For those following the restoration of Notre Dame, March looked to be a promising month. This was when the forecourt and crypt of the Parisian cathedral, devastated by a fire in April 2019, were set to reopen marking a first victory in the restoration. However, as COVID-19 has tightened its grip on France, restoration efforts at Notre Dame skidded to a halt. As works stopped, two men were been arrested as they attempted to steal stones from the cathedral in an effort to take advantage of an already tragic situation.
As of last week, stricter measures on quarantining and social distancing were put into effect across France. With that, ongoing works on the cathedral to make it safe for visitors within the next five years ceased. That was when two men were allegedly caught trying to steal stones from the structure. According to Le Parisien, Notre Dame authorities believe that the men intended to sell the stolen stones on the black market for profit, for which they now face charges.
The men were apprehended by two guards at Notre Dame on the evening of March 17th and taken into custody. A Notre Dame spokesperson believes the men gained access to the cathedral through a fault in the construction zone, which has been guarded 24 hours a day and will continue to be so through the hiatus in work.
Tighter restrictions across the country to slow the spread of the virus will almost certainly delay the five-year plan initiated by French president Emmanuel Macron, but it is uncertain how extensive that delay will be. In less than a year of working to secure the cathedral, though, scientists and historians have developed a deeper understanding of Notre Dame, which dates back to the 12th and 14th century.
The restoration process had already hit delays when lead pollution was found at dangerous levels in the area – more than 200 tons of lead were unaccounted for after the blaze from the cathedral’s roof and famous spire. These setbacks might pale in comparison to those likely to come as a result of COVID-19. The process of removing melted scaffolding that continues to threaten the structure of Notre Dame was set to begin just yesterday but is now postponed.
Though the delay in Notre Dame’s restoration is heartbreaking, it is a necessity to safeguard those working on the cathedral, as well as French medical professionals and those most vulnerable, as the global pandemic continues to wreak havoc on countries around the world.