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The French General Behind Notre-Dame Restoration Has Died

The late General Jean-Louis Georgelin has been instrumental in delivering the project which will see timber from 1500 French Oak trees constructed using the same techniques as the Middle Ages.


Mon 21 Aug 23

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French President’s hand appointed Emmanuel Macron general responsible for overseeing the reconstruction of the Notre-Dame Cathedral, passed away hiking in the Pyrénées.

Mountain gendarmes discovered the body of Jean-Louis Georgelin, 74, after failing to return to a mountain refuge on Friday.

The Guardian reports that he fell on Mount Valier, near the Faustin pass in the Ariège, southwest France, at 2,650 metres.

General Jean-Louis Georgelin’s death was reported by French media and confirmed by President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday (Australian time).

General Georgelin was a graduate of France’s elite Saint-Cyr military academy. 

After training at the US Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he served in Algeria, Lebanon and Bosnia. He oversaw French military operations in Ivory Coast and Afghanistan.

Following a decorated career on the front line, he served as military chief of staff and special adviser to the then-French president Jacques Chirac from 2002–06.

A practising Catholic, he was nominated to take charge of the restoration of Notre-Dame, which was damaged in April 2019. 

Wood Central has extensively covered the cathedral rebuild, constructed from French Oak beams.

In an interview with the BBC in April 2023, Jean-Louise Georgelin was “committed to the entire world that we would have our cathedral completed within five years.”

“Our reputation is on the line. We must pool all our knowledge, efforts, and savoir-faire to reach this objective,” the late General said.

“We want to restore this cathedral as it was built in the Middle Ages,” he said.

“It is a way to be faithful to the [handiwork] of all the people who built all the extraordinary monuments in France.”

In the aftermath of the fire, Macron made what many saw as an overly optimistic pledge to rebuild the cathedral in five years.

The late General, far right.

At the time, the late General said, “Choosing a Catholic for such a mission is not abnormal.”

“My role is to return the cathedral to the Catholic religion in the best possible conditions.”

People of “all persuasions” in France had wept to see the Paris landmark burn, he said.

The General took a military approach to the job, designating himself as chief of operations of a Notre-Dame “taskforce” and reportedly adopting the motto: “Advance without procrastination”.

Footage courtesy of @UKDocumentary.

He was known as a plain speaker. 

In 2019, the government rebuked Georgelin after he told the Notre-Dame reconstruction’s chief architect, Philippe Villeneuve, to “shut his mouth” in a dispute over whether to replace the spire with a replica or a modern alternative.

Last month, Wood Central reported on delivering massive trusses, which made their way along the Seine in two big barges. 

Over the next two months, the pieces will be fitted-together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

The reconstruction of the wooden structure, historically known as la forêt (the forest) because of its size and density, marks a symbolic step in the rebirth of the cathedral, one of Paris’s emblematic landmarks.

The project used 1500 oak trees; the spire base – weighing over 80 tonnes – was hoisted and installed in the Cathedral in May. 

The 96-metre-high spire, added in 1859 by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, is being reconstructed as it was.

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  • Wood Central

    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.

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