Notre Dame to hold 1st mass since devastating fire



Two months after being devastated in a blaze, the Notre Dame cathedral will hold its first mass Saturday, which will be officiated by the Archbishop of Paris with a small number in attendance.

The mass will be held at 6 p.m. in the chapel of the Virgin Mary, behind the choir. It will be attended by only 30 people -- half of them clergymen -- all in protective helmets, including Monsignor Michel Aupetit, who will officiate a symbolic mass to denote that Notre Dame is "still alive", the cathedral rector Patrick Chauvet said.

The event - broadcast by Catholic television KTO - will be attended by a team working on the restoration of the building owing to the precariousness of the situation, the ambassador in charge of the international mobilization for Notre Dame de Paris, Stanislas de Laboulaye, told Spanish media.

There will be cleaning works of the cathedral and surrounding neighbourhood due to contamination by lead that covered the roof and needle of Viollet-le-Duc which melted in the 800 degrees flames, whose origin is still unknown.

"Notre Dame de Paris is still in a fragile situation, especially in the vault that has not yet been secured, and can collapse," said Culture Minister Franck Riester during an interview with France 2 network on Friday.

He also said that only 9 per cent of the pledged donations -- 80 million euros ($89.9 million) of the 850 million euros pledged -- have been collected so far, Efe news reported.

Riester expressed confidence that the process will fall into place once the law that sets the legal framework for the cathedral's restoration is approved by mid-July, with tax exemptions of up to 75 per cent per 1,000 euros.

De Laboulaye said that "everything will be paid for with private donations and this is a cultural shock for the French". 

For now, the bulk of the money is French and American, reports say.

De Laboulaye added that countries like Chile and Canada have offered wood; Vietnam their stone carvers and Columbia University (New York) its knowledge of the cathedral, which has 3D laser detailed maps of the monument.

The priority at the moment is the consolidation of the building's structure with huge beams, which has forced the removal of the 19th century stained glass windows in order to accommodate them, while all residents around the building have been evacuated.

The flying buttresses have also been consolidated, a key feature in Gothic architecture and wooden structures have been laid to prevent them from leaning inwards and falling.

One of the biggest problems now, until the three gaping holes in the roof are repaired, is the wind, which is entering the cathedral threatening the precarious structure, said De Laboulaye.

A plastic guard has been installed on top to protect the interior from rain and a gigantic net to prevent stones from falling on workers inside while removing debris with the help of robots.

At the end of the consolidation and debris extraction, the removal of the 250-tonne scaffolding that enveloped the Viollet-le-Duc needle will begin in an operation that will take four months.IANS