PARIS (AP) – Two years after a fire tore through Paris’ most famous cathedral and shocked the world, French President Emmanuel Macron is visiting the building site that Notre Dame has become Thursday to show that French heritage has not been forgotten despite the coronavirus.
Flanked by ministers, architects, and the retired French army general overseeing the restoration of the 12th-century monument, Macron plans to inspect the progress of the ambitious rebuilding project to give the pandemic-weary French public some hope that a completion date will arrive one day, if not shortly.
Macron promised the cathedral would be rebuilt by 2024, yet officials acknowledge that the work won’t be completed by then. They cite factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic for having slowed down the pace. The blaze also distributed vast amounts of toxic lead onto Notre Dame and the surrounding area, complicating the clean-up work that came before restoration efforts could even begin.
“The 2024 deadline will be met,” French newspaper Le Parisien quoted the French leader as saying in an article published Thursday morning. “The five years will be met. What is important to me, really, is that the planning of the work can be respected, with all respect to architects and craft professionals.”
Cranes and scaffolding from the massive project scar the French capital‘s skyline and rebuilding could take decades. Officials said earlier this month that the burned-out cathedral and its esplanade could remain under construction for another 15 or 20 years. But they pledge Notre Dame will be open for prayer and a “return to worship” in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which Paris is hosting.
“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 organized in the cathedral,” Jeremie Patrier-Leitus, a spokesperson for the restoration, told The Associated Press. Patrice-Leitus wants the world to know that “Notre Dame is holding up.
It is still there. We are all gathered and mobilized to restore the cathedral and give this jewel of French Gothic architecture back to the world.” It remains to be seen if the cathedral will be in shape by then to welcome some 20 million tourists it received each year before the fire. 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.