The Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames on April 15, destroying much of the landmark

By Joelle Goldstein
December 23, 2019 01:28 PM

It will be a historic Christmas for the Notre Dame Cathedral.

For the first time in 200 years, the Paris cathedral will not be holding its annual midnight mass on Christmas due to the aftermath of the devastating April fire that destroyed much of the famed landmark, including its roof.

This will be the first time since the French Revolution that the Notre Dame Cathedral, which is currently undergoing a lengthy construction process, has not held a Christmas mass, cathedral rector Patrick Chauvet told the Associated Press.

Instead, churchgoers will have the option to attend Christmas service at the Paris Gothic church, Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, on Dec. 24 at midnight — the same place the parishioners of Notre Dame have been attending since September.

Cathedral officials chose Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois due to its proximity to Notre Dame and because of its royal history; it once welcomed France’s kings who were living in the nearby Louvre Palace, the AP noted.

“We have the opportunity to celebrate the Mass outside the walls, so to speak… but with some indicators that Notre Dame is connected to us,” Chauvet told the AP.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Chauvet explained that holiday masses have been held over the past two centuries, even during World War I — “the canons were there and the canons had to celebrate somewhere,” he explained — and during Paris’ Nazi occupation in World War II.

The only time that he could recall the 855-year-old cathedral being closed on Christmas was a time after 1789, when anti-Catholic French revolutionaries turned the monument into “a temple of reason.”

Several symbolic items have been added or recreated in Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois to make Notre Dame churchgoers feel at home, including a new wooden liturgical platform that resembles the Paris cathedral’s.

The Gothic sculpture “The Virgin of Paris,” which was spared in the devastating fire, has also been put on display in the Gothic church.

Notre Dame Cathedral fire

The Notre Dame Cathedral is undergoing construction after the fire — a process that is estimated to take several years.

Although an official cause of the blaze has not yet been confirmed, initial reports indicated the fire started in Notre Dame’s attic, which has a wooden framework, and spread across the roof and up the 300-foot spire. There were also no sprinklers or fire-blocking walls installed in this area, as there are elsewhere in the historic building.

The magnitude of the fire was likely due to the period of time it burned undiscovered.

The first alarm went off at the church at 6:20 p.m. on April 15. Checks were carried out at that time, but no fire was found. It wasn’t until 23 minutes later, when a second alarm sounded, that the blaze was located, according to the New York Times. By that time, it sadly could not be contained.

Notre Dame Cathedral aftermath

Despite the destruction, the main part of the structure was saved and fundraising for the effort to restore and rebuild the 850-year-old church quickly topped $1 billion, thanks to massive donations from wealthy French citizens including Francois Pinault, Salma Hayek’s husband, who pledged $100 million euros, and LVMH head Bernard Arnault, who said he would contribute $200 million euros.

The Catholic church is a world-famous landmark for the French capital, second only perhaps to the Eiffel Tower, and draws about 13 million visitors per year. It has been a center of religious and cultural life there since it was completed around 1365.

Before the blaze, the church had been undergoing an extensive $6.8 million renovation.

French President Emmanuel Macron has stated that he hopes to have the cathedral completely rebuilt in five years, though some experts suggest it will be much longer. Paris is scheduled to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.