Rebuilding Notre Dame is France’s destiny, Macron vows as fire subsides; French billionaire extends €100 m

A massive fire consumed the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday (April 15), destroying the roof of the French landmark. Early in the evening, flames burst rapidly through the roof of the eight-centuries-old cathedral and engulfed the spire, which toppled, quickly followed by the entire roof.

The fire, after burning for about eight hours, was largely extinguished by 3 am CET (6.30 am IST) on Tuesday. The firefighters tried to rescue religious relics and priceless artwork. One fireman was seriously injured. It is the only reported casualty in the incident. The firefighters managed to save the main bell towers and outer walls from collapse before bringing the blaze under control.

A centuries-old crown of thorns made from reeds and gold and the tunic worn by Saint Louis, the 13th-century king of France was saved, Notre-Dame’s top administrative cleric, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet said.

Burning of Notre-Dame Cathedral is an architectural and cultural loss to France. (Photo: Reuters)

However, firefighters struggled to take down some of the large paintings in time, Chauvet said.

Macron pledges to rebuild French landmark

“The worst has been avoided,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at the scene shortly before midnight.

Emmanuel Macron said that France would launch a campaign to rebuild the cathedral, which is considered to be among the finest examples of French Gothic cathedral architecture. Notre-Dame Cathedral is known for its fundraising efforts by appealing to “talents” from overseas to contribute.

“We will rebuild it together. It will undoubtedly be a part of French destiny and our project for the years to come,” Macron said.

The cathedral’s main stone structure had escaped complete destruction by the time the fire came under control.

Smoke rises around the altar in front of the cross inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral. (Photo: Reuters)

“We will continue to watch over any residual pockets of fire and cool down the areas that are still red-hot, like the wooden beam framework,” a fire brigade spokesperson said in the early hours of Tuesday.

Macron cancelled an address to the nation that he planned to give on Monday evening in a bid to answer a wave of street protests that had rocked his presidency. Instead, he went to the scene of the blaze with his wife, Brigitte, and some of his ministers.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaking to media. (Courtesy: Reuters)

The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had launched an inquiry into the fire. Several police sources said they were working on the assumption for now that the fire was accidental.

Sparks fill the air as Paris Fire brigade members spray water to extinguish flames as the Notre Dame Cathedral burns in France. (Photo: Reuters)

The fire left the city of Paris in shock as distraught Parisians and stunned tourists gazed in disbelief as the fire broke out at the cathedral, which sits on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the River Seine and marks the centre of Paris. Thousands of onlookers lined bridges over the Seine and along its embankments, held at a distance by a police cordon. Some sang liturgical music in harmonies late into the night as they stood vigil, while others recited prayers.

French billionaire pledges 100 million

The fire at Notre-Dame has already prompted fundraising appeals in the United States, while in France the billionaire chief executive of Kering, Francois-Henri Pinault, the luxury group behind brands like Gucci, was quoted in a statement to the news agency AFP as saying he would pledge 100 million ($113 million) for rebuilding efforts.

Notre-Dame Cathedral is a “Symbol of France”. (Photo: Reuters)

World leaders send condolences

Leaders from across the world expressed shock and sent condolences to the French people. The French Civil Security service, possibly responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion that firefighters “act quickly” and employ flying water tankers, said that was not an option as it might destroy the entire building. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the cathedral a “symbol of France and European culture.” British Prime Minister Theresa May said her condolences were with the French people and emergency services fighting the “terrible blaze.” The Vatican said that the fire at the “symbol of Christianity in France” had caused shock and sadness and it was praying for the firefighters.

Rich history of Notre Dame

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said at the scene that some of many artworks that were in the cathedral had been rescued and were being put in safe storage. The Notre-Dame Cathedral, which dates back to the twelfth century, features in Victor Hugo’s classic novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”.

Notre-Dame Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site that attracts millions of tourists every year. It is a focal point for French Roman Catholics who like Christians around the world are celebrating Holy Week, marking the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Notre-Dame Cathedral has an age long history. (Photo: AP)

“I have a lot of friends who live abroad and every time they come I tell them to visit Notre-Dame,” said witness Samantha Silva.

“I’ve visited it so many times, but it will never be the same. It’s a real symbol of Paris, Samantha said.

The Notre-Dame Cathedral, which was built over a century starting in 1163, was in the midst of renovations, with some sections under scaffolding. The bronze statues had been removed last week for works.

Notre-Dame is renowned for its rib vaulting, flying buttresses and stunning stained glass windows, as well as its many carved stone gargoyles.

Notre-Dame Cathedral’s 100-metre-long (330-foot) roof, of which a large section was consumed in the first hour of the blaze, was one of the oldest such structures in Paris, according to the cathedral’s website.

Notre Dame Cathedral is burning in Paris on Monday, April 15, 2019. (AP Photo)

A centre of Roman Catholic faith, over the centuries Notre-Dame has also been a target of political upheaval.

Notre-Dame Cathedral was ransacked by rioting Protestant Huguenots in the 16th century, pillaged during the French Revolution of the 1790s and left in a state of semi-neglect.

Hugo’s 1831 work led to a revived interest in the cathedral and a major partly botched restoration that began in 1844. The wood-and-lead spire was built during that restoration, according to the cathedral’s website.

“I asked our Lord – but why?” Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, the top administrative cleric at Notre-Dame, said at the scene. “It’s terrible to see our cathedral damaged like this.”

(with inputs from Reuters)


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