Notre Dame Cathedral to miss first Christmas in centuries

PARIS: Notre Dame kept Christmas going even during two world wars — a beacon of hope amid the bloodshed.

Yet, an accidental fire in peacetime finally stopped the cathedral from celebrating Midnight Mass this year, for the first time in over two centuries.

FILE - Flames and smoke rise from the blaze at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Photo: AP
FILE - Flames and smoke rise from the blaze at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Photo: AP

But don’t mention the term choir-in-exile to one of the choir’s directors, Henri Chalet.

“I’d rather use ‘beyond the walls’... ‘Exile’ brings it back to sadness. Obviously, there is a lot of sadness and desolation for us to no longer be in our second home. But there is also a lot of hope because it is only a phase,” Chalet said.

In the grand scheme of things, five or six years of restoration for an 855-year-old cathedral “is nothing at all,” Chalet reasoned. Macron declared in the days after the blaze it would take a mere five years to restore the cathedral — a timeline many experts deem unrealistic.

Notre Dame choir singer Mathilde Ortscheidt, 29, left a little more space for melancholy as she regretted her absence at last year’s Midnight Mass.

“To think that I was ill last Christmas...thinking that I would go again this year with no problem!" she said.

On the first rehearsal she attended after the blaze, she said she “felt such a pain and such sadness" because the cathedral was where she began as a singer.

For the singers, the unique acoustics produced by the cathedral’s massive dimensions are sorely missed as the choir continues its mission in other venues.

“When we balanced it right, it was the most beautiful feeling of just hearing it resonate through this enormous space,” Ortscheidt said.

Despite having “to walk around a lot now” people have got used to the choir’s new lifestyle, she said, and it was just a matter of time before there will be song in the cathedral once again.

In the meantime, “the important thing for us is that we keep on singing and doing the music. That's what brings us together.”