Watch CBS News

Jean-Louis Georgelin, French general in charge of Notre Dame Cathedral restoration, dies at 74

Notre Dame restoration chief dies at 74
Retired French general in charge of Notre Dame Cathedral restoration dies at 74 00:25

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.

Jean-Louis Georgelin
Jean-Louis Georgelin, a former French general who was placed in charge of the restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, waits for the delivery by barge of the timber truss to the cathedral. July 11, 2023.  STEFANO RELLANDINI/AFP via Getty Images

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.

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.

The 300-foot 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.''

In July, Georgelin spoke to CBS News outside his team's workshops in Briey, in eastern France, where workers were holding a dress rehearsal to ensure all the carefully-carved components of the spire shaft fit together.

"It's a very emotional time, because the reconstruction of the spire is the key time phase of the reconstruction of the cathedral," Georgelin told CBS News at the time.

A look inside the restoration of Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral 02:37

The teams reconstructing the spire used the original 19th century plans by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. After drawing up 320 different versions for the new spire, they were finally ready to build one.
"It will be exactly the same as it was by Viollet-le-Duc," Georgelin told CBS News. "But we do that with the means of our time: We use computers... We have probably less genius, but more calculation, more certainty by using computers."  

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.''

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.