PARIS – Still damaged and scarred by fire, Notre Dame Cathedral came back to life — if only for a fleeting instant — as a center for prayer on Friday in a Paris locked down against the coronavirus.
Just days before the first anniversary of the April 15, 2019, inferno that ravaged the beloved Paris landmark, the French capital's archbishop led Good Friday celebrations unlike any that have gone before inside the centuries-old jewel of Gothic architecture.
Archbishop Michel Aupetit and three clergymen who accompanied him wore hard hats as they entered the damaged cathedral that is closed to the public and which he described as “half collapsed.” They then took off the helmets for the ceremony, in front of a large cross and the gaping hole in the cathedral's roof.
Venerating a crown of thorns that survived the flames, the bishop said the 40 minutes of prayer, music and readings under the blackened remains of the vaulted stone ceiling showed that “life is still here” amid the coronavirus pandemic “spreading death and paralyzing us."
“A year ago this cathedral in which we find ourselves was burning, causing shock and momentum worldwide to rebuild it," he intoned.
“Yes, Lord, come to show us that you are not abandoning us."
The fire brought down the cathedral’s spire and melted its lead roof, showering the wreckage and surrounds with toxic dust and horrifying Parisians and people across the world. Renovation work ground to a halt with the coronavirus lockdown in place nationwide in France since March 17.
Dressed in white protective overalls for the ceremony, classical musician Renaud Capuçon played violin, the mournful notes echoing off the walls and pillars that have witnessed months of silence since the blaze.
Dressed in the same protective gear, actors Judith Chemla and Philippe Torreton delivered readings. In a limpid voice, Chemla sang an “Ave Maria” that sent shivers down the spine.
With the cathedral off-limits to the public and Paris in lockdown, the half-dozen people were the only participants in the proceedings, but they were broadcast live.