Notre Dame's Catholic worshipers feeling misplaced by this week's massive blaze that destroyed the cathedral's spire and roof will be welcomed in an "ephemeral cathedral" of wood in front of the Paris landmark until it reopens, Notre Dame's chief priest said Thursday.
"We mustn't say 'the cathedral is closed for five years' and that's it," Monsignor Patrick Chauvet told France's CNews television channel. "Can I not build an ephemeral cathedral on an esplanade (in front of Notre Dame)?"
Chauvet said the temporary wooden cathedral would host priests who could address the millions of tourists who flock to the 850-year-old Gothic cathedral each year.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo supports the idea and has agreed to give over part of the esplanade to the church for a wooden structure, Chauvet said.
The surrogate cathedral will be erected quickly, Chauvet said, though he did not give an approximate date.
On Monday, the fire raged through the cathedral for more than 12 hours, ultimately destroying its spire and roof but sparing its twin medieval bell towers. As the blaze roared, there was a frantic effort to rescue the monument's "most precious treasures," including the Crown of Thorns said to have been worn by Jesus. Recently released satellite pictures also show the extensive fire damage to Notre Dame.
Remarkably, no one was killed in the fire, which occurred during a Mass, after firefighters and church officials speedily evacuated everyone inside.
A day after the inferno, French President Emmanuel Macron set an ambitious goal of rebuilding the famed cathedral "even more beautifully" in five years. Since then, donations have been pouring in all over the world. It surpassed the $1 billion mark Wednesday,
“It is up to us to change this disaster into an opportunity to come together, having deeply reflected on what we have been and what we have to be and become better than we are. It is up to us to find the thread of our national project," Macron said in a televised address to the nation.
Macron added that Monday's fire "reminds us that our story never ends. And that we will always have challenges to overcome. What we believe to be indestructible can also be touched."
On Thursday, workers were seen securing the support structure above one of Notre Dame's famed rose windows with wooden planks.
A huge crane and renovation teams worked at the site even after authorities warned that some of the structure remains at risk. Firefighters walked on what the remains of the roof to inspect damage.
The island housing Notre Dame at the heart of the French capital remained largely empty and closed to everyone but residents. Businesses were shuttered and the usual tourist throngs were nowhere to be seen.
Passersby praised the French firefighters who helped save the overall structure of the cathedral.
Benedicte Contamin, who came to see the cathedral Thursday said she's sad but grateful it's still there. She said this is "a chance for France to bounce back, a chance to realize what unites us, because we have been too much divided over the past years."
Paris is also planning a day of tribute on Thursday to 400 heroic firefighters who rushed into the inferno to save the 12th-century cathedral from collapsing and rescued its irreplaceable treasures from the bright orange burning blaze.
Macron will also host fire crews for a special gathering, while Paris City Hall will hold a separate ceremony in the fire brigade's honor that will feature a concert and readings from Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.