PARIS (AP) – Two years after a fire in Paris’ most famous cathedral that shocked the world, French President Emmanuel Macron visited the construction site that Notre Dame has become on Thursday to show that, despite the Pandemic has not been forgotten.
Macron was flanked by ministers, architects and the retired French army general who oversaw the restoration of the 12th century monument. He followed the progress of the ambitious reconstruction project. He offered hope to the pandemic-weary French public that a completion date would come one day, if not the near future.
“We’re seeing a big job done in two years,” said Macron, recalling the “emotions” across France at the images of flames devouring Notre Dame on April 15, 2019. “We’ll also see what’s left to be done.”
Macron has promised that the cathedral will be rebuilt by 2024, but officials acknowledge that the work will not be fully completed by then. They cite factors like the COVID-19 pandemic that have slowed the pace of recovery. The fire also spread large amounts of toxic lead across Notre Dame and the surrounding area, making the clean-up work difficult, which was carried out before restoration work began.
The French President offered a “big thank you” and a message of determination to all workers mobilized to rebuild Notre Dame.
“We have to achieve our goals,” said Macron in three years.
Cranes and scaffolding from the massive project are affecting the French capital’s skyline, and rebuilding could take decades. Officials said this month the burned-out cathedral and its promenade could remain under construction for another 15 or 20 years. However, they promise that in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Paris, Notre Dame will at least be open to prayers and a “return to worship”.
“The goal … is to return to worshiping and visiting Notre Dame in 2024. That means that mass can be organized in the cathedral in 2024,” Jeremie Patrier-Leitus, spokeswoman for the restoration, told The Associated Press.
Patrier-Leitus wants the world to know that “Notre Dame is holding. It’s still there. We are all gathered and mobilized to restore the cathedral and return this jewel of French Gothic to the world. “
It remains to be seen whether by then the cathedral will be in shape to welcome the 20 million tourists it received each year before the fire.
Since 2019, religious ceremonies have been taking place in the temporary liturgical base of Notre Dame in the nearby Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois church. The church lacks the size and wow factor that drew believers to the cathedral for nearly 900 years.
The Elysee Presidential Palace said Macron’s visit will be “an opportunity for the head of state to thank everyone who helped save the cathedral from the flames” and afterwards. These include carpenters, scaffolding, rope access technicians, crane operators, organ builders, master glassmakers, painters and sculpture restorers, stonemasons, archaeologists, researchers and donors who have helped keep the restoration work going despite the difficulties of the current health crisis.
Two years are the blink of an eye in a restoration timeline. The Notre Dame project is still in the first phase of consolidation. The actual restoration phase is expected to begin next winter. But the overwhelming feeling among those who love Notre Dame is the relief that the project has been a success so far.
“I can say today that the cathedral is saved. It is well secured and we can now do the enormous reconstruction work that will not destabilize the entire building, ”Notre Dame Rector Patrick Chauvet told the AP.
The consolidation phase, which cost 165 million euros, was crucial: 40,000 metal pipes from scaffolding that were in place at the time of the fire melted during the fire and had to be patiently cut from the roof. The vaults inside the cathedral also had to be stabilized. As a sign of the work ahead, 1,000 oak trees were felled in around 200 French forests this spring to frame the cathedral’s transept and tower, which will be admired on the Paris skyline for centuries to come.
The night of the fire may have been 24 months, but it still feels very close to the Paris Witnesses. Frederico Benani, who was filming the burning cathedral, was tearful when he shared the experience.
“I was here with my wife and drank tea. I saw a small black flame and never thought Notre Dame was on fire. And it was shocking to see all these flames, ”said Benani. “It was horrible. It was sad. It breaks my heart.”