A massive fire swallowed up the upper reaches of Paris’ soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations on Monday evening, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world.
The blaze collapsed the cathedral’s spire and spread to one of its landmark rectangular towers, but Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet said the church’s structure had been saved after firefighters managed to stop the fire spreading to the northern belfry.
The exact cause of the blaze was not known, but French media quoted the Paris fire brigade as saying the fire is “potentially linked” to a 6 million Euro (HK$ million) renovation project on the church’s spire and its 250 tonnes of lead. The Paris prosecutors’ office ruled out arson and possible terror-related motives, and said it was treating it as an accident.
A hole left by the fallen spire was still burning and sparks rained down from the cathedral’s vaulted ceilings more than five hours after the fire broke out. Gallet said fire crews would keep working overnight to cool down the structure.
Speaking alongside junior Interior minister Laurent Nunez late on Monday night, Gallet noted that “two thirds of the roofing has been ravaged”. He said firefighters would keep working overnight to cool down the building.
Late on Monday, signs pointed to the fire nearing an end as lights could be seen through the windows moving around the front of the cathedral, apparently investigators inspecting the scene. The city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, most of the significant collection of art work and holy objects inside the church had been recovered. Remarkably, only one of the about 400 firefighters who battled the blaze was injured, officials said.
The fire came less than a week before Easter amid Holy Week commemorations. As the cathedral burned, Parisians gathered to pray and sing hymns outside the church of Saint Julien Les Pauvres across the river from Notre Dame while the flames lit the sky behind them. Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit invited priests across France to ring church bells in a call for prayers.
French President Emmanuel Macron was treating the fire as a national emergency, rushing to the scene and straight into meetings at the Paris police headquarters nearby. He pledged to rebuild the church and said he would seek international help to do so.
“The worst has been avoided although the battle is not yet totally won,” the president said, adding that he would launch a national funding campaign on Tuesday and call on the world’s “greatest talents” to help rebuild the monument.
Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre Dame is the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages as well as one of the most beloved structures in the world. Situated on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the Seine river, its architecture is famous for, among other things, its many gargoyles and its iconic flying buttresses.
The 12th-century cathedral is home to incalculable works of art and is one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions, immortalised by Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
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