News Good News One year after horror fire, Notre Dame’s bell tolls for medics

One year after horror fire, Notre Dame’s bell tolls for medics

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The biggest bell in Notre Dame has rung out across a Paris under coronavirus lockdown to mark the anniversary of the fire that devastated the cathedral last year.

Three people wearing hazmat suits and masks took turns to heave on a rope high in the southern belfry to swing the bell’s clapper for five minutes to mark the day.

The cathedral, now roofless and windowless, has stood silent and fenced-off by the bank of the Seine river since mid-March, when the coronavirus lockdown forced restoration works to end.

Only on Good Friday was Archbishop Michel Aupetit allowed to enter, with just six companions, for a brief ceremony broadcast by video to the faithful.

The bell sounded at 8pm on Wednesday (local time), just as Parisians came out onto their balconies and lent from windows to applaud the frontline medics and carers risking their lives to treat COVID-19 patients.

As it stopped tolling, cheers erupted from surrounding streets.

The coronavirus outbreak has killed more than 17,000 people in France.

But President Emmanuel Macron said he still hoped to have the cathedral restored within the ambitious five-year deadline he set after the blaze.

“I do not believe that waiting around or disarray are a response to the challenge of the times,” he insisted.

The reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral was a “symbol of our people’s resilience,” Mr Macron said in a video message to mark the anniversary.

Officials say the blaze came within half an hour of completely razing the 850-year-old cathedral.

Archbishop Aupetit, for his part, repeated his words from the day after the fire.

“Its stones bear witness to the invincible hope that, through the genius and faith of its builders, raised up this lacework of stone and glass,” he wrote on Twitter.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the city and national governments were working to reopen the square in front of the 12th century Gothic cathedral to the public as soon as possible.

Notre Dame fire
The Notre Dame spire topples on April 15, 2019. Photo: Getty

Notre Dame is still topped by a warped, partly melted scaffolding erected for planned restoration work on its 93-metre-high spire, which collapsed into the flames on April 15 last year.

Officials hope the 250 tonnes of scaffolding can be removed by autumn. Then, stones must be analysed to see which need to be replaced.

Removing that scaffolding is the first major step in the restoration programme, with experts warning that it still poses a risk to the stability of the structure.

Investigators are still looking into what sparked the blaze, which apparently started in the roof.

An electrical fault or a badly extinguished cigarette smoked by one of the people working on the spire were among the possible causes under investigation, Paris prosecutor Remi Heitz said in 2019.

-with AAP