument, amassing 850 million euros, worth about $954 million at the time, in the proceeding days.
- But for six months the money was nowhere to be seen, as repairs were propped up by $39 million in small donations from 46,000 people and 60 enterprises.
- Fondation Notre Dame, the largest of the four official charities for the cathedral’s repairs, told Insider on Tuesday that all its donors had gone through with their pledges. The three other official charities have not responded to Insider’s request for comment.
- But the coronavirus pandemic has delayed vital repair work, and 551 tons of melted metal lattice precariously perched on the roof may come down at any minute and destroy more of the landmark.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
On April 15, 2019, the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral, a jewel of Gothic architecture in central Paris, collapsed after a fire tore through its upper levels.
It took hours for the blaze to be contained and, despite no human casualties, there was an outpouring of grief at the devastation. Parisians wept openly in the streets.
In the 72 hours after the fire, a clutch of wealthy French magnates clamored to pledge a total of 850 million euros, worth about $954 million at the time, to restore the cathedral.
But it took six months for the first billionaires to put pen to paper and make good on their promises, with the intervening repairs funded by small donations.
As the first anniversary of the fire approaches, the official charity for the cathedral has received all its major donations, while the coronavirus pandemic has delayed vital work to save the remaining structure from collapsing.
Here’s how the repair effort is going, and who paid up.
After Notre-Dame Cathedral was ravaged by fire on April 15, 2019, the nation’s superrich promised hundreds of millions of euros to repair the landmark.
- GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images
The fire started during a 150 million euro renovation project on the spire, and it melted the scaffolding constructed around it at the time. Investigators believe a smoldering cigarette or electrical glitch was to blame.
- Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images
The day after the fire, on April 16, Bernard Arnault — who owns LVMH and is France’s richest man — pledged 200 million euros. The French oil company Total promised 100 million euros soon after.
- Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Then François-Henri Pinault, the owner of Gucci, pledged 100 million euros, and L’Oréal and the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation pledged 200 million euros between them.
- Scott Olson/Getty Image
Source: Business Insider
French companies including AXA, BNP Paribas, and JCDecaux had promised sums of between 10 million and 20 millions euros each.
- THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
Here’s a list of the major companies and bodies that donated:
- LVMH: 200 million euros
- Kering: 100 million euros
- Total: 100 million euros
- City of Paris: 50 million euros
- JCDecaux: 20 million euros
- Fimalac: 10 million euros
- AXA: 10 million euros
- Ile-de-France regional authority: 10 million euros
- Société Général: 10 million euros
The Walt Disney Company, which is American, also pledged 5 million euros.
In total, some 850 million euros was promised by the country’s billionaires and major corporations.
- PATRICK ANIDJAR/AFP/Getty Images
Apple CEO Tim Cook had also pledged to donate shortly after the fire, though it’s not clear how much and whether the company has delivered on it.
- Twitter/Tim Cook
In the days after the fire, authorities built scaffolding around the cathedral to protect the rest of the structure. The scaffolding around the spire had weighed 551 tons and melted in the fire, putting the roof and remaining site in jeopardy.
- Pierre Suu/Getty Images
The scaffolding, which once consisted of 50,000 poles, had melted into one giant fused structure.
On May 29, 2019, the French parliament passed a law that said the spire should be restored to its “last known visual state.”
Source: Le Monde
But by July 15, three months after the fire, only 80 million euros had made its way to the four charities officially permitted to collect on behalf of the cathedral.
- Michel Stoupak/NurPhoto/Getty
Source: France 24
“They want to know what exactly their money is being spent on and if they agree to it before they hand it over, and not just to pay employees’ salaries,” Andre Finot, the senior press official at Notre-Dame, said of the billionaires.
Source: Associated Press
In the meantime, small donors propped up the restoration. The Notre-Dame Foundation received 36 million euros from 46,000 individuals, 60 businesses, and 29 municipalities between April 15 and October 1.
- Amaury BLIN /AFP/Getty
Michel Aupetit, the archbishop of Paris, said donations were as small as 1 euro.
