Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was unable to hold Christmas Eve Mass for the first time in more than 200 years — after a fire ravaged its structure in April.
With heavy hearts, French Catholics instead gathered at the nearby church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, a few hundred metres away, for a service celebrated by the cathedral’s rector Patrick Chauvet.
“It isn’t the same feeling but it’s still a Christmas Mass,” said 16-year-old Juliette, who had made the 700-kilometre trip from Aix with her family. “There will be a thought for Notre-Dame tonight, that’s for sure.”
“We have been crying since April 15, and today even more,” said Danielle, a Parisian, who attended last year’s mass at the Paris landmark. However, she was lifted by the choir of Notre-Dame, who performed at the mass.
Meanwhile, workers continue to repair and rebuild the cherished cathedral.
Notre-Dame, part of a UNESCO world heritage site on the banks of the River Seine lost its gothic spire, roof and many precious artifacts in the fire, which was watched by huge crowds.
The building had remained open for Christmas through two centuries of often tumultuous history — including the Nazi occupation in World War II — being forced to close only during the anti-Catholic revolutionary period in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
President Emmanuel Macron has set a timetable of five years to completely repair the eight-centuries-old structure, which remains shrouded in scaffolding with a vast crane looming over it.
Paris prosecutors suspect criminal negligence and opened an investigation in June, suggesting a stray cigarette butt or an electrical fault could be the culprit.
The culture ministry said in October that nearly one billion euros ($1.1 billion) had been pledged or raised for the reconstruction.
Chinese experts will participate in the restoration of France’s Notre-Dame cathedral, state media reported on Wednesday, following a meeting between the two countries’ heads of state in Beijing.
The 850-year-old cathedral, which was scarred in April after a fire tore through its roof and toppled its spire, was the most visited historic monument in Europe.
Since the blaze, which took 400 firefighters to control, Chinese and French authorities have been in touch about cooperating on restoration efforts, reported official news agency Xinhua.
“China has a great deal of experience in renovating ancient buildings affected by fire, especially ones made of wood,” said Chai Xiaoming, director of the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage, in an interview with state-run China Daily.
“This means we could offer suggestions on how to approach the renovation of the oak-framed roof on Notre Dame Cathedral,” he said.
Citing a document signed by the two countries during President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Beijing, Xinhua said Chinese experts will work with French teams in on-site restoration without elaborating.
“China and France will collaborate on the theme and model and select Chinese expert candidates for the cooperative restoration work in 2020,” it said.
The partial destruction of Notre-Dame sparked an outpouring of condolences around the world earlier this year, with Chinese President Xi Jinping calling the cathedral “an outstanding treasure of human civilisation.”
Though its stained glass windows, towers, bells and most artworks and relics survived, reconstruction work to rebuild the 13th-century cathedral will take years.
It is only at the end of 2020 that a complete check will allow architects to work out how to restore the cathedral — and no reconstruction is expected to start before 2021.
In addition to Notre-Dame, the agreement signed on Wednesday will also see France and China collaborate on protecting China’s famous terracotta warriors in Xi’an, northern Shaanxi province, reported Xinhua.
The Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris hosted its first mass on Saturday exactly two months after a devastating blaze that shocked the world, with priests and worshippers wearing hard hats to protect themselves against possible falling debris.
Dressed in a white robe and helmet, Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit led the service, which was attended by just some 30 people — half of them clergy.
The mass started at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) in the Chapel of the Virgin on the east side of the cathedral, confirmed to be safe. It was broadcast live on Catholic TV channel KTO.
Aupetit was joined by the rector of Notre-Dame, Patrick Chauvet, other clergy, volunteers, people working on the restoration as well a handful of lay worshippers.
The date was chosen as it is the anniversary of the consecration of the cathedral’s altar, which is celebrated every year on June 16.
The date is “highly significant, spiritually,” Chauvet told AFP, adding he was happy to be able to show that “Notre-Dame is truly alive”.
President Emmanuel Macron has set an ambitious target of five years for restoring Notre-Dame, which was gutted by a fire on April 15 that felled its steeple and consumed the lattice of beams supporting the roof.
