Extensive work to repair Notre-Dame cathedral has ground to a halt a year after it was nearly destroyed by a devastating blaze.
Last April 15 millions around the world watched in horror as firefighters battled through the night to save the cathedral as a fire tore through it its roof and toppled the steeple.
This combination of two pictures shows (top) the spire of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris collapsing as a major fire broke out at the landmark on April 15 2019, and (down) the same view of the cathedral one year after, on April 13, 2020, during a lockdown in France
Flames on the roof of the Notre-Dame cathedral make their way towards the steeple
Prosecutors said the cause of the fire was still unclear. Above, parts of destroyed scaffolding sit blackened and charred with soot, as pictured in July 2019
Extensive repair work to rebuild much of the building’s structure is on hold for the foreseeable future after lockdown measures stopped workers from accessing the site
Work had already been delayed by months after more than 300 tonnes of lead from the roof melted in the blaze, covering the site in toxic particles that have been difficult to remove. Now the site appears abandoned but for a lone crane that hovers above its roof.
It faced further delays in winter when work was suspended after winds reached speeds of more than 25 miles per hour and now further delays are highly likely given the coronavirus crisis.
Plans to remove 40,000 bars of scaffolding, initially erected for a renovation project, were thwarted by spread of the coronavirus in France and confinement measures that were imposed on March 17 to contain the infection.
Crowds flock on the bank (top) and look on in horror as flames ravage their way through Notre-Dame. Bottom, the deserted work site shows the fragile structure as it awaits repair work
Despite the wooden beams propping up the arches and gables, its fragile structure remains at risk.
The 60 to 70 workers who are normally on site have not yet removed the tangled web of metal scaffolding tubes that fused together in the inferno and erupted during renovation work on the roof. Officials said the roof cannot be rebuilt in its original form and it was one of the oldest of its kind in Paris.
Until this the metal scaffolding tubes are removed, workers cannot install a more durable temporary roof to protect the church’s priceless artworks from rain.
Much of the debris has been removed from the nave, which allowed Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit to hold a small Good Friday ceremony in the church last week.
Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral’s rector Patrick Chauvet, Auxiliary Bishop of Paris Denis Jachiet and Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit attend a meditation ceremony in front of the holy crown of thorns to celebrate Good Friday in a secured part of the cathedral
The above picture shows rubble and damage during preliminary work in the Cathedral conducted in May 2019
Above, parts of a destroyed rib vault and scaffolding can be seen in July 2019, three months after the fire ravaged the cathedral
Work to repair Notre-Dame will resume once France’s lockdown measures have been lifted. Above, one worker assesses the mounds of debris that need clearing
But mounds still have to be cleared above the massive vaulted roof, a more delicate operation that was supposed to be finished this summer.
The cathedral’s renowned organ must also be removed to have its nearly 8,000 pipes cleaned from a layer of lead dust deposited by the melting of the roof and spire.
Countless other cleaning and restoration operations await, and the project’s chief architect Philippe Villeneuve has warned that new challenges could arise as the work progresses.
Once the scaffolding is down stones must be assessed to see which need replacing, logs and debris cleared from the vaults before an umbrella structure is mounted to protect the site, according to Notre-Dame’s chaplain Brice de Malherbe and reported by Republic World.
The esplanade in front of Notre-Dame remains off limits, surrounded by a tall fence to keep tourists far from the worksite.
Investigators have still not determined the cause of the fire though prosecutors say they suspect faulty electrical wiring or a poorly extinguished cigarette was at fault.
Jean-Louis Georgelin, the five-star Catholic general in charge of the renovation, said he remains confident the five-year goal will be met despite the coronavirus delay.
He said: ‘Lots of people said we’d cut corners to finish in five years. These are malicious comments – It’s a question of carrying out the work assiduously, without any hesitation.’
A general view of scaffolding at Notre-Dame cathedral on Good Friday on April 10 in Paris. Easter celebrations took place in an unprecedented format in Paris at the time of the coronavirus crisis and the first anniversary of the fire of Notre-Dame cathedral
Workers survey the extensive damage caused by the fire, though current lockdown measures mean the work site is devoid of employees tasked with the mammoth job of restoring the UNESCO heritage site
Georgelin has promised worshippers will hear a ‘Te Deum’ sung in the cathedral in April 2024.
Officials have still yet to decide whether to rebuild the cathedral exactly as it was using traditional techniques and materials, or adopt a more modern approach to its restoration.
Macron has said he is in favour of adding a ‘contemporary’ touch to the spire, which was installed by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc in the mid-19th century.
Villeneuve has refused to countenance any glass spire, rooftop garden or any other proposals that have emerged.
Macron has said he will ‘consult’ the French on any choice for the steeple, and has launched an international architectural competition for its reconstruction although though no timeline has been set.
The heart and transept at Notre-Dame is pictured top in June 2018 and, bottom, the same view one day after a fire devastated the cathedral
The lattice oak beams that supported the roof will also need to be replaced. Earlier this year Georgelin caused upset when he dismissed ‘lobbying’ by the wood industry for an exact replica.
Close to $1 billion has been given or pledged by 340,000 companies and individuals to help restore the cathedral.
Flames and smoke rise from the blaze at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris that destroyed its spire and its roof, but spared its twin medieval bell towers
Georgelin added that: ‘Everything makes me think we will definitely need that money.’
The funds will not help restaurants, souvenir shops and other businesses on the island in the heart of Paris, said Patrice Lejeune, president of the Notre-Dame business alliance.
He said they had seen two-thirds of their revenue evaporate on average over the past 12 months, adding that: ‘You have people who have worked 50 years, and here they’re on the brink after just one year’.
An aerial shot of the fire damage just days after the fire erupted reveals the extend of the damage. Close to $1 billion has been pledged worldwide to fund the cost of repairs
No commemorations are planned to mark the anniversary of the fire in line with the ban on public gatherings during the coronavirus crisis.
Work will not resume for the foreseeable future following President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement on Monday that France’s lockdown will be extended for another month.
France’s ultra-rich have pledged huge donations to help restore the cathedral, including billionaires Bernard Arnault and Francois-Henri Pinault among the biggest donors
He said that measures will only begin to be lifted on 11 May if citizens were ‘civic, responsible and respected the rules’.
Macron added that more tests, masks and equipment, financial aid would be arranged over the next four weeks and said that: ‘These are difficult days and we are now feeling afraid and anxious for our parents and ourselves’.
He said restaurants, cafes, hotels, museums and cultural sites must stay closed and large festivals and events may only be allowed after mid-July.
Rebuilding Notre-Dame: Inside the Great Cathedral Rescue airs on BBC 4 on Wednesday April 15 at 9pm.