Priests in hard hats host first Notre-Dame mass since devastating fire

David Chazan

Priests in hard hats on Saturday celebrated the first mass at Notre-Dame since Paris’s iconic cathedral was gutted by fire two months ago, as a row continues over its reconstruction.

Michel Aupetit, the archbishop of Paris, led the service in a side-chapel unscathed by the blaze. Attendance was limited to about 30 people, mostly priests and canons. Members of the public were not admitted because parts of the still fragile structure remain at risk of collapse.

Less than 10 per cent of the nearly €1 billion (£892m) pledged for reconstruction by individuals and business leaders has been paid amid arguments over whether it should be rebuilt exactly as it was or with contemporary touches. 

Even President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to hold an international contest to select designs from the world’s leading architects is controversial in France, with some contending that it should be left to French architects.

André Finot, the cathedral spokesman, said donors including the luxury goods billionaires Bernard Arnault and François-Henri Pinault “want to know exactly what their money will be used for and if they agree to it before they hand it over.”

Work in progress to shore up the cathedral is being funded mainly by donations from US citizens. “The big donors haven’t paid. Not a centime,” Mr Finot said.

Franck Riester, the culture minister, said: “There could be people who promised to donate then in the end don’t, but more importantly, the donations will be paid as restoration work progresses and that’s normal.”

Michel Picaud, head of the Friends of Notre-Dame foundation, said 90 per cent of the money received so far has come from US donors. “The Americans are very generous towards Notre-Dame and the monument is much loved in the US. Six of our 11 board members are US residents.”

Reconstruction will not begin until next year and Mr Riester acknowledged on Saturday that the much-criticised five-year deadline for completion set by Mr Macron might not be kept. “We don’t want to confuse speed and haste,” he said. “What finally counts is the quality of the work.”

Environmental campaigners have warned of the risk of lead poisoning to local residents and workers. The fire melted some 350 tons of lead in the cathedral’s roof and spire, leaving high levels of the metal in the cathedral square and surrounding streets. Pregnant women and children have been urged to take blood tests.