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Attempted theft at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris.      Source: Mistervlad / Adobe Stock

Thieves Attack Notre-Dame During Paris Lockdown


A pair of French criminals have been caught trying to cash in on the coronavirus lockdown -stealing stones from Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.

Just after reading a story in Le Parisien newspaper I tapped the word “scumbag” into the online Mirriam Webster dictionary and the result of my search: “a dirty or despicable person,” perfectly described the two men who on Tuesday evening, on the first day of France's self-confinement strategy trying to flatten the spike of the Covid-19 pandemic, were arrested having broken into the 12th-century Notre-Dame cathedral.

The Black Market Drives Despicable Thefts 

Last year I wrote a news article  about Notre-Dame cathedral undergoing restoration after being devastated in the April fire telling of scientists from the French national research organization CNRS undertaking a multimillion-euro study of the 850 year-old holy building to learn more about how the medieval masons constructed it. But construction work has drawn to a close due to the coronavirus crisis outbreak and it was against a backdrop of social confusion and upheaval that the pair of “scumbags” saw their opportunity to pillage the building.

When Paris police captured the two men they were drunk and hiding beneath a tarpaulin sheet and they were still in possession of the sacred stones they had seized from the cathedral. A report in the Art Newspaper says the pair of criminals, who are currently in police custody, “intended to sell the stones on the black market.” André Finot, the spokesman for Notre-Dame cathedral, told Le Parisien, “One finds stones from the cathedral for sale on eBay. Except that they're fake,” and these originals might have fetched a small fortune.

Notre Dame cathedral, reinforcement work in progress after the fire, to prevent the cathedral from collapsing. ( UlyssePixel / Adobe Stock)

Notre Dame cathedral, reinforcement work in progress after the fire, to prevent the cathedral from collapsing. ( UlyssePixel / Adobe Stock)

Scientists Adhere To Rules, Criminals Don’t

Philippe Jost, deputy managing director of the public body responsible for Notre-Dame's reconstruction project, told Le Figaro that companies outside the Paris region would have found it difficult to transport essential materials into Paris safely. And he also said it would have been near impossible to have a hundred people all adhering to the new rules of social distancing on the site because of the issue of “anti-lead safety rules” that contradict the sanitary precautions required to fight coronavirus.

Mr Jost said the cathedral staff had to take several showers a day, dress and undress in small confined changing rooms and pass through airlocks,” all activities that are now prohibited, so “we've preferred to close it,” said Mr Jost. Philippe Villeneuve, the historic monuments architect in charge of the cathedral, told Le Parisien only yesterday that after Italy, China, Spain and Iran, France has the fifth largest number of coronavirus deaths; “1,100 French people have lost their lives so far.” However, in a report published on France 24 only a few hours ago, the country “records 231 coronavirus deaths since yesterday, bringing the total fatalities to 1,331.”

Fighting The Invisible Killer

With France now in its second week of lockdown the overnight rise in the number of deaths from coronavirus represents a daily increase in France of 21%, but it also represents a slight slowing from the previous two days. However, maybe offsetting this piece of apparently good news is the fact that the French government’s figures only account for people dying in hospitals but not deaths occurring in retirement homes. And according to France 24, when these missing figures are brought into the equation they are likely to result in “a big increase in registered fatalities.”

According to the Art Newspaper article, during a press conference health agency director, Jerome Salomon, said the number of cases had risen to “25,233, a rise of about 13% in 24 hours” and added that 2,827 people were in a serious condition needing life support which is “up 12% compared to Tuesday.” And what this all means in terms of infrastructural impact is that more than one third of France's 8,000 beds equipped with ventilation gear are occupied.

Darkness In The City of Lights

Putting this all in historical context, things are nowhere near as dark as things got in the shadow of Notre Dame cathedral between AD 1348 and 1350, when in Paris there were not enough living to bury the dead as the “Black Death” plague epidemic raged through Europe. This remains the deadliest ever epidemic to strike Paris in proportion to the population, and it took the lives of an estimated 80,000 of the city’s 200,000 inhabitants: around 1/3 of the population.

Considering today’s numbers: 25,233 infected and 1,331 fatalities, with 2.14 million other Parisians locked down, and each person haunted by the fact that a third of their 8,000 beds and ventilation units are occupied, there exists no better word to describe the two men who broke into Notre Dame cathedral, than “scumbags” (dirty and despicable human,) who used the city’s vulnerable state of affairs as an opportunity to profit, while spitting on one of Europe’s most important medieval holy sites.

Top image: Attempted theft at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris.      Source: Mistervlad / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie



despite all adversities we might be going to encounter in the days to come I don’t think that we have reason to start abusing people verbally. On the contrary, we should pay even more attention to not carelessly wash away respect and the dignity of every person. History tells tales.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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