France fells centuries-old oaks to rebuild the Notre-Dame Cathedral spire
Employees measure an oak tree selected to be used to rebuild the spire and the roof of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral destroyed by fire in 2019, in the Bercé forest in Jupilles, France, on March 8, 2021. © Stephane Mahe, Reuters

In a former royal forest, tree surgeons on Monday began felling centuries-old oak trees which will be used to rebuild the wooden-framed spire of Notre-Dame de Paris after it was destroyed by fire.

The lead-coated spire, which for more than 150 years had defined the central Paris sky line, was consumed by the blaze in April 2019, collapsing through the stone vaulted roof to the tears and gasps of distraught onlookers.

President Emmanuel Macron announced last summer that the 96-meter (315 ft) spire would be reconstructed as originally designed by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century, launching the hunt for the 1,000 oaks required to build the spire and the frame of the cathedral's transept.

"It's exceptional," Aymeric Albert, the forestry commission's commercial director, said of the sawn trunk of one-rod-straight 200-year-old oak. "It's perfectly straight and without any internal defects."

The trunk was large enough for an 18-metre long beam that will help support the weight of the spire, he said.

The trees that will be taken from the Domaine de Berce, near Le Mans, were identified at the beginning of the year and must all be chopped down before the end of March before the sap rises and the wood contains too much moisture.

The trunks, each of which are worth about 15,000 euros ($17,800), will be laid to dry for 12 to 18 months before being cut into shape.

The cathedral's original roof contained so many oak beams it was called "la foret" (the forest).

Albert said the selected trunks were the "perfect result" from two centuries of skilled work in a forest that previously supplied timber to the French navy.

"Now we'll leave room for a new generation of oaks which in 200 years will create the same forest we see today," he said.