PARIS – Two months after being devastated by fire, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris held its first Mass this Saturday in conditions still very precarious, which forced the 30 people attending the religious service to wear protective helmets because of the danger that the vault might collapse.
Under these unusual conditions, the ceremony began around 6:00 pm local time (1600 GMT) in the chapel of Our Lady behind the chorus, with a predominantly religious presence including the archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit.
Also attending the Mass were a team working on the restoration of the building and laity of the Parisian diocese – “few people because it’s very dangerous,” the ambassador in charge of the international mobilization for Notre Dame de Paris, Stanislas de Laboulaye, told Spanish media.
“Notre Dame Cathedral was born of the faith of our ancestors... and in particular of Christians’ love of Our Lady,” Archbishop Aupetit said in his sermon.
He recalled that Notre Dame is above all a place of worship where “there are no tourists” and that it “would come crashing down” without the divine presence.
Despite the celebration of its first post-disaster Mass, Notre Dame is far from recovery. There will be cleaning works of the cathedral and surrounding neighborhood due to contamination by lead that covered the roof and spire of Viollet-le-Duc which melted in the 800 degrees flames, whose origin is still unknown.
“Notre Dame de Paris is still in a fragile situation, especially in the vault that has not yet been secured, and can collapse,” said Culture Minister Franck Riester during an interview on Friday with France 2 network.
He also said that only 9 percent of the pledged donations – €80 million ($89.9 million) of the €850 million pledged – have been collected so far.
CONTROVERSIES AND DONATIONS
De Laboulaye expressed confidence that the process will have a “military pace” once the law that sets the legal framework for the cathedral’s restoration is approved by mid-July, with tax exemptions of up to 75 percent per 1,000 euros.
For now, the bulk of the money is French and American, but donations are coming from everywhere because Notre Dame is a “world symbol.”
De Laboulaye also said that not everything is money, as countries like Chile and Canada have offered wood, Vietnam their stone carvers and Columbia University (New York) its knowledge of the cathedral, which has 3D laser detailed maps of the monument.
CONSOLIDATION AND REMOVAL OF DEBRIS
The priority at the moment is the consolidation of the building’s structure with huge beams, which has forced the removal of the 19th century stained glass windows in order to accommodate them, while all residents around the building have been evacuated.
The flying buttresses have also been consolidated, a key feature in Gothic architecture and wooden structures have been laid to prevent them from leaning inwards and falling.
One of the biggest problems now, until the three gaping holes in the roof are repaired, is the wind, which is entering the cathedral threatening the precarious structure, explained De Laboulaye.
A plastic guard has been installed on top to protect the interior from rain and a gigantic net to prevent stones from falling on workers inside while removing debris with the help of robots.
At the end of the consolidation and debris extraction, the removal of the 250-ton scaffolding that enveloped the Viollet-le-Duc spire, with whose restoration “the problems began” and where the fire broke out. This operation will take four months.
A LONG PROCESS AND SOME MIRACLES
The precise method of reconstruction is yet to be decided but the Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites will be implemented since Notre Dame and the banks of the Seine are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Considerable weight will have to be put on the vault as it is necessary to keep the walls straight in the very complex Gothic architecture.
However, De Laboulaye added that the relics and treasure of Notre Dame, the statues, the altar, the great cross and the 14th century Virgin Mary were miraculously saved.
Even before the fire, the cathedral was in bad shape and two years ago investment needed to restore it was estimated at €50 million; now no one can even provide a figure.