Eight restoration scientists put on hard hats and heavy-duty boots and stepped inside the blackened shell of Notre Dame de Paris, the world’s most famous cathedral. Ten days earlier, a fire had swept through its attic, melted its roof, and sent its spire plunging like an arrow into the heart of the sacred space. Now, it was silent but for the flutter of house sparrows. The space, normally sweet with incense, was acrid with ash and stale smoke. Light beamed through voids in the vaulted stone ceiling, cutting through the gloom and illuminating piles of debris on the marble floor.
Yet the scientists, called in by France’s Ministry of Culture to inspect the damage and plan a rescue, mostly felt relief—and even hope.