Pledges flow as blaze guts Notre-Dame but fails to destroy it

18 April 2019

Traumatic scene in Île de France, Paris, on Monday evening

FIRE gutted the great medieval Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, on Monday night. Its spire and roof collapsed. But, when the fire had been extinguished on Tuesday morning, most of the stone structure appeared to be intact.

A huge containment operation had been launched by firefighters. The 12th-to-13th-century Gothic cathedral in the Île-de-France was not only one of the country’s most significant places of worship, but also a national symbol for France and one of the world’s most-visited religious buildings.

PAWork to extinguish the fire continues on Tuesday morning. See gallery for more images

Restoration work was taking place on the building. An inquiry was immediately launched into the cause of the “involuntary” fire by the Paris prosecutor. Investigators were assessing the stability of the building on Tuesday.

The French Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, said: “The principal structure is saved, but the situation is still precarious. We’re optimistic because the two belfries were saved.”

It was reported on Tuesday that all three rose windows had been saved, and that the cathedral organ remained intact. Many of the religious treasures and works of art were saved by firefighters, Mr Riester confirmed.

The Paris Fire Department Chaplain, the Abbé Fournier, went with firefighters into the burning cathedral to remove the Reserved Sacrament and the relic of the Crown of Thorns to a place of safety.

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, had pledged that the cathedral would be rebuilt. He said on Monday evening: “Notre-Dame is our history, our literature, part of our psyche, the place of all our great events, our epidemics, our wars, our liberations, the epicentre of our lives. . . So I solemnly say tonight: we will rebuild it together.”

In France, a National Collection was launched on Tuesday to raise money for restoration. François Pinault, the head of Kering, which owns fashion labels including Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, and Gucci, promised €100 million, and Bernard Arnault, the owner of the group Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, said that he would donate €200 million.

The Church of England’s Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, said that he was “horrified” by the spectacle, and “heartbroken” to see the spire fall.

He said: “I was deeply shocked. I was horrified to see the flames in the cathedral last night. We were all heartbroken to see the spire fall. There is a real sense of a cornerstone of our European Christian heritage being lost.”

On Monday evening, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote on Twitter: “Tonight we pray for the firefighters tackling the tragic Notre-Dame fire — and for everyone in France and beyond who watches and weeps for this beautiful, sacred place where millions have met with Jesus Christ. Nous sommes avec vous.”

On Tuesday morning, he wrote: “In November 1940, Coventry Cathedral burned. It was rebuilt to the glory of God and stands today a symbol of hope and resurrection. May #NotreDame also rise again in the power of God.”

The Archbishop of Paris, the Most Revd Michel Aupetit, told BFMTV: “When we arrived yesterday evening, we wanted to cry and people were crying around us. Notre-Dame is a symbol; more than a symbol, it is the soul of France.

“Notre-Dame de Paris on the Île de la Cité , centre of Paris, is charged with history with events through the centuries. It draws people, they come to look, and they respect the place, and they come to pray.”

ReutersA view down the nave after the fire

The Anglican Archdeacon of France, the Ven. Meurig Williams, said: “This is an icon of France, a focus for the Christian faith, and a centre of worship and pilgrimage loved by millions of people around the world. It is a place in which I have worshipped often over many years, and where I had the privilege of preaching about 18 months ago. . .

“Yesterday evening, I watched an inspiring liturgy for Palm Sunday televised live from Notre-Dame. I find it hard to believe that such a magnificent setting for worship is now so badly destroyed, and may be closed for some considerable time. The loss to the Catholic Church, and to all of us in France, is incalculable. We grieve with all who are feeling this loss most acutely.”

The RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday: “I felt myself sharing in that shock and grief, and in the tears that many people on the streets of Paris were shedding as they watched this building, this cathedral, that for so long has been at the heart of their nation, at the heart of their shared story, go up in flames.”

Cardinal Nichols continued: “It was terrible and tragic. More visitors go to Notre-Dame than go to Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and St Paul’s [Cathedral] combined: it tells you that it is somewhere near the heartbeat of our human story. What struck me from the people on the streets. . . There were pockets of people who were praying and singing hymns, that voice expressed what was most deeply in the hearts of everybody.

“Right at the heart of religious experience, especially the Jewish-Christian experience, is this word ‘remember’. . . Buildings do that for us, cathedrals especially. We know our lives are ambivalent, they’re not particularly brilliant, but our hopes are always expressed in things like cathedrals. They take what’s deepest in our hearts and give us an external representation.”

Dr Innes said: “People will be deeply shocked, and we stand in solidarity with the Roman Catholic Church in France, our Christian brothers and sisters. Distances in France are measured from the steps of Notre-Dame: it really is the centre of French life. This is Holy Week, and after Good Friday we look forward to the resurrection of Easter Sunday.

“I am grateful for the bravery of the firefighters in tackling the blaze. I hope that we can look forward to the building’s own restoration and resurrection in the years to come. It’s heartening to see donations already come in, and it was so moving to see French people praying and singing hymns around the cathedral — there was an outpouring of worship in a situation of great loss.”

The Church of England’s Director of Cathedrals and Church Buildings, Becky Clark, said on Tuesday: “It is everybody’s nightmare. Periods of restoration and renovation are periods of vulnerability for historic buildings, and that’s because you have people in spaces that they’re not always in, you have different air movements, you have electrical tools, you have hot works going on.

“We don’t yet know what caused the Notre-Dame fire, but the speculation that it was caused because of something to do with the restoration works fits with what has happened with other examples we’ve seen. It is horrifying, but it’s not unprecedented. It is recoverable from. The scale of the fire and the scale of the crowds that gathered around Paris — that wasn’t something you’d see with a lot of other historic buildings.

“What you’re doing when you are restoring a cathedral or a church is not the same as just what you’d do with any other historic building: you have to think very carefully, once you’ve consolidated it, once you’ve figured out whether it’s structurally safe. The decisions you make are around not just how you do it, but what you’re doing it for. The restoration of a church is about making sure you give back to people that which they fear they might lose.”

A Vatican spokesman said on Tuesday: “We express our closeness to French Catholics and the people of Paris. We assure our prayers for the firemen and all those who are doing everything possible to deal with this dramatic situation.”

Nicholas Cranfield: this house of prayer has seen many vicissitudes

Isabelle Hamley: Notre-Dame lived up to its destiny

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