Interest in restoring St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans is getting a boost from Gayle Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans sports franchises. And to help that effort, she arranged for a collaborative meeting between cathedral architects in New Orleans and Paris.
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The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris may have been a beacon of hope for the world after its catastrophic fire, but it also serves as an inspiration for restoring other historic cathedrals around the world. One of those is St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, which is now in need of its own renovation.
collaboration between architects
During a recent meeting with the French ambassador, Gayle Benson expressed her desire to have access to the ongoing restoration project in Paris, with hopes of collaboration between the French and New Orleans architects. “I wanted to get our architects and designers to collaborate with the French people, and he said, okay,” Benson stated. Within a few weeks, two architects leading the St. Louis Cathedral project were touring Notre Dame, with the chief French architect as their guide. They shared ideas, looking for common solutions.
a lesson in preserving authenticity at st. Louis cathedral
New Orleans architects Andre Villere and Kevin Morris spent an entire day at Notre Dame and were impressed with the restoration work being done. Morris emphasized that their approach to the St. Louis Cathedral restoration is “not about designing or changing the design of the cathedral. It’s more about creating a preservation of the cathedral and restoring the authenticity that was there before.” With this approach, they hope to restore the original features of the cathedral.
the meeting of cathedral architects featured on tv
a decaying new orleans landmark
At a glance, the historic St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square in New Orleans is an impressive-looking structure. But there are problems throughout the aging building. Large sections of peeling paint appear near windows and corners of the interior. Decaying plaster occasionally falls from overhead. Termites have chewed through some of the giant timbers in the attic. And there is nearly a two-foot drop in elevation along the main aisle from the church’s sinking foundation.
a closer look inside st. louis cathedral
an amazing roadmap to restoring the cathedral
The French architects were guided in their project by a total three-dimensional laser scan and imaging of Notre Dame completed a few years before the fire. This technique allowed them to have exact dimensions and profiles of every centimeter of the cathedral. Villere stated that they like to would employ such a technique as well, “because we do not have exact dimensions, profiles, original drawings. We have nothing to document the portions of the church that are inaccessible.”
A lesson in restoring a cathedral
Surprises and discoveries
As the restoration work continued at Notre Dame, unexpected burials and artifacts were found beneath the floor. Gayle Benson was amazed and fascinated with the discovery of buried statues, stating “it’s amazing, it’s fascinating.” There are also burials beneath the floor of the New Orleans cathedral. And if the flooring needs to be removed during renovation, that work could expose the tombs of notable clergy and citizens who were buried beneath St. Louis Cathedral during its nearly 300-year history.
new exhibition opens at notre dame
Visitors must wait until at least December 2024 to be allowed inside the newly restored Notre Dame. However, a new exhibition opened underneath the construction site in March of this year. The exhibit, titled “Notre Dame de Paris: At the Heart of the Construction Site“, includes an impressive wooden model of the Cathedral. There are displays that show artifacts salvaged from the catastrophic 2019 fire and explanations of the detailed restoration now taking place.
fundraising for restoring st. louis cathedral
In Paris, donations poured in from around the world, raising nearly a billion dollars to cover all of the restoration work. In New Orleans, fundraising for the restoration of St. Louis Cathedral is just beginning. Gayle Benson emphasized the importance of preserving this historic monument, stating that “it’s over 200 years old and we just can’t lose that.”