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The story behind the towering Notre Dame spire and the 30-year-old architect commissioned to rebuild it

The statues floated across the sky like ghosts, headless as they hovered above Paris one by one on the morning of April 11. Bearing the likenesses of the 12 apostles and symbols of the four evangelists, they were dislodged from the base of the 90-meter-tall Notre Dame de Paris spire by crane, carefully lowered to the ground, and then placed in the bed of a truck.

Their removal was a “magical moment,” given that the statues had not been seen up close since the original architect put them there more than 150 years ago, Marie-Hélène Didier, a French official overseeing the restoration, told Agence France-Presse news agency. It was supposed to be part of a badly needed restoration project for the cathedral’s spire.

But now, after an inferno engulfed the famous cathedral Monday night, the statues’ removal seems more akin to a rescue mission. The 16 religious figures, which were whisked off to southwestern France, appear to be among the only surviving remnants of the famous cathedral’s renowned spire that, for decades, pierced the Paris skyline like an arrow — until it toppled to the ground Monday night.

“I’m completely nauseated,” Olivier Baumgartner, who was working on the spire restoration project, told the New Yorker on Monday.

The spire and the statues trace their roots to the mid-19th century work of a bold visionary who, at the age of 30, was commissioned to restore the cathedral and replace an old spire after years of neglect. The earlier spire had been removed from Notre Dame Cathedral between 1786 and 1791 after centuries of wind damage left it teetering on the brink of collapse.

Read entire article at Washington Post