The biggest bell in Notre Dame rang out on Wednesday evening across a Paris under coronavirus lockdown to mark the anniversary of the fire that devastated the cathedral last year.
The cathedral, now roofless and windowless, has stood silent and fenced-off by the bank of the Seine river since mid-March, when the 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.
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,” Macron said in a video message to mark the anniversary.
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.
The fire had touched “the geographical, spiritual and cultural heart of Paris, the symbolic heart of our country,” Hidalgo wrote on Twitter.
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.
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 last year.
Macron paid tribute to the firefighters whose “heroic spirit of courage saved the cathedral from the flames,” as well the reconstruction workers and those who donated towards its restoration.
“You have paved the way for these better days that are coming, when the French people will once again find the joy of being together and the spire of Notre Dame will reach once more towards the sky,” he said. (dpa/NAN)