Catholics and tourists who can no longer approach Notre-Dame after Monday’s devastating fire will be consoled by an “ephemeral cathedral” made of wood until the stricken cathedral reopens, its chief priest has announced.
Notre-Dame’s 12 million annual visitors will still be able to marvel at Europe’s most visited historic building from the outside, but Monseigneur Patrick Chauvet said for the faithful something more was needed.
“We mustn’t say ‘the cathedral is closed for five years’ and that’s it,” he told CSNews TV.
The prospect led him to ask the question: “Can I not build an ephemeral cathedral on the esplanade (in front of Notre Dame)?”
Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, has backed the idea, he said. The wooden “cathedral” will host priests who will be able to address the crowds during reconstruction works, which President Emmanuel Macron said wanted to be complete within five years.
As experts continued to assess the damage to the building, which lost its roof and “forest” of ancient wooden beams, along with its famed spire, President Macron led a day of tribute to the Paris firefighters who saved the Gothic edifice from collapse and rescued its treasures from the flames.
Later, Paris town hall will stage a ceremony in the firefighters’ honour, with a Bach concert, two giant banners and readings from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
More than 400 firefighters took part in the nine-hour fight to save the 12th-century cathedral.
Despite a delay reportedly due to a computer glitch in the fire alarm sending security agents to the wrong part of the cathedral, its iconic towers, rose windows, huge organ and artworks were saved thanks to the quick and valiant work of Paris firemen.
The building was only minutes from burning to the ground in a "chain-reaction collapse", said Jose Vaz de Matos, a fire expert with France’s culture ministry.
Miraculously, no one was killed in the fire, which occurred during a Mass.
“The worst has been avoided,” said Franck Riester, the culture minister. But he warned that there was still a risk of collapse of three weak spots.
The vault is also not out of danger. “Scaffolding will be installed to remove the debris from the vault because if it rains, water will gather and weigh down on it,” he said.
With around €900 million (£780m) already donated to rebuild the cathedral from around the world, officials warned that fraudsters are taking advantage of the Notre-Dame fire to fool well-wishers into handing over cash.
The French Heritage Foundation, which has so far collected more than €13 million from individual donors, said: "A number of scams have been flagged to us both in France and abroad.” It urged people to donate only to official sites.
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