Two local organizations are offering help to the French government after a massive fire devastated the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris April 15, causing extensive damage to the historic landmark.
The French Heritage Society is a New York-based nonprofit whose mission is “to ensure that the treasures of our shared French architectural and cultural heritage survive to inspire future generations to build, dream and create,” its website states. Its Atlanta chapter is hosting a fundraiser through the organization’s main website.
Suzy Wasserman, who is co-chairing the chapter with Debi Akers, said she was compelled to act the day of the fire, when the society emailed its members about the fundraiser.
“It was devastating. Actually, I cried,” Wasserman said. “I have been there, and many of us who have been to France have been to the cathedral. Many Atlanta people emailed and called me and were upset, too. It’s everybody’s favorite. It has so much history and we all feel so attached and emotional about it.
“On the other hand, there are so many other fabulous historic proprieties. We give money to save historic properties in America, too, in Louisiana after that horrible hurricane, Katrina, hit that area, and in Charleston.”
Notre Dame opened in 1345, but its groundbreaking was in 1163 and the cathedral was mostly complete by 1260.
According to the society’s website, as of April 30, the group had donated $284,238, through gifts from 2,367 donors in 40 countries. The Atlanta chapter has donated $3,800 from 38 individuals thus far, and it annually raises $35,000 to $40,000, Wasserman said. The society as a whole has brought in $21 million in its history.
Though more than $1 billion in donations were pledged within a few days of the fire, according to the Associated Press, the cost to repair the cathedral and repair or replace all of its artwork and artifacts, has been estimated at up to $8 billion, a Reuters report stated.
The repairs include fixing Notre Dame’s roof, spire, stained-glass windows, organ, stonework and firefighting damage on top of the artwork and artifacts. French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild the cathedral.
Rodney Cook is founder and president of the National Monuments Foundation, which builds parks and monuments across the world and is located at the Millennium Gate Museum and Monument in Atlantic Station.
Though his nonprofit is not hosting a fundraiser, he said it offered the French government the use of its virtual reality technology, which allows an individual to virtually view an exhibition room with artwork or artifacts that may have previously been there but has since been destroyed, based on photos of the art and artifacts.
Of the Notre Dame fire, Cook said, “It’s sort of the world’s church. So many people have been there. I’ve been to services there. … The historical ramifications, the architectural ramifications, it was like my church, the Cathedral of St. Philip (in Buckhead), going up in flames. It was that personal. This cathedral is older than St. Peter’s (Basilica in Vatican City), so it’s a really important building from many aspects, ecclesiastical and well beyond it.
Cook said the fire would have caused more damage to Notre Dame had it not been for architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the architect who led the campaign to restore it starting in the 1840s.
“There’s now pressure to rebuild it in a modern way, which I think would be a tragedy, to have this fire ruin it so much, and then we ruin it back to rebuild it that way,” he said. “Sadly the timbers cannot be replaced exactly because France no longer has trees that big. It’s a miracle, honestly, all those items were saved from the building.
“The engineering marvel of gothic architecture that has provided history has saved all that because the fire department had time to get those artifacts out in time. Those flying buttresses and the ceiling vaults mostly held. They created so much strength that they caught most of the burning debris and it didn’t drop into the cathedral. Most of the damage was where the tower was because it was so heavy and collapsed.”
Cook also provided Louis de Corail, the consul general of France in Atlanta, with a temporary office under a large French flag the foundation hung under its main arch so de Corail could use it to conduct interviews with the Atlanta media the day after the fire.
Cook also said he’s set up a meeting with Asselin, a France-based company with an Atlanta office in Buckhead, to help with the Notre Dame restoration.
“They recently restored Versailles, and Marquis de Lafayette’s ship was recreated by the company,” he said. “We suggested a partnership with them.”
Wasserman said metro Atlantans should continue to donate to Notre Dame’s repair fund, and doing so through the society means the gift would be tax-deductible.
“The sad tragedy is it’s going to take at least $10 million to fix it. Our interest in Atlanta is so many Americans are so touched by the event and also the important of preservation, here and everywhere,” she said. “So many times buildings are just torn down and thrown away, and wonderful properties are gone forever.
“Our mission is to promote saving buildings and showing people why it’s important save the heritage. You can look around Atlanta and it’s not at all the way it used to be. The thing about Notre Dame is it sparked the realization in people that we have to save these buildings.
“So many people have such an emotional attachment to it and have been so devastated by it. I’m surprised at the number of people who called me about it because they wanted to talk about it. It was like having an old friend attacked.”
Cook said he’s happy the French government and others have responded quickly to help fund the cathedral’s restoration.
“The international community helping, that was marvelous,” he said. “It’s a great symbol of peace (in) reaction. It brings us all together in unique ways that we need to learn from this, in ways that are not just reactionary to disasters.”