In the cold winter light of Christmas Eve, the bridges that lead from the Latin Quarter to the île de la Cité were packed, as always. Visitors and tourists aimed their smartphones to capture the ruin.
Mark Tierney, visiting from Boston, didn't think he'd be affected. Then he saw it.
"It's just kind of heartbreaking," the 32-year-old lawyer said. "It feels barren, burned to the core."
In the months since fire tore through the Notre Dame Cathedral, snapping its wooden spire and sending leaden flames billowing into the sky, Parisians have been assessing the losses. Now here comes another: For the first time in more than 200 years, the iconic house of worship will be closed on Christmas.
The last event to interrupt the Christmas Mass at Notre Dame was the French Revolution, according to Karine Dalle, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Paris. Records show that priests have celebrated the birth of Jesus at the cathedral every year since 1803, when they got the building back, she said. Services continued even through the Nazi occupation, from 1940 through 1944.
This year, they'll be held at a nearby church. It's unclear when they'll return.
The blaze April 15 that gutted the 856-year old cathedral continues to mark the city. Cranes now soar over the Île de la Cité. Donors have pledged more than $1 billion for reconstruction, and President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to reopen the cathedral in time for the 2024 Olympics. But the prospect feels distant.
It's been a tumultuous year in France, bookended by the oft-violent "yellow vest" protests at the beginning and a series of crippling transport strikes at the end. It's the second Christmas in a row in which shops have boarded up their windows to avoid the chaos.
But last year, there was Notre Dame. This year, there isn't - not as before. It still stands, of course, but the Gothic marvel is a shadow of its former self, a skeleton that sits abandoned in a cordoned-off enclosure, drawing tourists to gawk. There's a feeling of emptiness, but also of silence: The bells no longer ring.
"What Parisians and I will miss, beyond the mass, always spectacular, is the sound of Notre Dame," said the French journalist Agnès Poirier, author of a forthcoming book about the cathedral, due to be published in April.
"The sonorous island that is the heart of Paris, île de la Cité, will remain silent for the first time in centuries," she said. "I will miss the bourdon Emmanuel chiming the twelve coups de minuit" - the stroke of midnight - "so loud and solemn, which can be heard eight miles away."
The bourdon Emmanuel is the cathedral's famous bell that miraculously survived the French Revolution.
France can be a confusing place when it comes to religion. On the one hand, this is a proudly secular republic, a place where the most heated public debates are typically over where Muslim women can - and cannot - wear headscarves and veils. On the other, France has also always been a culturally Catholic country, in which state offices close for business even on the more obscure feast days of the liturgical calendar.
But as elsewhere, the role of the Catholic church in most people's lives has vastly diminished in recent decades. In "L'archipel français," one of the best-selling books of the year, the pollster and political analyst Jérome Fourquet revealed that only 6% of the French attend Sunday Mass, and the number of Catholic priests in the country has dropped by a third in the last 65 years.
The fire at Notre Dame, arguably the most important Catholic symbol in the country, occurred against that social context: To more than a few, especially on the political right, the burning cathedral was a metaphor for a way of life that has been disappearing for a while now, and might one day vanish altogether.
Priests themselves are not sure about those metaphorical interpretations. The Rev. Yves Trocheris is the parish priest of Saint Eustache, another imposing Gothic church in central Paris, not too far from Notre Dame. He said that the destruction of Notre Dame was like a "loss in human life." Christmas this year will be different, he said. But it isn't necessarily the end of an era.
"For Parisians it's a feeling marked by sadness," Trocheris said. "The cathedral is a site that's not open for the celebration, and the cathedral is a site of continuity in French history."
"The light in Paris will not be illuminated by Notre Dame, but at the same time there is a light that comes to us from elsewhere, from god, a light that brings us joy."
The cathedral, though now dim, still draws tourists.
Enrico Rigamonte, 18, a student from Italy, stood holding his suitcase. It was his first time in Paris, he said, and he was intent on seeing Notre Dame. He was disappointed.
Why? "Because I've never seen it before," he said. He gestured at the scaffolding and the cranes.
Tierney, the Bostonian visiting with his family, once lived in Paris.
"I used to go to the Masses here," he said. "I think that regardless of your religious persuasion - if you have one - this city is fundamentally linked to this church."