France is currently on stringent lockdown as it struggles to cope with a steadily growing number of coronavirus cases. But some people, it seems, have other priorities on their minds. Last Tuesday, reports Anna Sansom for the Art Newspaper, authorities arrested two men who were allegedly attempting to steal stones from the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Guards found the thieves drunk and hiding under a tarpaulin, according to the Art Newspaper. They had pilfered several small stones from the iconic landmark, possibly with the intention of selling them on the black market.
“Notre-Dame has always been a [place of] fantasy,” André Finot, spokesman for Notre-Dame, tells Le Parisien, as quoted by the Art Newspaper. “There’s a black market. One finds stones from the cathedral for sale on eBay. Except that they’re fake.”
After a devastating fire struck last April, the once-bustling house of worship was essentially transformed into a construction site; per Katie White of artnet News, the thieves were reportedly trying to steal stones that had fallen inside the cathedral.
Efforts to restore Notre-Dame came to a halt earlier this month as France began implementing strict measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
One of the key steps to stabilizing the building is removing a 250-ton tangle of metal scaffolding that welded together during the blaze. The mass has to be cleared to make the site safe for restoration—a complicated process that will involve bolstering the exterior of the structure with metal beams and lowering technicians into the site via cranes.
Though some had raised concerns that removing the scaffolding would cause further damage to the fragile cathedral, the project was scheduled to be completed in April. Now, however, officials say that it is impossible to proceed with the removal plan without violating coronavirus security measures.
For one, it would not be feasible for the 100 workers at the site to continue “respecting the basic rules of [social] distancing,” Philippe Jost, deputy managing director of the public body responsible for Notre-Dame’s reconstruction, tells Le Figaro, as quoted by the Art Newspaper.
Experts are also concerned about the procedures necessary to limit workers’ exposure to high levels of lead unleashed by the fire. As Christa Lesté-Lasserre reports for Science magazine, anyone entering the cathedral has to strip naked and don disposable underwear and safety suits. Protective masks are also required. After working at the site for a maximum of 150 minutes, workers must remove their disposable clothing and shower.
“We’re taking five showers a day,” Thierry Zimmer, assistant director of the Historical Monuments Research Laboratory, tells Science, noting that the crowd of people flocking to scrub down is “like the Métro at rush hour.”
This, too, is hardly conducive to social distancing, prompting officials to postpone Notre-Dame’s restoration indefinitely. Thus the virus, in addition to its many other devastating impacts, presents yet another obstacle to getting the beloved landmark back up and running.