A year after the inferno that triggered Notre-Dame de Paris, the big bell of the cathedral in the capital rang on Wednesday to pay tribute to the resilience of the Gothic landmark and to the doctors who fought the coronavirus epidemic.
The Bourdon bell had only rung once since April 15, 2019, when the fire broke out that consumed the tower and roof and, according to official reports, came to the ground within 30 minutes of the 850-year-old cathedral being destroyed.
Three people, wearing protective suits and masks to protect themselves from the huge amounts of poisonous lead that were distributed during the fire, took turns and rose on a rope high in the southern bell tower by five minutes the clapper of the bell to swing.
The Bourdon sounded at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) when the Parisians came to their balconies and leaned out of the windows to applaud the frontline doctors and carers who risked their lives to treat COVID-19 patients.
The outbreak has killed more than 17,000 people in France.
"The restoration of Notre-Dame … is a symbol of our people's resilience, their ability to overcome difficulties and recover," said President Emmanuel Macron.
Parisians lined the banks of the Seine twelve months ago, some holding hands, others singing hymns and lighting candles when the fire devastated a centuries-old symbol of French identity.
Pope Francis then spoke of the sadness he felt for the French people who mourned the devastation of Notre-Dame. One such person was local artist Frederique Galey-Jacob, who returned to the cathedral on Wednesday to outline the scene.
"It allowed me to express my feelings and fight the feeling of fainting that we felt when it burned," said Galey-Jacob. "It's a need, I don't know how to explain it."
When the Bourdon stopped ringing, cheers broke out from the surrounding streets.
Macron reaffirmed its promise to rebuild Notre-Dame within five years, although work to ensure that the cathedral is structurally sound is months behind schedule, delayed first by winter storms and now by the pandemic.
"Our goal is to prepare the cathedral for mass on April 16, 2024," Jean-Louis Georgelin, the retired general of the army who led the restoration project, told Reuters.
"Of course, that doesn't mean that everything will be ready."
The southern bell tower of the cathedral, which houses the second largest bell in France, which was cast in 1681, is structurally undamaged.
It has traditionally been ringed for large religious celebrations, papal visits and funerals for the President and has sounded once since the fire in September in honor of former President Jacques Chirac who passed away this month.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)