The diocese is awaiting a response from the French authorities over whether it can re-open the esplanade in front of the cathedral to the public.
If the authorities approve the plan, the idea is to celebrate evening prayers there, the diocese said.
The church has also floated the idea of erecting a temporary structure in front of the cathedral to welcome worshippers while the building is being repaired.
Up to 150 workers have been working at the cathedral daily since the fire, continuing to remove debris and stabilise the structure.
Two large white canopies have been placed above the nave and the choir to ensure the edifice is protected, including from the rain.
Macron’s call for an “inventive” rather than identical reconstruction of the steeple has left some architects up in arms.
Meanwhile, legislation over the reconstruction has been blocked in parliament over disagreements between the upper and lower houses and is now only expected to be adopted at the end of July.
Pledges of some 850 million euros ($960 million) had been made from prominent French businessmen and ordinary citizens but only around 10 percent of that has been donated so far.
France Info public radio said just 80 million euros had been handed over, with businessmen giving the money in tranches and some private individuals renouncing their pledges due to the apparent success of the campaign.
The International Olympic Committee on Thursday pledged 500,000 euros $562,0000 to help ensure Notre Dame is restored in time for the 2024 Paris Games.
“The aim of completing the reconstruction in time for Paris 2024 will be an extra motivation for all of us,” IOC president Thomas Bach told 2024 Games chief Thomas Estanguet in a letter.
“All the Olympic movement and in particular the IOC have been extremely touched by the instantaneous connection the French have made between Notre Dame Cathedral and the Paris 2024 Olympic Games,” he wrote.
Disney, which scored millions with the 1996 animated blockbuster “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” said Wednesday it would give $5 million to restore the fire-damaged Paris cathedral.
“Notre-Dame is a beacon of hope and beauty that has defined the heart of Paris and the soul of France for centuries, inspiring awe and reverence for its art and architecture and for its enduring place in human history,” said Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger in a statement.
“The Walt Disney Company stands with our friends and neighbours in the community, offering our heartfelt support as well as a $5 million donation for the restoration of this irreplaceable masterpiece.”
Disney’s connection to the storied cathedral includes its 1996 animated hit “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” based on the Victor Hugo novel. The film, with animated incarnations of Quasimodo, Esmeralda and Frollo, sold an estimated $325 million in tickets worldwide.
The company also manages Disneyland Paris, a 5,510-acre theme park about 20 miles (32 kilometres) east of the French capital.
The Disney donation is among the first major contributions from a US entity following Monday’s blaze, which gutted the grand Paris landmark, destroying the roof, causing the steeple to collapse and leaving France reeling with shock.
Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook announced the tech giant would give an unspecified amount, while Henry Kravis, co-founder of investment fund KKR and his wife Marie-Josée Kravis, said they would give $10 million to the project.
The University of Notre Dame in Indiana has also promised $100,000.
Billionaire Bernard Arnault and his LVMH luxury conglomerate, Total oil company and cosmetics giant L’Oreal also each pledged 100 million euros ($113 million).
However, the slew of announcements from French giants raised eyebrows in France, with some politicians on the left arguing that the ultra-rich could best help protect the country’s cultural heritage by fully paying their taxes — or helping the “human cathedral” of people in need.
France will invite architects from around the world to submit designs for rebuilding the spire of Notre-Dame cathedral that was destroyed in a devastating blaze, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Wednesday.
The goal is “to give Notre-Dame a new spire that is adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era,” Philippe said at a press conference in Paris.
Pledges from French billionaires, businesses and the public sector to help rebuild Notre-Dame cathedral reached some 700 million euros (790 million dollars) on Tuesday amid an outpouring of public support for one of Europe’s most iconic monuments.
President Emmanuel Macron has vowed the mediaeval monument will be restored after its spire and roof collapsed Monday night in a spectacular blaze thought to be linked to extensive renovation work.
French luxury group Kering, whose brands include Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, kicked off the campaign late Monday with a promise of 100 million euros ($113 million).
It was followed Tuesday by a 200-million-euro pledge from Kering’s rival luxury conglomerate LVMH and the family of its founder Bernard Arnault, France’s richest person.
