Notre-Dame One Year Later

News: Commentary
by Kristine Christlieb  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 15, 2020   

Historic fire, Wuhan virus share common themes

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At 6:18 p.m., a Notre-Dame Cathedral security guard with three days on the job, was forced to respond to a fire alert. He was on his second 8-hour shift because his replacement was absent. He misunderstood the system's message about the location of the fire and went to the wrong building. Then he called his boss who didn't pick up.

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Aftermath of the fire (Reuters)

At 6:48 p.m., precisely 30 minutes after the original "Feu" alert, the fire department was called. When the first truck arrived, photos of the blaze had already lit up all the major social media platforms around the globe, and a large crowd had gathered, stunned by the smoke and fire shooting up into a clear, evening sky.

That was one year ago.

In the that-was-then-this-is-now march of time, Le Monde's headline on Wednesday was about the Wuhan virus. France's most well-known newspaper also included a lower level story noting the one-year anniversary of the Notre-Dame fire.

The two disasters have more in common that one might think — the missed cues and missteps, the faulty safety plans, precious time squandered, the search for who is to blame ...

Best Laid Plans

It's not as if the U.N.-designated World Heritage Site had no plan for fire. Au contraire! The New York Times reported "the fire warning system at Notre-Dame took dozens of experts six years to put together, and in the end involved thousands of pages of diagrams, maps, spreadsheets and contracts" that the Times found buried among archival documents in a suburban Paris library. So much for experts and their projections, n'est pas?

According to the Times, the system was so arcane that when it was called upon to do the only thing that mattered — warn "fire!" and say where — it produced instead a nearly indecipherable message.

All Work Has Stopped

Now, as restoration of the cathedral is underway, Paris is practicing social distancing and sheltering in place like the rest of the world. Le Monde reports that the highly specialized craftsmen are forced to work in conditions incompatible with protection from the Wuhan virus.

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Rémi Fromont, chief architect of historic monuments, told the French newspaper that "access space to the building site where they [workers] change, where they shower, is very limited." He went on to explain, "Imposing a meter between each person is unthinkable. Showers, in addition, is a humid environment. It's going to be very difficult to disinfect door handles ... For workers who, for the most part, do not live in Paris, transport and accommodation issues are also crucial."

President Emmanuel Macron has been adamant that restoration of the city's most beloved monument will be completed by 2024 when Paris hosts the summer Olympics. Most experts found such a projection to be beyond ambitious. Others have said that given the extent of the damage, complete restoration could take 20 years.

The system [was] so arcane that when it was called upon to do the only thing that mattered — warn 'fire!' and say where — it produced instead a nearly indecipherable message.

The current work stoppage to accommodate the global health pandemic is actually the second one the project has experienced. In July, work stopped for three weeks to put in place new safety standards for exposure to lead. Workers are now not allowed to enter the site without being dressed in full-body protection gear or leave without taking a shower. Breaks of 30 minutes every two hours are imposed on the most exposed workers.

Plus, there is no little amount of bickering over design and materials.

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Abp. Michel Aupetit leading Crown of Thorns veneration
(Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP/Getty)

Notre-Dame Opens Its Doors (a crack)

Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, led a service venerating the relic of Christ's Crown of Thorns in the cathedral apse behind the pietà on Good Friday. The archbishop broadcast the celebration accompanied by a small team donning personal protection gear, in what is likely the first religious celebration of any kind seen since the fire.

As Church Militant reported, the Crown of Thorns relic has special meaning for the people of France. After the relic had been pawned in 1238, Saint Louis, who was King Louis IX of France, bought it back, allegedly for a sum greater than the cost of two cathedrals.

Americans Love Notre-Dame

In an article titled, "Why Have Americans Given So Much Money to Restore Notre-Dame?" The Guardian reported that as of August 2019, Americans had given nearly $9 million. France's ambassador to the United States acknowledged the nation's generosity in a tweet, thanking Americans for their support of the historic church.

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