Two months after being devastated in a blaze, Notre Dame is holding its first mass Saturday which will be officiated by the Archbishop of Paris with a small number in attendance due to the fact the vault is still in danger of collapsing.
The mass will be held at 6.00 pm in the chapel of the Virgin Mary, behind the choir, and will be attended by only 30 people, half of them clergymen, all in protective helmets, including Monsignor Michel Aupetit, who will officiate a symbolic mass to denote that Notre Dame is "still alive", the cathedral rector Patrick Chauvet said.
The event - broadcast by Catholic television KTO - will be attended by a team working on the restoration of the building owing to the precariousness of the situation, the ambassador in charge of the international mobilization for Notre Dame de Paris, Stanislas de Laboulaye, told Spanish media.
There will be cleaning works of the cathedral and surrounding neighborhood due to contamination by lead that covered the roof and needle of Viollet-le-Duc which melted in the 800 degrees flames, whose origin is still unknown.
"Notre Dame de Paris is still in a fragile situation, especially in the vault that has not yet been secured, and can collapse," said Culture Minister Franck Riester during an interview on Friday with France 2 network.
He also said that only 9 percent of the pledged donations- €80 million ($89.9 million) of the €850 million pledged- have been collected so far.
CONTROVERSIES AND DONATIONS
He expressed confidence that the process will fall into place once the law that sets the legal framework for the cathedral's restoration is approved by mid-July, with tax exemptions of up to 75 percent per 1,000 euros.
De Laboulaye added that "everything will be paid for with private donations and this is a cultural shock for the French."
For now, the bulk of the money is French and American.
In Europe, where there is no tax harmonization, there is a network of foundations called Transactional Giving Europe to channel the funds.
De Labouyade also said that not everything is money, as countries like Chile and Canada have offered wood, Vietnam their stone carvers and Columbia University (New York) its knowledge of the cathedral, which has 3D laser detailed maps of the monument.
CONSOLIDATION AND REMOVAL OF DEBRIS
The priority at the moment is the consolidation of the building's structure with huge beams, which has forced the removal of the 19th century stained glass windows in order to accommodate them, while all residents around the building have been evacuated.
The flying buttresses have also been consolidated, a key feature in Gothic architecture and wooden structures have been laid to prevent them from leaning inwards and falling.
One of the biggest problems now, until the three gaping holes in the roof are repaired, is the wind, which is entering the cathedral threatening the precarious structure, explained De Laboulaye.
A plastic guard has been installed on top to protect the interior from rain and a gigantic net to prevent stones from falling on workers inside while removing debris with the help of robots.
These machines extract and deposit the debris in a tent installed on the plain in front of the cathedral's main facade where they are being inventoried to help police determine the cause of the fire and scientists to study their nature and determine if they can be reused for restoration, said De Laboulaye.
At the end of the consolidation and debris extraction, the removal of the 250-tonne scaffolding that enveloped the Viollet-le-Duc needle will begin in an operation that will take four months.
A LONG PROCESS AND SOME MIRACLES
The precise method of reconstruction is yet to be decided but the Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites will be implemented since Notre Dame and the banks of the Seine are Unesco World Heritage Sites.
Considerable weight will have to be put on the vault as it is necessary to keep the walls straight in the very complex Gothic architecture.
There were 20 critical minutes on the fateful night of Apr. 15 when the fire reached the bell tower covered in wood and had that burnt and fallen it would have taken the main facade and the rest of the cathedral with it.
Cooling the stones was the best decision, as throwing water over the flames from the sky would have had a "bombing" effect and completely disintegrate the structure, explained De Laboulaye.
However, he added that the relics and treasure of Notre Dame, the statues, the altar, the great cross and the 14th century Virgin Mary were miraculously saved.
Even before the fire, the cathedral was in bad shape and two years ago investment needed to restore it was estimated at €50 million; now no one can even provide a figure. EFE-EPA