For the first time in 200 years, Notre Dame – A medieval Catholic church in Paris – will not be holding a Christmas mass due to structural damage following a massive fire earlier this year. French officials have confirmed that midnight mass will be held on Christmas Eve at another Roman Catholic church, Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, to be led by Notre Dame’s rector Patrick Chauvet.
The cathedral is an iconic architectural French building that is recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site.
This year would be the first time since the anti-Catholic French Revolution in the 18th century that Notre Dame fails to hold a mass on Christmas Day. The cathedral has remained open for two centuries, even through World War II from 1940–1945, when Paris was occupied by the Nazis.
The cathedral has been deemed too dangerous to be open to the public after the fire on April 15 this year destroyed its lead roof and spire. There have been reports of high lead contamination in the closed-off plazas and streets surrounding the cathedral.
Lead was a common choice of roofing in medieval buildings for a number of reasons, but roofers in the past mainly relied on lead in their building practices due to its malleability and anti-rust elements. “First, it is malleable. That made it useful for domes or spires, which have complex shapes. Second, lead is durable. It doesn’t rust in the elements, making it a popular roofing material,” said Richard Wittman, a historian of architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The two-century-long construction of the Notre Dame cathedral began in 1163 and was completed in 1345. French President Emmanuel Macron has set a timetable of five years to repair the 850-year-old building which is currently wrapped in scaffolding and surrounded by cranes. “We will rebuild Notre Dame even more beautifully and I want it to be completed in five years,” said Macron in a televised address right after the incident in April 2019. The president vowed to rebuild the cathedral with funds sourced from donations by the public.
France’s billionaires have pledged large sums of money to help rebuild the cathedral, with some of France’s wealthiest families raising up to $1 billion just two days after the fire in April. The influx of funds in such a short time created a backlash in a nation with high income inequality.