5 years after fire ravaged Notre Dame, an American carpenter is helping rebuild Paris’ iconic cathedral


Paris — Five years have passed since the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris was engulfed in flames. The iconic spire and wooden roof were destroyed by the fire. People around the world were shocked by the scale of the fire and the damage it caused, but they continue to work to restore the iconic landmark to its former glory.

Among those involved in the monumental project is an American carpenter who had a rare opportunity to participate in this historic restoration project. In 2023, Hank Silver was running a small woodworking business in Massachusetts. Through a carpentry contact in France, he was asked if he wanted to join a team in Normandy preparing wood to rebuild the nave of Notre Dame.

“I couldn't say no to this opportunity,” Silver told CBS News. “It's a chance that happens – once in a lifetime wouldn't even be the right term, it's once in a millennium, really.”

Hank Silver, a carpenter from Massachusetts, works on roof trusses for the nave of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Courtesy of Hank Silver

The 41-year-old closed shop and headed to the west of France to join the carpentry team at Atelier Desmonts. All workers are experts in traditional construction methods.

“In our shop in Normandy, we received about 600 oak logs, and it was all freshly cut oak, which is how it was traditionally done. You work with green wood, unseasoned wood, which is what I'm used to doing in the US as well,” Silver said. “We first cut all the logs with axes in order to recreate that wavy finish that you could see in the original cathedral in the 13th century framing.”

There have been some unexpected challenges for Silver and his colleagues as they work to recreate, precisely, a church that has stood in the center of Paris for so many centuries.

Scientists turn to 3D technology to help restore Notre Dame


“The architects asked us to reproduce all the deformations accumulated over 800 years. So the ridge is not a straight line and so we had to follow this curvature, and the walls, although they were rebuilt by the pallets. They are not flat and straight. And this led to many complexities that the original carpenters of the 13th century would never have dealt with.”

Silver is one of a few dozen foreigners who have helped rebuild the cathedral, after craftsmen from several countries applied to be part of the historic project. The person in charge of the restoration, Philippe Jost, told CBS News that traditional carpenters, in particular, traveled to Paris from all over the world for the restoration.

“Many carpenters came from the United States, from England, from Denmark, from Spain, because they liked these techniques, lovers of oak,” Jost said, noting a “spirit of unity” among the craftsmen. “There is pride and humility”, he said, adding that all the workers at the site “have been marked for life”.

Hank Silver, a carpenter from Massachusetts, helps assemble the roof trusses in the nave of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Courtesy of Hank Silver

The whole ship was erected under a tent in Normandy before being dismantled and then shipped to Paris last August, where Silver was part of a smaller team that reassembled each of the trusses and then the installed in the nave of the cathedral.

Last December, the the needle rose again on the horizon of Paris, topped off with a recreation of the original gold cross and rooster. The rooster has several holy relics, including what is said to be a thorn from the crown of thorns that Jesus Christ wore on the cross.

The new rooster has something else, though. A second chamber was added, containing a scroll with the names of everyone who worked on the restoration of the cathedral, including Hank Silver.

“Isn't that great?!” he said, clearly pleased with the honor. “He's up there, protecting the city.”

The spire and rooster of Notre-Dame Cathedral return to the Paris skyline
The new golden rooster is seen atop the spire between the two towers of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral on February 13, 2024 in Paris, France.


With his restoration work almost done, Silver said he would like to stay in France. He has a five-year residence permit that allows him to work in the country, but he has his sights set on citizenship and has taken advantage of the French president's visit to defend his case.

“I gave Emmanuel Macron a letter asking for French citizenship,” he told CBS News.

“He hasn't texted me every day, much to my disappointment. I haven't heard back from him,” Silver said.

Macron has promised that Notre Dame will reopen to the public on December 8 this year. But there is still much to do. Work continues on covering the new wooden insets of the deck and spire with sheet metal and lead, as they were before the fire.

The finishing touches are also being put to the new fire safety measures incorporated in the restoration, to protect the church from possible future damage.

The final phases will include the placement of specially designed furniture, including new chairs, inside the building. Jost said the cathedral would be ready for reopening, and says the restoration is not only on schedule, but on budget. Donations have played an important role in funding the massive restoration project. Of the $900 million raised, American donors, large and small, contributed a total of $32 million. “Americans have always been fond of French heritage,” says Jost. “I'm very grateful; we're all very grateful to American donors.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *