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Lucky timing saved Notre-Dame statues

Sixteen statues of Jesus’s disciples that used to decorate the spire of Notre-Dame cathedral were safe in Périgueux when the fire started, by a lucky coincidence.

The mid-19th century copper statues had been removed for restoration to workshops of the SOCRA company and were waiting to have bases fitted so they could be returned to Notre-Dame for an exhibition while restoration work on the spire was carried out.

It had been planned that the statues on their bases would be rotated with two being worked on in Périgueux at a time, so the public could see the difference between the unrestored and restored statues. They depict the 12 apostles plus the symbols of the four evangelists.

The owner of SOCRA, Romain Gilbert, spoke of his sadness at the destruction caused by the fire, saying that the damage to works of art, especially monumental art, was terrible.

“Much was saved from the cathedral but so much work incorporated into the structure of the building has been lost.  Like nearly everyone else I feel immense sadness at this loss,” he said.

SOCRA employees volunteered to go to Paris at their own expense to help after the fire, helping to secure parts of the building.

Work on the statues was planned to end with the complete restoration of the spire, expected to take two and a half years, but the fire has put everything on hold.

“It will be a while before any restoration work can begin,” said Mr Gilbert, who was up on the spire in the days before the statues were taken down, and so was one of the last people to work on the spire.

“We are lucky in that the statues were safe in Périgueux when the fire started, but we do not know yet if they will be exhibited in Notre-Dame while the restoration takes place.  In any event the cathedral is closed to the public and will probably be closed for some time.”

The company has agreed to continue with the restoration of the statues, even though it no longer has a timetable for the completion of the work.

If a decision to rebuild the spire in a modern style is taken, the statues might not be restored to it (we feature the question of whether Notre-Dame should be restored to its original appearance, or given a new look, in our May edition available in PDF format from tomorrow or in newsagents in France from this weekend).

Mr Gilbert, an architect who specialised in historic buildings, established SOCRA in Périgueux partly because the Dordogne departement has a high concentration of historic buildings, with some parts having a chateau and a church in every village.

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