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No Christmas Mass at Notre-Dame for the first time in two centuries

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Notre-Dame Cathedral will not hold a Christmas Mass for the first time since 1803, French officials confirmed on Saturday, as workers continue to rebuild the Paris landmark eight months after a devastating fire.

The cathedral’s press office said midnight Mass would be celebrated on Christmas Eve by rector Patrick Chauvet but it would be held at the nearby church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois.

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Notre-Dame, which is part of a UNESCO world heritage site on the banks of the River Seine, was ravaged by an April 15 fire, losing its gothic spire, roof and many precious artefacts.

The building has remained open for Christmas Mass throughout two centuries of an often tumultuous history – including during the 1940-1944 Nazi occupation of World War II – being forced to close only during the anti-Catholic revolutionary period of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Tents now shelter much of the debris in front of the cathedral – tens of thousands of pieces of stone and some metal that archeologists are in the process of restoring.

Chief architect Philippe Villeneuve told FRANCE 24 earlier this month that he was concerned about the vaults in the ceiling.

“If we remove the burned wood and the pieces of the framing that burned, and the metal elements that accumulated since April 15th, we don’t know what will happen,” he said. “So today we cannot say absolutely that Notre-Dame has been saved.”

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President Emmanuel Macron has set a timetable of five years to completely repair the structure, which remains shrouded in scaffolding with a vast crane looming over it. Paris prosecutors opened an investigation into criminal negligence in June, suggesting a stray cigarette butt or an electrical fault could be the culprit.

The culture ministry said in October that nearly €1 billion had been pledged or raised for the reconstruction. A cathedral spokesman said in June that most of the donations had so far come from individuals and small donors despite the high-profile pledges from French billionaires.

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‘America First’ vs ‘Make in India’ as Modi hosts Trump

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Trade ties between the United States and India have long been problematic but under "America First" President Donald Trump and "Make in India" Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they have worsened.

While eclipsed by his trade war with China, Trump's tussle with India, and New Delhi's prickly reaction, has made a major pact unlikely during the American president's visit to the world's fifth-largest economy from Monday.

"They've been hitting us very, very hard for many, many years," Trump said of India ahead of the 36-hour trip to Ahmedabad, Agra and New Delhi accompanied by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and others.

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Chinese restaurants starved for cash as virus hits industry

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It is lunch time in Beijing, but the only diner in Cindy's Cafe is an employee having a staff meal -- it has been closed for more than three weeks as China battles a deadly virus epidemic.

Restaurants are taking a huge hit as many people across the country of 1.4 billion have been either under some form of quarantine or are reluctant to venture outside since late January over fears of contagion.

At Cindy's Cafe in Beijing's Roosevelt Plaza, dine-in revenue has fallen to zero, and relying on deliveries hardly makes up the shortfall, said manager Cai Yaoyang.

"On a good day in the past, we could earn over 1,000 yuan ($143) a day from deliveries," Cai told AFP. "Now, it's just around 200 to 300 yuan a day. The impact is especially big."

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Rio carnival gets political in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

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Rio de Janeiro kicks off its annual carnival parades Sunday, the first of two nights of glittering, over-the-top spectacle set to pack a heavy dose of political commentary on Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Vying for the title of carnival champions, the city's 13 top samba schools will have one hour each to wow spectators and judges with elaborate shows flush with scantily clad dancers, small armies of drummers and floats built on seemingly impossible feats of engineering.

The event is shaping up to be especially political after a year under Bolsonaro, who has deeply divided Brazil with his attacks on just about every cause close to the carnival community's heart: diversity, homosexuality, environmentalism, the arts.

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