Notre-Dame Cathedral’s iconic spire was the work of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, architect of the restoration of the cathedral in the 19th century. Culminating at 96 meters in height, it was an architectural feat in its time. The spire was destroyed in the tragic fire on April 15, 2019. Fortunately, the statues of the Apostles adorning the spire escaped the 2019 fire.
Viollet-le-Duc’s spire was not Notre-Dame Cathedral’s original spire, however. A first spire was built above the crossing of the transept around 1250. During the 17th century, it was used as a bell tower which housed five bells. This spire was dismantled between 1786 and 1792 because it had fallen into disrepair and posed a risk to passersby below.
During the major restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral in the 19th century, Viollet-le-Duc decided to install a second spire who function was purely ornamental. An octagonal base resting on the four pillars of the transept carried the frame, independent of the spire. In 1860, the architect commissioned the carpenter Bellu to carry out the work. The model was very different from the previous spire. It was made up of 500 tons of wood, covered with 250 tons of lead and rose to 96 meters above the ground. Ravaged by the 2019 fire, the spire collapsed in flames.
The spire was decorated with copper statues representing the twelve apostles and symbols of the four evangelists. Saint Thomas, the patron saint of architects and builders is represented with the features of Viollet-le-Duc himself. With his face turned to the sky, he seems to be contemplating his work. He holds in his right hand a ruler on which he signs his work. An iron plate screwed to the base of the pillar bears the Masonic symbols: the square and the crossed compass. The rooster sculpture, the symbol of France, was located at the top of the spire, and adorned with three relics: a piece of the Crown of Thorns, a relic of Saint Denis and Saint Geneviève. In 2019, restoration work was underway to repair the spire. The statues were taken down to be restored, as the copper had oxidized, giving them a green-grey color. Luckily, they escaped the flames of the fire and have been restored thanks to the generosity of French and American donors.