The L’Oreal cosmetics group and its founding Bettencourt family offered 200 million euros, while French oil giant Total said it would contribute 100 million euros.
Several other business executives and blue-chip French firms also said they would contribute, some announcing pledges of five, 10 or 20 million euros.
Air France said it would offer free flights to experts brought in to help with Notre-Dame’s renovation, while glass giant Saint-Gobain promised its expertise in restoring the stained-glass windows which exploded in the fire.
– Oak beams offered – Support came from outside France as well, with Apple chief Tim Cook announcing the tech giant would give an unspecified amount to help restore a “precious heritage for future generations.”
Some gripes emerged on social media over the huge fiscal deductions companies in both France and the US would be eligible for, with commentators saying taxpayers would be footing much of the final bill.
But pledges were also pouring in from anonymous donors to groups including the privately run French Heritage Foundation, which said it had secured more than 13 million euros in pledges.
On a more modest scale, a fund set up on the Leetchi fundraising platform had reached nearly 29,000 euros by Tuesday afternoon.
France 2 television said it will broadcast a special classical music concert Wednesday night as part of the fundraising effort.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith also called on French Muslims to help save “an architectural masterpiece that is the honour of our country”.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the city would unlock 50 million euros, while the government of the greater Paris region promised 10 million.
And French insurer Groupama said it would supply the estimated 1,300 huge oak beams needed to re-create the intricate roof support.
The German and Italian governments have also offered to help in the reconstruction, while Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to send “the best Russian specialists with rich experience in the restoration of national heritage monuments.”
– Done in years? – In total, around 700 million euros has been pledged for the painstaking renovation work that is likely to take years, if not decades, though experts breathed sighs of relief that the damage was not even worse.
The steeple of the Gothic edifice had been undergoing an 11-million-euro ($12.4-million) overhaul financed by the French state to repair damage inflicted by time, pollution and the weather.
The cathedral has long relied on individual donations for repairs, and a few years ago created a US-registered charity enabling American voters to deduct gifts from their taxes.
The New York-based French Heritage Society said it had also set up a fund for tax-deductible donations for Notre-Dame in the wake of the fire.
Investigators were working Tuesday to identify the source of a massive blaze that devastated the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, as church officials inspected the damage from a disaster that has sent shockwaves through France and the world.
Donations and offers of help began to pour in on Tuesday as day broke over the City of Light, revealing the extent of the damage from Monday night’s inferno which took around 15 hours to extinguish.
“All night long I saw men going past with tears in their eyes. I described it this way: It was total chaos, but we can’t let it knock us down,” said Philippe Marsset, the vicar general of Notre-Dame.
French President Emmanuel Macron had also struck a defiant tone on Monday night as he visited the scene with his wife Brigitte, telling reporters: “We will rebuild Notre-Dame because it is what the French expect.”
Around 400 firefighters battled through the night to control the flames, declaring only at around 10 am on Tuesday that it had finally been extinguished.
“Now we’re in the phase of investigating,” fire service spokesman Gabriel Plus told reporters.
A public appeal for funds was launched by the privately run French Heritage Foundation to help restore a “symbol of French history and culture”.
French billionaire Bernard Arnault announced Tuesday that he and the LVMH luxury conglomerate he controls would give 200 million euros ($226 million), after luxury rival Kering offered 100 million euros.
“We have everything to be able to rebuild it in exactly the same way,” Culture Minister Franck Riester told France Inter radio, adding that the government was looking at ways to encourage donations.
Thousands of Parisians and tourists had watched in horror from nearby streets as flames engulfed the building and officials tried to save as much as they could of the cathedral’s countless treasures, built up over centuries.
The inferno destroyed two-thirds of the roof of the 850-year-old UNESCO world heritage landmark, whose spectacular Gothic spire collapsed as orange flames and clouds of grey smoke billowed into the evening sky.
Attention was expected to turn to the source of the fire, which occurred during renovation work to overhaul the spire that had suffered the damage inflicted by weather and pollution.
Investigators began interviewing witnesses overnight and are treating the case as an “involuntary fire”, not arson.
