French officials are hopeful that parts of the plaza of Notre-Dame de Paris, as well as the church’s crypt, will be re-opened roughly a year after a fire ravaged the roof and much of the interior of the cathedral.
Emmanuel Grégoire, deputy mayor of Paris, said the internationally cherished cathedral’s plaza and crypt should reopen sometime before the summer “if everything goes OK,” the New York Times reported.
Officials told the New York Times that these parts of the cathedral and the surrounding area have thus far remained closed due to lead contamination from the rubble of the burnt roof and spire, which collapsed in the fire.
According to French government information, obtained by the New York Times, lead levels on the cathedral’s plaza following the fire were as high as 1,300 times above French safety guidelines, and on other surrounding areas lead levels were 955 times above safety regulations.
“Obviously this depends on whether the site has been properly cleaned up, but we have been doing regular lead checks,” Karen Taïeb, also a deputy mayor for Paris, told the New York Times. If all goes well, she said the plaza and crypt could be opened as early as the end of March.
On April 15 last year, a fire started in the center of the cathedral’s roof and nearly destroyed the entire building before it was put out.
The church receives more than 12 million visitors each year.
The roof had been undergoing restorative work at the time of the fire, and in the subsequent months, fire officials said they believed either malfunctioning electrical work or an abandoned cigarette butt from a worker caused the fire.
Most of the church’s sacred and artistic treasures, including the Eucharist and a relic of the crown of thorns, were rescued during the fire thanks to a planned rescue strategy that was in place for just such emergencies.
President Emmanuel Macron vowed to restore the cathedral within five years following the fire, and nearly $1 billion has been pledged towards its restoration from private donors.
Last summer the French government passed a bill organizing how the restoration funds would be distributed, though debates about whether the cathedral will be restored as it was are ongoing.
Since the adoption of the 1905 law on separation of church and state, which formalized laïcité (a strict form of public secularism), religious buildings in France have been property of the state.