Chief of Notre Dame remodeling found dead
French General Jean-Louis Georgelin, director of the restoration of Paris’ fire-damaged Notre Dame cathedral, has been found dead near a mountain pass in southeastern France, the Foix public prosecutor’s office confirmed on Saturday, noting that the death was being treated as an accident.
The 74-year-old’s body was discovered by mountain gendarmes in the Pyrenees after he did not return from a solo hike on Friday. He reportedly fell on Mount Valier, located near the Faustin pass in Ariege at a height of 2,650 meters (8,694 feet).
Georgelin served as the personal military adviser to former President Jacques Chirac from 2002 to 2006 and as chief of staff for the French military from 2006 to 2010. During that time, he led operations in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Balkans.
Following the devastating April 2019 fire that destroyed Notre Dame’s iconic spire, Georgelin was appointed to oversee the reconstruction of the 12th century cathedral, taking a military approach to the project with his adopted title as chief of operations of the reconstruction “taskforce.”
While some felt the five-year rebuilding timeline set by President Emmanuel Macron was too ambitious, Georgelin – whose motto was reportedly “move forward without procrastinating” – took the deadline seriously, telling the BBC in April that “our reputation is at stake.”
He appears to have risen to the challenge, as the medieval landmark was on schedule to reopen for mass in December 2024 as of April. The tight deadline was reportedly meant to give visitors to Paris for the 2024 Olympics the opportunity to view the cathedral.
Macron tweeted a tribute to the five-star general on Saturday, declaring France had lost “one of its greatest servants” and “the overseer of its renaissance.”
Georgelin’s deputy director on the Notre Dame task force, Philippe Jost, confirmed that his death had been accidental but did not elaborate, merely redirecting attention to the project: “In our grief, we are tackling this task with a determination that is stronger than ever.”
No definitive cause was ever agreed upon for the shocking fire that destroyed Notre Dame’s iconic spire, though investigators reportedly believe it was either due to an electrical short-circuit or a discarded cigarette despite the building standing unmolested for centuries.
While Macron initially wanted to rebuild the spire with a “contemporary architectural gesture,” that idea was quickly abandoned after public outcry. “We are rebuilding Notre Dame identically,” Georgelin told Le Monde in April, while noting that the reconstructed building would truly be a “21st-century cathedral” with “cutting-edge” fire prevention technology, including thermal cameras, misting systems, and fire-resistant doors.