Decades of neglect threatened Notre Dame, well before it burned

The flying buttresses that sustain its massive limestone walls were weakening. The spire, a fixture on the Paris skyline for nearly two centuries, was taking on water and rotting from the inside out.

Now investigators are looking into whether a project to renovate and reinforce Notre Dame somehow led to the blaze, questioning those who were at the site in the hours before it broke out. André Finot, a spokesman for the cathedral, said workers were inside the forest that day, reinforcing the framing so they could finish erecting a massive scaffold on top of it…

In 1905, France passed a law that made all churches built before that year government property. State ownership of churches became increasingly burdensome as the government grew cash-strapped in more recent decades. Meanwhile, church attendance was falling.

“It’s a fact of life that many of these churches are in need of upkeep,” said David Sheppe, president of American Friends for the Preservation of Saint Germain des Prés, the city’s oldest church. “Passing the plate around, it may cover operational costs. It does not cover maintenance.”