Extreme Heat Wave Caused Stones to Fall from Notre Dame Cathedral Ceiling

Jan Wesner Childs
Published: August 14, 2019
Workers install high fences on a bridge around Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019, as part of cleanup and restoration efforts at the fire-ravaged landmark structure.
(AP Photo/Francois Mori)

France's record July heat wave caused several stones to fall from the ceiling of Notre Dame Cathedral, highlighting the fragility of the fire-ravaged landmark.

An official with the French Ministry of Culture said the extreme heat – Paris reached a record high of more than 108 degrees – dried out the mortar holding the stones in place, which contributed to the stones crumbling and falling, according to the Associated Press.

The official told the AP the damage is "not serious," but the 12th-century cathedral remains at risk of possible collapse.

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The world watched as a devastating fire engulfed the cathedral on April 15. Cleanup and rebuilding efforts started almost immediately, but experts have continued to warn that the structure is at risk of collapsing.

The vaulted ceiling is especially fragile because the blaze destroyed the massive lead-and-wood roof that stabilized the entire structure, according to the AP.

Officials previously said they feared the heat wave could further damage the 850-year-old structure.

Philippe Villeneuve, France's chief architect for historical monuments, predicted the exact scenario that the culture minister described. Villeneuve told reporters during the heat wave that he was worried the extreme temperatures could compromise the structure.

"As you know, the cathedral suffered from the fire, the beams coming down, but also the shock from the water from the firefighters," Villeneuve said in July, according to Reuters. "The masonry is saturated with water.

"What I fear is that the joints or the masonry, as they dry, lose their coherence, their cohesion and their structural qualities and that all of sudden, the vault gives way."

Other experts have also warned that the cathedral remains at risk in severe weather. An independent engineering study released in April showed that winds of 55 mph or greater could cause parts of the structure to collapse.

Meanwhile, construction at the cathedral was halted last month over concerns about lead contamination. The site is only open to a handful of security officials and experts, who are allowed in to check for things like the falling stones, the AP also reported.

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