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No Christmas Mass at Notre-Dame for the first time in two centuries

General view shows the Notre Dame Cathedral, as works continue to stabilise the cathedral's structure nine months after a fire caused significant damage, in Paris, France, December 23, 2019.
General view shows the Notre Dame Cathedral, as works continue to stabilise the cathedral's structure nine months after a fire caused significant damage, in Paris, France, December 23, 2019. Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters

Notre-Dame Cathedral will not hold a Christmas Mass for the first time since 1803, French officials confirmed on Saturday, as workers continue to rebuild the Paris landmark eight months after a devastating fire.

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The cathedral’s press office said midnight Mass would be celebrated on Christmas Eve by rector Patrick Chauvet but it would be held at the nearby church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois. 

Notre-Dame, which is part of a UNESCO world heritage site on the banks of the River Seine, was ravaged by an April 15 fire, losing its gothic spire, roof and many precious artefacts.

The building has remained open for Christmas Mass throughout two centuries of an often tumultuous history – including during the 1940-1944 Nazi occupation of World War II – being forced to close only during the anti-Catholic revolutionary period of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Tents now shelter much of the debris in front of the cathedral – tens of thousands of pieces of stone and some metal that archeologists are in the process of restoring. 

Chief architect Philippe Villeneuve told FRANCE 24 earlier this month that he was concerned about the vaults in the ceiling. 

“If we remove the burned wood and the pieces of the framing that burned, and the metal elements that accumulated since April 15th, we don't know what will happen," he said. "So today we cannot say absolutely that Notre-Dame has been saved.”

President Emmanuel Macron has set a timetable of five years to completely repair the structure, which remains shrouded in scaffolding with a vast crane looming over it. Paris prosecutors opened an investigation into criminal negligence in June, suggesting a stray cigarette butt or an electrical fault could be the culprit.

The culture ministry said in October that nearly €1 billion had been pledged or raised for the reconstruction. A cathedral spokesman said in June that most of the donations had so far come from individuals and small donors despite the high-profile pledges from French billionaires.

>> A rare look at restoration of Paris's Notre-Dame Cathedral

>> Small donors are rebuilding Notre-Dame as billionaires delay

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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