PARIS - Reconstruction continued on Paris’s famed Notre Dame Cathedral on April 15, two years to the day after a devastating fire engulfed the iconic church.
Despite predictions that full reconstruction and restoration of one of France’s most historic buildings won’t be complete for another 15 or 20 years, the progress made so far is a hopeful reminder that not all was lost.
Video shared of the church on Thursday showed cranes and scaffolding against the French capital’s skyline as bystanders stood and stared at the massive cathedral.
"We’re seeing here how, in two years, a huge job has been accomplished," French President Emmanuel Macron said during a visit to the church on Thursday, recalling the "emotion" throughout France at the images of flames devouring Notre Dame on April 15, 2019. "We also see what remains to be done."
Freeze frame of video showing Notre Dame Cathedral under construction on devastating fire 2-year anniversary.
Macron has promised that the cathedral would be rebuilt by 2024, yet officials acknowledge the work won’t be fully completed by then. They cite factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic for having slowed down the pace of reconstruction. The blaze also distributed vast amounts of toxic lead onto Notre Dame and the surrounding area, complicating the clean-up work that came before restoration efforts could even begin.
The French president offered a "huge thank you" and a message of determination to all the workers mobilized to rebuild Notre Dame.
"We will need to meet our goals" set for three years from now, Macron said."The objective... is to return Notre Dame to worshippers and to visits in 2024. That means that in 2024, Mass will be able to be organized in the cathedral," Jeremie Patrier-Leitus, a spokesperson for the restoration, told The Associated Press.
Two years is a blink of an eye in a restoration timeline. The Notre Dame project still in the initial consolidation phase. The actual restoration phase is expected to start next winter. But the overwhelming feeling among those who love Notre Dame is relief that the project so far has been a success.
"I can say today that the cathedral is saved. It is well secured and we can now do the huge work of reconstruction that is not going to destabilize the whole building," Notre Dame’s rector, Patrick Chauvet, told the AP.
The consolidation phase costing 165 million euros ($197 million) was vital: 40,000 metal tubes from scaffolding in place at the time of the fire melted during the blaze and had to be patiently cut off the roof. The vaults inside the cathedral also had to be stabilized. In a sign of the work to come, though, 1,000 oak trees were felled in some 200 French forests this spring to make the frame for the cathedral’s transept and spire — destined to be admired on the Paris skyline for centuries to come.
The night of the fire may well be 24 months ago, but it still feels very near to Parisian witnesses. Frederico Benani, who filmed the burning cathedral, was tearful as he recounted the experience.
"I was here with my wife having tea. I saw a little black flame and I never thought it was Notre Dame that was burning. And it was shocking for me to see all of those flames," Benani said. "It was horrible. It was sad. It breaks my heart."
The Associated Press and Storyful contributed to this report.