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World News

Notre Dame Cathedral restoration halted by coronavirus 1 year after blaze

by Press Association

The restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral has been halted by the coronavirus crisis a year after fire gutted its interior and toppled its spire.

Some scaffolding that was erected for an earlier renovation project melted in the blaze on 15th April 2019. The unstable scaffolding further endangers the cathedral.

The restoration of the landmark from the 12th and 13th centuries has been halted and workers sent home because of France's coronavirus lockdown that began on 17th March, thwarting plans to start removing the 250 tonnes of metal scaffolding.

Paris archbishop Michel Aupetit led an exceptional but tiny gathering inside the church at the foot of the huge golden cross that remains intact, on Good Friday.

During the televised ceremony, he said: "Today, we stand in this half-fallen cathedral to say that life is still here."

The gathering in the fragile church that remains under lockdown was meant to raise the spirits of a nation in distress.

The archbishop told reporters: "The message of hope is especially important for our compatriots at a time when we are particularly affected by the coronavirus, which is sowing anguish and death."

There was no Easter service, and there are no plans to mark the anniversary of the devastating fire.

Notre Dame chaplain Brice de Malherbe, who last year was evacuated from his home next door as flames engulfed the roof, said: "As long as we have this scaffolding around, there's still sort of a 50% chance that more damage can be brought to the cathedral."

French President Emmanuel Macron wants the cathedral to reopen its giant doors in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. But progress has been delayed by setbacks, from the discovery of toxic dust from the melted lead roof and spire to the health and safety demands of the pandemic.

Officials hope the scaffolding can be removed by autumn. Then, stones must be analysed to see which need to be replaced.

Mr Malherbe said debris and huge ancient beams must be cleared from the soaring vaults. An umbrella structure will then be built to protect the site, which is now surrounded by high barricades.

Donations are helping to pay for the restoration, with 400 million euro (£349 million) from three sources alone: the Total oil company and French tycoons Francois Pinault and Bernard Arnault of the luxury giant LVMH.

Millions more have been pledged, but it was modest donations, mainly from people in France and the United States, that covered the initial costs.

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