Experts say rebuilding of Holy Name Cathedral offers hope for Notre Dame

CHICAGO — As French authorities pledge to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, places of worship standing in Chicago today offer proof that it's possible for icons to rise again.

An extensive fire tore through the roof of Holy Name Cathedral a decade ago, and the renowned church restoration experts at Daprato Rigali Studios were among the architects, craftsmen and construction experts who stepped up to help rebuild it.

Owner and designer Lisa Rigali said they watched in horror as the Notre Dame Cathedral burned.

“It reminded me a little bit of when I saw Holy Name Cathedral on fire, and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is burning down.’ I got really sad and nervous, and the next day I went in and I saw water damage – and this can be repaired,” Rigali said.

Rigali worked on the year-long restoration of Holy Name, and said there are parallels with the work that now must be done in Paris.

“From the top down, it had to be cleaned, it streaked a lot, the gold lead was streaked and it all had to be cleaned and brought back to its original beauty,” Rigali said.

She’s says she's hoping the same thing can be done at Notre Dame.

“I think with all the knowledge we have of this Cathedral, all the pictures that have been taken over the years," Rigali said. "I foresee this being something that can be rebuilt, and as close to replicated to how it was before.”

As fire made its way through the Notre Dame Cathedral, architects and engineers were nervously watching the stability of the structure.

Gloria Groom, Chair of European Art and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, is a celebrated scholar who has been appointed a Knight of the French Order of Arts and Letters. She said she was concerned with the treasures of art and faith housed inside.

“You’re always thinking of the things that are irreplaceable: lives and art," Greeom said. They can rebuild the structure – and they will – and that will be another symbol of the faith. It’s still an incredible loss, it’s almost impossible to put into words.”

It’s still unclear how much other damage was done to historically important items including paintings, sculptures, and stained glass windows, which often sustain damage from smoke and water. French officials say a relic of the Crown of Thorns, believed to have been worn by Jesus during the crucifixion, was saved from the fire.

Rigali said the extent of the damage will emerge in the coming weeks, but the Notre Dame Cathedral’s beloved rose windows are a huge concern because restoration is such a delicate and painstaking process

“The cement will fall out from holding the glass and lead together, so they’ll put new lead in these areas,” Rigali said.

Some estimate it could take between five and ten years to rebuild and restore the cathedral, but already hundred of millions of dollars are being raised for the effort.

Still, professor Groom says the damage already done will be felt by all of humanity.

“This is not only a place of God, but this is a place of history and culture and everything that that entails, and optimism, and faith,” Groom said.

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