Last Monday, Notre Dame’s forest caught fire, incinerating the central spire and most of the cathedral’s roof in a disaster that dismayed the world. Notre Dame, with its limestone facade and stained-glass rose windows, was a resplendent jewel of medieval architecture to most who saw it. On closer inspection, according to church officials, contractors and donors, the cathedral was deteriorating from decades of neglect.
“For sure if the cathedral had been maintained regularly, with a higher level of funding, we would have avoided this,” said Michel Picaud, senior adviser to The Friends of Notre Dame. “The more you wait, the more risks you have.”
The flying buttresses represented the greatest structural risk, according to fundraisers. Church officials wanted to tackle the spire first. “The spire was the most urgent thing,” said Mr. Finot, the spokesman. “It’s made of lead, and the lead was disappearing.”
The spire presented unique challenges. Scaffolding needed first to reach the cathedral’s roof, 50 meters off the ground, and then rise another 50 meters to the top of the spire, encircling the ornate structure without touching it.
On April 15, a dozen workers from Le Bras Freres were working on the scaffolding, according to Mr. Eskenazi. The last one on the site left at 5:50 p.m., turning off the electricity, locking the door and giving the key to a church official in charge of the building, Mr. Eskenazi said. About half an hour later, the first fire alarm went off.