The decorated French general in charge of the ambitious, big-budget restoration of fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Jean-Louis Georgelin, has died. He was 74.
President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute Saturday to one of France’s “greatest soldiers, greatest servants,” who “stone by stone, was restoring the wounded beauty” of Notre Dame. Before being pulled from retirement to oversee the cathedral reconstruction, Georgelin previously served as chief of France’s military general staff, overseeing operations in Afghanistan, the Balkans and beyond.
Citing the regional prosecutor, local news reports said Georgelin died while hiking in the Pyrenees, likely in an accident. The mountain rescue service in the Ariege region said a body was found Friday near the village of Bordes-Uchentein.
Macron said in a statement that Georgelin died in the mountains, reflecting “a life always turned toward the summits.” The statement did not provide details.
‘A way to be faithful’
Born Aug. 30, 1948, Georgelin attended the prestigious Saint-Cyr military high school before serving in infantry and parachute regiments and in military intelligence. He studied at the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas — and went on to become personal military chief to late President Jacques Chirac — and then chief of staff of the French military from 2006-2010.
Soon after the 2019 fire that toppled the spire of Notre Dame and consumed its timber-and-lead roof, Macron named Georgelin to lead the restoration work. Artisans around France are using medieval materials and methods to rebuild the Gothic landmark.
“It is a way to be faithful to the (handiwork) of all the people who built all the extraordinary monuments in France,” Georgelin said earlier this year in an interview with The Associated Press.
‘Winning the battle of Notre Dame’
The spire is being hoisted atop the cathedral piece by piece this year, a development that Georgelin called “the symbol that we are winning the battle of Notre Dame.”
Macron lamented that “Gen. Georgelin will never see the reopening of Notre Dame with his own eyes,” but added that when it reopens on Dec. 8, 2024, “he will be present with us.”