PARIS - A year after a fire that shocked the world and destroyed the roof of Paris’ ancient cathedral of Notre Dame, France is marking the first anniversary amid the coronavirus pandemic. Workers who were removing lead contamination ahead of reconstruction were sent home as part of efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
It has been a year since the iconic towers of Notre Dame were engulfed in flames and smoke, its ceiling collapsing and leaving the ancient building weakened.
It has also been a year since French President Emmanuel Macron promised to rebuild the Paris landmark quickly.
In an address last year, Macron said French people are made of builders and that Notre Dame would be rebuilt even more beautifully, within five years. He assured the French it could be done.
A year later, Parisians, tourists and Christian pilgrims are still mourning the loss of one of France's best-loved monuments, which attracted 12 million visitors in 2018.
Cedric Burgun is priest and a vice dean at the Paris Catholic Institute. He remembers the dramatic scene a year ago.
He said the memories of the fire are still vivid when walking around Notre Dame. He sees many people next to the building to see it or pray outside to remember that shocking event for French people.
The scaffolding is still visible from outside the building. It was present on the building prior to the April 15th fire due to restoration work – the heat of the blaze welded it together.
There are an estimated 551 tons of metal are still on top of the cathedral.
The issue has become an important hazmat concern after last spring’s huge fire which released thousands of kilograms of toxic lead dust into the atmosphere.
Decontamination efforts took months to make sure the neighborhood around Notre-Dame was safe and workers have to wear protective equipment to operate on the site.
Lately, the site has been silent. The removal of the melted scaffolding on the cathedral’s roof – originally scheduled to begin March 23 - cannot take place under the country’s coronavirus measures.
Father Benoist de Sinety, oversees the constructions efforts for the Paris diocese.
He explains to VOA that the work is ongoing to conceive the cathedral’s future and what will happen around the building during the reconstruction to welcome visitors, pilgrims.
No sooner had firefighters extinguished the flames when pledges of donations for restoration poured in. French authorities say that by November, donors had pledged more than $1 billion.
The Fondation Notre-Dame already spent nearly $23 million on efforts to secure the building. Christophe Rousselot is the delegate general of the institution.
He explains to VOA these are large amounts of money but they are a necessity to ensure the building does not collapse.
According to him there is no way currently to build a frame and put a roof on top of it without being absolutely sure of that the building is solid
There is a debate on the types of materials that will be used to rebuild the 900-year-old structure.
Christophe Rousselot said it is more than likely that a spire will be built but its shape remains unclear. In his view, architects will not go crazy. New materials will be used for a modern cathedral, he said, in a sense that it will stand better against potential fires, which is good news, he thinks.
To mark the first anniversary, the clergy planned a small religious ceremony with only seven people inside the damaged cathedral.
The Archbishop of Paris was to display the relic of Christ’s crown of thorns for veneration during a Good Friday broadcast.
However, the bells were to remain silent on Easter Monday.
An earlier version of this report misstated Christophe Rousselot's title. VOA regrets the error.