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No Christmas at Notre Dame, as fire forces Mass into exile

PARIS (AP) — Notre Dame Cathedral is unable to host Christmas services for the first time since the French Revolution, because the Paris landmark was too deeply damaged by this year's fire. So its exiled clergy, choir and congregation are celebrating the holiday in another Gothic church next to the Louvre Museum instead.

The accidental April blaze consumed the medieval monument's roof and collapsed its spire, and reconstruction is expected to take several years. Officials say the structure is too fragile to let visitors inside, and there's still a risk of poisoning from the tons of lead dust released with the flames.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services will be held in the Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois church, once used for French royalty. Notre Dame's rector, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, will celebrate Mass there Wednesday for Notre Dame's faithful, accompanied by song from some of Notre Dame’s now-itinerant choir.

A wooden liturgical platform was constructed in the Saint-Germain church to resemble Notre Dame’s own. The cathedral’s iconic 14th century sculpture “The Virgin of Paris,” which survived the fire, is also on display.

The world-renowned cathedral has seen plenty of upheaval since its first stone was laid in 1163. It halted services after revolutionaries overthrew the monarchy and declared Notre Dame “a temple of reason,” but resumed religious activities under Napoleon in 1803, according to cathedral officials.

It kept going during two world wars, and Nazi occupation. Soldiers guarded its Christmas Mass in 2015, weeks after France's deadliest-ever terror attacks. Today, Notre Dame's twin towers still look over the Ile de la Cite island at the heart of Paris, attracting tourists taking selfies along the surrounding quays. But this holiday season, its facade is shielded by scaffolding instead of the huge Christmas tree that normally graces its esplanade.

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