Notre Dame misses Christmas as flood mars St. Mark’s

Associated Press

The year has been hard on two Christian landmarks in Europe.

Notre Dame Cathedral is unable to host Christmas services for the first time since the French Revolution, because the Paris landmark was too deeply damaged by this year’s fire.

Religious dignitaries stand in front of Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral as part of a ceremony for its 850th anniversary, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012.

And in Venice, Italy, St. Mark’s Basilica suffered at least $5.5 million in damage during last month’s devastating great tides. The first, on Nov. 12, was the highest in 53 years, followed by two above 4.9 feet, a series of severe inundations never before recorded.

Notre Dame’s exiled clergy, choir and congregation are celebrating the holiday in another Gothic church next to the Louvre Museum instead.

The accidental April blaze consumed the medieval monument’s roof and collapsed its spire, and reconstruction is expected to take several years. Officials say the structure is too fragile to let visitors inside, and there’s still a risk of poisoning from the tons of lead dust released with the flames.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services will be held in the Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois church, once used for French royalty. Notre Dame’s rector, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, will celebrate Mass there Wednesday for Notre Dame’s faithful, accompanied by song from some of Notre Dame’s now-itinerant choir.

A wooden liturgical platform was constructed in the Saint-Germain church to resemble Notre Dame’s own. The cathedral’s iconic 14th century sculpture “The Virgin of Paris,” which survived the fire, is also on display.

The world-renowned cathedral has seen plenty of upheaval since its first stone was laid in 1163. It halted services after revolutionaries overthrew the monarchy and declared Notre Dame “a temple of reason,” but resumed religious activities under Napoleon in 1803, according to cathedral officials.

It kept going during two world wars, and Nazi occupation. Soldiers guarded its Christmas Mass in 2015, weeks after France’s deadliest-ever terror attacks.

Today, Notre Dame’s twin towers still look over the Ile de la Cite island at the heart of Paris, attracting tourists taking selfies along the surrounding quays. But this holiday season, its facade is shielded by scaffolding instead of the huge Christmas tree that normally graces its esplanade.

At St. Mark’s, damage can be seen on the bottom of a column of precious Aquitaine marble in the narthex. The capitals are carved with images of lions and eagles, indicating they are of imperial origin and not religious, and therefore believed to have been sacked from Constantinople during the fourth Crusade, Maneschi said. Analysis only this year indicates that the capitals were made even more ornate by gold leaf covering and lapis lazuli inserts — which have long disappeared.