For the First Time in 200 Years, Christmas Services Will Not Be Held at Notre-Dame

The building remains fragile after suffering a devastating fire in April

Notre-Dame Under Renovation
Notre Dame Cathedral is seen during restoration work more than eight months after the fire that ravaged the emblematic monument on December 18, 2019 in Paris, France. Chesnot/Getty Images

For more than two centuries, Christmas Masses have been held at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. But this year, as repair work continues in the wake of the devastating fire that ripped through the landmark’s roof and toppled its iconic spire, there will be no holiday services at Notre-Dame.

Instead, reports Aurelien Breeden of the New York Times, the cathedral’s rector will hold Midnight Mass at Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, a Gothic church located near the Louvre, where services have been conducted since the blaze. According to Thomas Adamson of the Associated Press, reminders of the fire-ravaged building will be there—among them a wooden liturgical platform that has been built to resemble the one in Notre-Dame and a 14th century statue, depicting the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, that survived the flames. Notre-Dame’s choir will perform on Christmas Eve.

“We have the opportunity to celebrate the Mass outside the walls, so to speak… but with some indicators that Notre Dame is connected to us,” rector Patrick Chauvet tells Adamson.

Historical records indicate that Christmas masses have been held annually at Notre-Dame since at least 1803, after the building was returned to the Roman Catholic Church in the wake of the French Revolution, cathedral spokesperson André Finot tells Breeden. Services persisted during both World Wars—but the building, rendered fragile by April’s blaze, is now closed to the public.

The partially collapsed roof has been deemed “inherently unstable,” and experts are concerned that strong winds or rains could bring it tumbling down. According to Breeden, the most urgent threat to the building is the tangle of scaffolding tubes that were welded together by the flames. Set up during restoration work before the fire, this scaffolding is now “a mass of twisted metal of roughly 250 tons that is weighing down on the structure,” Breeden writes. It needs to be dismantled before restoration work can begin, a process that will take between three and four months, reports the Local France. Engineers are working slowly, so as to avoid doing any further damage to the cathedral.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that he hopes to rebuild Notre-Dame within five years—a timeline that more than 1,000 architectural experts have called “unrealistic.”

“The risk is that people who haven’t got enough experience in restoring historic monuments will be called in to get the job done quickly,” Philippe Plagnieux, a professor of art history, said earlier this year, according to David Chazan of the Telegraph.

The redesign of the building has also been a source of friction. Just days after the inferno, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced an international competition to replace Notre-Dame’s spire, prompting architects to propose designs that incorporated stained glass, recycled ocean plastic, and even a roof-top greenhouse, among other things. Macron said he wanted to see Notre-Dame rebuilt “even more beautifully”—but France’s Senate ultimately voted that the cathedral should be restored to its “last known visual state.”

For the faithful who once celebrated Christmas at Notre-Dame, being unable to attend holiday services at the cathedral—possibly for the next several years—comes as “yet another blow,” Finot tells Breeden. But worshippers are looking to the future, when they will be able to return to the historic building.

“Obviously, there is a lot of sadness and desolation for us to no longer be in our second home,” Henri Chalet, one of the directors of the choir that performed at Notre-Dame, tells Adamson of the AP. “But there is also a lot of hope because it is only a phase.”

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