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Structure declared sound, but WVU art historian mourns losses from catastrophic Notre Dame fire

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In tears, Dr. Janet Snyder expressed her hope that Notre Dame cathedral would one day be restored.

“It belongs to everyone,” she said Tuesday on MetroNews “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval. “It belongs to everyone. It’s part of our heritage. Our care of a building like that makes us human, and we need to pay attention to it.”

Snyder, a WVU professor and expert on 12th century stone sculpture, said the 550-year-old structure — 856 years since groundbreaking — suffered significant damage, though noted that some key aspects were saved by hundreds of French first responders.

“The limestone might be damaged by the heat,” she said. “It chemically changes when it is exposed to heat.”

That limestone, Snyder said, comes from the quarries below Paris itself — essentially a “luxury” limestone with no inclusions or shells.

“It’s kind of the best that could be used,” she said. “They just have to find out the condition of the stones.”

Officials told media across the world Tuesday afternoon that 50 investigators are attempting to determine the cause of the fire, currently being treated as an accident. They also reported that the structure of the building is sound.

“When that wonderful spire fell — and the spire was replaced by the French architect (Eugène) Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century — that burned because it was made from led and wood and it fell through the vault,” Snyder said. “That’s why we could see the fire above the vault even during the fire.”

The fire ripped through the cathedral Monday evening, destroying its roof, the spire, and leaving holes in its vaulted ceiling.

“When I saw it yesterday, I was devastated,” Snyder said. “I was in tears because the windows are held up by the stone. So, I thought the rose windows are gone, because once they fall out the glass is so susceptible to damage and the lead, but apparently this morning they are saying that three rose windows did not fall out.”

Snyder was also relieved to see that early photos from inside the cathedral have shown the pulpit, made of wood, appears to have survived — as did the Crown of Thorns.

“Some of the things that I was sure was gone forever may still be there,” Snyder said.

French President Emmanuel Macron vowed an immediate effort to begin a rebuilding and restoration process.

“We will rebuild Notre-Dame,” he said, “because that is what the French expect.”

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