The fire that broke out at Notre Dame two years ago was a horrifying spectacle, the world watching on TV as flames spread relentlessly along the building. Commentators spoke of complete destruction, finding it hard to believe that such a great monument was so vulnerable. In fact the disaster was not as catastrophic as it looked. When the fire was finally extinguished, the cathedral was fundamentally intact, the vast array of medieval sculpture unharmed, so too the stained glass that filled the giant windows. While some regarded this as little short of a miracle, the survival of the cathedral was a triumph for Gothic design, a direct result of the structural system adopted by the medieval builders.
Fire was an ever-present fear in the middle ages and many great churches suffered a fate similar to that at Notre Dame. This talk will explain how the Gothic masons confronted the problem and will explore the unusual architecture of Notre Dame, a hybrid scheme that resulted from a series of modifications to the original design. The talk will also illustrate the damage caused by the fire and outline the decisions that have been made in organizing the restoration.
Roger Stalley was Professor of the History of Art at Trinity College, where he gave regular courses on the French Gothic cathedrals and in some years they were accompanied by student trips to France. In his retirement Roger remains in touch with some of those currently involved with the restoration.