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Thieves attempt to steal stones from Notre-Dame Cathedral during citywide shutdown

Meddling with the Medieval

Thieves attempt to steal stones from Notre-Dame Cathedral during citywide shutdown

Some of the hand-carved stones on the site of the Notre-dame Cathedral are several centuries old. (Pedro Lastra)

Following the extensive damage incurred by a fire in April of last year, Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral became the subject of an ongoing reconstruction plan that has since gained international attention. While work was halted this month amid the citywide shutdown ordered by President Emmanuel Macron to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, two men visited the construction site on the night of March 17 with the intention of stealing as many original building materials as they could source and carry, some of which were hand-carved several centuries ago, prior to their arrest.

According to Le Parisien, the two men were spotted under a tarp after breaking in through a fault in the construction site by guards that were hired to patrol the area around the clock during its closure, and that they had the intention of later selling the ancient stones on the black market. “Notre-Dame has always been a [place of] fantasy; there’s a black market,” André Finot, the spokesman for Notre-Dame, told the newspaper. “One finds stones from the cathedral for sale on eBay. Except that they’re fake.” The buildings elements the two attempted to steal were likely primarily limestone, a material commonly used throughout Paris and greater Europe that becomes brittle when exposed to fire.

The combination of this month’s shutdown of the construction site and the attempted theft of its precious few remaining threatens to push the completion date of the cathedral’s date even further in the future. As AN reported two months ago, Jean-Louis Georgelin, a French general overseeing the building’s reconstruction, announced that its ceilings could collapse if immediate action wasn’t taken. At that point in its timeline, Georgelin ordered the preservation team to remove the scaffolding around the spire by this summer and take the prior precautions before resuming restoration in 2021. Construction had also been halted by lead contaminationa spat between the general in charge and its chief architect, and a report that the structure in its entirety is structurally unsound. With delays mounting because of COVID-19, the structure may be growing even more precarious.