French President Emmanuel Macron has visited the building site that Notre Dame has become to show that the country’s heritage has not been forgotten despite the pandemic.
Two years after a fire tore through Paris’s most famous cathedral, he viewed the progress of the ambitious rebuilding project, and offered the pandemic-weary French public hope that a completion date will arrive one day, if not in the near future.
Flanked by ministers, architects and the retired French army general who is overseeing the restoration of the 12th-century monument, Mr Macron said: “We’re seeing here how, in two years, a huge job has been accomplished.
He recalled the “emotion” throughout France sparked by the images of flames devouring Notre Dame on April 15 2019, adding: “We also see what remains to be done.”
Mr Macron has promised that the cathedral would be rebuilt by 2024, but officials acknowledge the work will not be fully completed by then.
They cite factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic for slowing the pace of reconstruction, and the blaze also distributed vast amounts of toxic lead on to Notre Dame and the surrounding area, complicating the clean-up work that came before restoration efforts could begin.
The French president offered a “huge thank you” and a message of determination to all the workers mobilised to rebuild Notre Dame.
Cranes and scaffolding from the massive project scar the French capital’s skyline, and the rebuilding work could take decades.
Officials said this month that the burned-out cathedral and its esplanade could remain under construction for another 15 or 20 years, but they pledged that Notre Dame will be at least be open for prayer and a “return to worship” in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
“The objective… is to return Notre Dame to worshippers and to visits in 2024. That means that in 2024, Mass will be able to be organised in the cathedral,” said Jeremie Patrier-Leitus, a spokesman for the restoration.
Since 2019, religious ceremonies have taken place at Notre Dame’s temporary liturgical base at the nearby church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois. The church lacks the size and wow factor that drew the faithful to the cathedral for nearly 900 years.
The Elysee presidential palace said Mr Macron’s visit was “an opportunity for the head of state to thank again all those who helped save the cathedral from the flames” and after.
They include the carpenters, scaffolders, rope access technicians, crane operators, organ builders, master glassmakers, painting and sculpture restorers, stonemasons, archaeologists, researchers and donors who helped keep the restoration work going despite the difficulties posed by the pandemic.