Firefighters have said the renovation work could be to blame, and the fire started in an area of the roof that was below scaffolding.
One firefighter suffered injuries during the blaze, which at one point threatened to bring down one of the two monumental towers on the western facade of the cathedral that is visited by more than 12 million tourists each year.
Late on Monday night, to the relief of the nation, Paris fire brigade chief Jean-Claude Gallet had declared that “we can consider that the main structure of Notre-Dame has been saved and preserved,” as well as the two bell towers.
But culture minister Riester warned that the structure remained unstable and that no one had yet been able to fully inspect the extent of the fire and water damage inside.
“We’ll have to wait for a while to do a full inventory,” he said, adding that the organ appeared to have been “badly damaged” as had many paintings and frescos.
The Holy Crown of Thorns and a sacred tunic worn by 13th-century French king Louis, two irreplaceable artifacts, had been rescued along with the church’s main crucifix and placed with others at the Paris town hall.
‘France is Notre Dame’
The sense of shock at the damage was palpable in France and stirred reactions from governments across the world.
“Notre-Dame survived all the wars, all the bombardments. We never thought it could burn. I feel incredibly sad and empty,” said Stephane Seigneurie, a consultant, as he watched the fire from a nearby bridge.
Gasps and cries of “Oh my god” erupted around an hour after the fire first broke out when the top portion of the church’s spire came crashing down.
Historians expressed dismay at the collapse of a building that has been a symbol of France for almost a millennium.
“If Paris is the Eiffel Tower then France is Notre Dame. It’s the entire culture, the entire history of France incarnated in this monument,” Bernard Lecomte, a writer and specialist in religious history told BFM TV.
The cathedral has figured as a central character through the ups and downs of French history since construction began in the mid-12th century.
During the French Revolution in the 18th century, it was vandalised and plundered but would go on to feature as a central character in a Victor Hugo novel published in 1831, “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” which is credited with helping save it.
It survived the devastation of two global conflicts in the 20th century and famously rang its bells on August 24, 1944, the day of the Liberation of Paris from German occupation at the end of the World War II.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Notre-Dame cathedral a “symbol of European culture” as the blaze raged.
The Vatican expressed its “incredulity” and “sadness” over the fire.
Pledges to donate millions of euros in cash and materials poured in Tuesday in the aftermath of a massive fire at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, which firefighters were still fighting to extinguish more than 12 hours after it started.
President Emmanuel Macron has vowed the emblematic church will be rebuilt after its spire and roof collapsed Monday night in a blaze thought to be linked to extensive renovation work.
French billionaire Bernard Arnault announced Tuesday that he and the LVMH luxury conglomerate he controls would give 200 million euros ($226 million) for the reconstruction efforts.
The pledge came after Arnault’s crosstown rival Kering, the fashion group founded by fellow billionaire Francois Pinault, offered 100 million euros to help “completely rebuild Notre-Dame”.
The privately run French Heritage Foundation has already launched a call for donations to help restore a “symbol of French history and culture.”
Valerie Pecresse, president of the Ile-de-France region comprising the greater Paris region, said it would provide 10 million euros.
And the head of a French lumber company told FranceInfo radio that it was ready to offer the best oak beams available to rebuild the intricate lattice that supported the now-destroyed roof, known as the “Forest”.
“The work will surely take years, decades even, but it will require thousands of cubic metres of wood. We’ll have to find the best specimens, with large diameters,” Sylvain Charlois of the Charlois group in Murlin, central France, told the radio.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo on Tuesday proposed organising an international donor conference to coordinate the pledges to restore the gothic architectural masterpiece.
The United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO has also promised to stand “at France’s side” to restore the site, which it declared a world heritage site in 1991.
Tragedy struck on Monday in France as a fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on Monday evening, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky.
The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year.
Although the fire service said the blaze could be “potentially linked” to ongoing renovations, a spokesman for the cathedral, however, stated that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze.
Following the inferno, President Emmanuel Macron was forced to cancel a major televised policy speech he was due to give later in the evening.
Reacting to the development, US President Donald Trump in a tweet said: “So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!”
Many French citizens were still reeling in shock as they watched in disbelief the building consumed by the flames.