Hard hats replace bishops’ miters at Notre Dame’s first Mass since fire

Religion News Service | 6/21/2019, 6 a.m.
Everyone, it seems, has an idea for how to rebuild Notre Dame.
The Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, second from left, leads the first Mass in a side chapel on June 15, two months after a devastating fire engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Karine Perret Pool via Associated Press


Everyone, it seems, has an idea for how to rebuild Notre Dame.

Proposals for its reconstruction include topping it with a modern glass cover, an ecological garden or even a swimming pool on the roof.

French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to reopen the 850-year-old Gothic masterpiece in 2024 — conveniently in time for the tourists attending the Paris Olympics — and caused an uproar by proposing to ignore strict preservation laws to get this done on time.

Since a dramatic blaze destroyed its roof and spire on April 15, many speeches and articles have highlighted the cathedral’s special meaning for the French as a historic site and a tourist attraction.

Most of those speeches and articles have downplayed Notre Dame’s primary identity as a church.

Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit has used the occasion of the first Mass there since the April 15 blaze to push back against all these secular plans for what is his home church.

During the Mass inside an intact side chapel last Saturday evening, the anniversary of the cathedral’s initial dedication, Archbishop Aupetit told about 30 clerical and lay worshippers that Notre Dame “cannot be reduced to a national heritage monument.”

All of the invited participants wore white hard hats during their hour on what is now a chaotic construction site. Archbishop Aupetit, who otherwise would have worn a bishop’s miter, took off his hard hat only at the consecration.

“This cathedral is a place of worship. That is its only purpose,” the archbishop said in his sermon. “There are no tourists at Notre Dame because this term is often pejorative and does not do justice to this mystery that prompts humanity to seek something beyond itself.”

He also lamented what he called “the abysmal religious ignorance of our contemporaries” who wanted to avoid any mention or sign of spirituality in the public sphere.

“Are we ashamed of the faith of our ancestors?” he asked.

But Archbishop Aupetit may not have much say in how the cathedral will be rebuilt.

Under French law, all churches built before 1905 are national heritage buildings and therefore public property. Local authorities are responsible for the upkeep of churches in their areas, while cathedrals belong to the state, a provision that gives national politicians a voice on issues such as expenditures for rebuilding Notre Dame.

A live broadcast of Saturday’s Mass by the diocesan television channel KTO gave glimpses from inside the cathedral, which has been closed since the fire and is now surrounded by temporary walls to keep onlookers away from the worksite.

Nets were hanging over the nave to catch any material falling from above, and a pile of charred timber and other debris filled the area where the front pews for worshipers used to be. Two large holes in the ceiling showed where the falling spire broke through.

Some of the fragile glass in the central part of the cathedral has been removed, with the remaining window frames propped up by wooden beams and covered with clear plastic. Notre Dame’s roof has been sealed with plastic sheeting laid down from the outside.