Source: Associated Press
A sizable sum actually came from the US. By August 8, Americans had donated $2.45 million to the French Heritage Society for the cathedral’s repair.
- iStock / artiste9999
“For Americans, Notre-Dame represents so much more than a church or a monument,” Jennifer Herlein, the society’s executive director, told The Guardian.
“It brings about a feeling about France and Paris.”
It took some six months after the fire for the big donors to reemerge. In the week leading up to October 1, both Pinault and Arnault legally committed to fulfilling their promises, donating 300 million euros between them.
They are France’s two richest men, and the rival donations owe much to a decades-long rivalry.
Source: Associated Press
On November 7, 2019, Total, the French oil giant, also announced it had made good on its promise and signed 100 million euros over to Notre-Dame.
- REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
Source: Associated Press
Meanwhile, a battle was brewing over the fate of the spire. In November, the cathedral’s chief architect said it must be remade as it was, while the military general overseeing the project told the architect to “shut his mouth” and called for a modern structure.
- Le Monde
Philippe Villenueve, the chief architect, had wanted to replace the spire with an exact replica of the old one, while Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin – whom President Emmanuel Macron placed in charge of overseeing the reconstruction project – advocated building a “contemporary” new one.
Georgelin said in November, according to Agence France-Presse: “As for the chief architect, I have already explained that he should shut his mouth.”
The fight appears not to be over yet.
Villeneuve told The Wall Street Journal in February 2020: “Why rebuild the spire? Why do something else? This is a masterpiece on which we’re intervening. It’s iconic, like the ‘Mona Lisa.’ How would you intervene on the ‘Mona Lisa’?”
The impact of the fire on Paris continued to be felt. The cathedral’s Christmas mass didn’t go ahead on December 25 for the first time in 230 years …
“Today we can say that there is maybe a 50% chance that it will be saved. There is also 50% chance of scaffolding falling onto the three vaults, so as you can see the building is still very fragile,” the rector of the cathedral, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, said on Christmas Day.
Source: Business Insider
… and in August, two schools near the cathedral shut after it was discovered the fire had thrown toxic lead particles into Paris’ atmosphere.
- Philippe Lopez/Pool via Reuters
Scientists working inside the the cathedral have to strip naked, wear disposable suits, and don 900-euro protective masks, according to Science magazine.
“We’re taking five showers a day,” Thierry Zimmer, an assistant director of LRMH, the lab overseeing the restoration of the cathedral, told Science.
But there was some good news. As of March 31, 2020, Fondation Notre Dame — the largest of the four official charities for the cathedral’s reparations — had signed contracts with all the companies that pledged money to it.
- REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/Pool TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jean-Michel Mangeot, Fondation Notre Dame’s funding director, told Insider on March 31: “I can confirm that all the companies that committed to pay money for the restoration of the cathedral to the Notre Dame Foundation have either already paid it in full or have contracted to pay it as and when needs.”
There was “no risk that the amounts announced will not be paid or will only be paid partially,” he added.
Mangeot told Insider he could not confirm which companies had signed contracts with Fondation Notre Dame, however.
The three other charities – which are all smaller in size – have not responded to Insider’s request for comment.
Meanwhile, the 551-ton scaffolding constructed around the spire — which had melted in the fire — still threatens to fall and destroy even more of the cathedral.
- Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP via Getty Images
Experts say it is vital to stop the lump of melted steel mesh that was once scaffolding from collapsing.
The mission to remove the metal was to start March 23 but was abandoned days earlier amid restrictions on work caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
- Chesnot/Getty Images
France’s nationwide coronavirus lockdown means no restoration work can be carried out on the structure, and officials are anxious that as every day passes the chance of the roof caving in increases.
While patrolling the site on March 21, the police found and arrested two men hiding under a tarpaulin inside Notre-Dame with stolen stones from the cathedral hidden in their garments, Le Parisien newspaper reported.
President Emmanuel Macron had hoped to complete Notre-Dame’s reparations by the 2024 Olympics, which are to be held in Paris.
But for now, Notre-Dame’s fate remains unknown. The coronavirus has put life in France on hold, and the remaining structure is precarious.
- PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP via Getty Images