The restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral has been halted by the coronavirus crisis a year after fire gutted its interior and toppled its spire.
Some scaffolding that was erected for an earlier renovation project melted in the blaze on April 15 2019. The unstable scaffolding further endangers the cathedral.
The restoration of the landmark from the 12th and 13th centuries has been halted and workers sent home because of France’s coronavirus lockdown that began on March 17, thwarting plans to start removing the 250 tonnes of metal scaffolding.
During the televised ceremony, he said: “Today, we stand in this half-fallen cathedral to say that life is still here.”
The gathering in the fragile church that remains under lockdown was meant to raise the spirits of a nation in distress.
The archbishop told reporters: “The message of hope is especially important for our compatriots at a time when we are particularly affected by the coronavirus, which is sowing anguish and death.”
There was no Easter service, and there are no plans to mark the anniversary of the devastating fire.
President Emmanuel Macron wants the cathedral to reopen its giant doors in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, but progress has been delayed by setbacks, from the discovery of toxic dust from the melted lead roof and spire to the health and safety demands of the pandemic.
“We will do everything to keep this deadline,” he said in a tweeted video, thanking firefighters and rescue workers for extinguishing the blaze and saving lives.
Officials hope the scaffolding can be removed by autumn. Then stones must be analysed to see which need to be replaced.
Mr Malherbe said debris and huge ancient beams must be cleared from the soaring vaults. An umbrella structure will then be built to protect the site, which is now surrounded by high barricades.
Millions more have been pledged, but it was modest donations, mainly from people in France and the US, that covered the initial costs.
On Wednesday, Germany offered to help rebuild parts of the cathedral.
Officials suggested German craftsmen could remake some of the large clerestory windows located far above eye level and designed to let light and air into the building.
The German government said three glass-makers who conduct restoration work for cathedrals in Germany could offer “great expertise” to their French colleagues.
Germany’s minister for culture, Monika Gruetters, said her country would shoulder the costs.