Notre Dame Faces a Dangerous “Game” of Pick-Up Sticks

Can you imagine a giant game of pick-up sticks with 50,000 tubes of steel scaffolding? Notre Dame workers still face a difficult and dangerous challenge to stabilize the 800 year-old cathedral.

After this short update, there’s a children’s “stained glass” art project to remind us what an important legacy Gothic churches have given us.

On April 26, 2019, we watched in horror, as Notre Dame’s spire leaned, then crashed, all against a wall of flame that heavily damaged the roof.

Notre Dame crossing before the fire, author photo

What is perhaps worse, and not that well-known, is that the intense heat of the fire also melted and welded together scaffolding that had been erected over Notre Dame’s crossing and spire in order to do planned restoration of the spire.

This twisted mass of steel scaffolding still sits over the crossing.  (the “crossing” is where the transepts “cross” the nave, giving most Gothic cathedrals the shape of a cross)

In this photo taken in the fall of 2018, you can see the beginnings of the scaffolding going up around the crossing. It eventually enclosed the crossing and the spire.

That old scaffolding weighs a whopping 250 tons, and  threatens the vaults or arches that held up the roof and, therefore, the stability of the entire cathedral.

So before any restoration begins, the old scaffolding must be removed.

Here’s a link to The Art Newspaper with recent pictures

Here’s the strategy to remove the twisted maze of steel:

  •      Wrap 3 bands of steel around the whole cathedral to help stabilize it.
  •      Erect cranes and new scaffolding above the crossing so workers can be lowered into the mass of melted tubing. Like in a game of pick-up sticks, they must analyze each section before they remove it, to prevent large sections of the old scaffolding falling. If that happens, workers don’t just lose a turn—the cathedral could suffer irreparable damage.

Here’s the good news:

  •      In the photos you can see that, thanks to the early heroic work of firefighters and the continuing work of many others, Notre Dame still stands.
  •      Its flying buttresses were saved, along with its priceless and stunning stained glass windows.


And here’s a “stained glass” art project for children to do as we watch and pray for those workers who will risk great danger in the ongoing effort to save Notre Dame.  (this is a project for older elementary children or for younger ones with help with cutting)


  • Sketchbook or paper for exploring ideas and making patterns
  • Black construction or cardstock paper
  • Pencil, colored pencils, ruler, scissors, glue
  • Colored tissue paper
  • Waxed paper (waxed paper keeps your project from sticking to things as you work)


Tips: It’s hard to see pencil on the black paper, so use a light colored pencil, such as yellow. Make all pencil marks on one side only of your black paper. It will be the back of the stained glass design.

1. Experiment with designs in a sketch book or on white paper

2. Draw a one-inch frame around the black paper



3. Cut a piece of white paper to fit the inner square, then fold the paper and draw and cut out a heart. The heart must touch the outer frame in several places.



4. Draw your design, then refold your heart and cut out the sections that will be in color.5. Place the white heart pattern over the center black square and trace around the cut out sections.6. Remove and make any needed adjustments. (I found that my spaces weren’t large enough, so I enlarged these. As long as your marks are on the back, they won’t show in the end.7. Cut out the black shapes that will be covered with colored tissue paper.  Keep your cut out shapes as patterns for cutting the tissue paper.8. Choose your color scheme (this was hard for me. I wanted to use all the colors I had, But this can lead to a design that is too busy! So after some sketches, I chose warm colors with some repetition here and there, but you might choose cool colors, like the blues with just a little red in this window from Sainte Chapelle. Or…

Sainte Chapelle, Paris, author photo


York Minster, author photo

choose primary colors as in this  window from York Minster.



    9.For each color, trace around the black cut out shapes, leaving a half inch margin for gluing.





Before gluing, place your black paper face down on a sheet of waxed paper. If the wax paper gets too gluey, replace it so glue doesn’t get on the front of your project.

10. On the back of your black paper, spread a thin line of glue and carefully place your tissue paper shape over the opening. It takes a light touch with the tissue paper and just a little glue (I rubbed the line of glue into a thin, smooth layer before applying the tissue paper)

11. Continue this process until all the empty places are covered with tissue paper and let dry.

Molly says, “Voila!” French for “There you are!” (she’s using French because they built the first Gothic cathedrals)






Now you have a stained glass design you can use for a card or display in a window so the sunlight can bring in that beautiful light that Abbot Suger of Saint Denis called, “somewhere between heaven and earth” that still fills Gothic cathedrals today! And we hope will someday again fill Notre Dame!

What are your thoughts about the challenges ahead for Notre Dame?


Sign up to receive my posts! The next few will explore the beauty and history of another great Gothic cathedral and provide some lessons to help teachers and children explore the history and architecture of these great churches, which are a testimonial to the Christian faith of those who built them long ago.





4 thoughts on “Notre Dame Faces a Dangerous “Game” of Pick-Up Sticks

  1. Becky Van Vleet

    Thank you, Kathy, for this update about Notre Dame. So much going on with it. I love the picture of Molly! And thanks for sharing the art project for kids!


  2. Jeanne Takenaka

    Kathy, though I had heard about the fire, I didn’t know about the scaffolding. As I read what you shared, I kept thinking about how we sometimes allow wrong thinking to weld to our understanding about God and ourselves. It takes such delicate work on God’s part to reveal that “old scaffolding” and to remove it without destroying us.

    I’ll be praying for the workers as they undertake this huge endeavor.



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