Cathedral at heart of France is ‘fragile’ — but will be restored

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

There is no evidence of arson in the fire that destroyed the landmark Notre Dame cathedral, according to the French public prosecutor, who said they are working on the assumption that the blaze was an accident.

Remy Heitz says the investigation will be “long and complex”.

Speaking after the blaze was put out, he said five investigators are working on the probe. They will be interviewing workers from five companies that had been hired to work on renovations to the cathedral’s roof, which was where the flames started.

It took nearly 400 firefighters more than nine hours to put out the fire in Notre Dame. Ashes from the blaze were scattered along the footpaths of the Seine yesterday morning.

Exhausted firefighters were still hosing the building with jets of water for much of yesterday. Windows to the rear of the building were blackened but seemed to be intact.

Bridges on to the Île de la Cité — the island in the Seine on which the cathedral stands — were closed, but crowds of people came to view the damage and take pictures.

“It’s a very sad picture,” said Daniel Etieve, aged 70.

For over 800 years, this cathedral has been passed from generation to generation. Now I question what state we will pass it on to the generations after us.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted her thanks to the firefighters who saved Notre Dame’s twin towers.

She said on Twitter: “I want to say thank you to @PompiersParis, they saved the towers. I could not imagine Paris without the towers of Notre Dame.”

The fire service said on Twitter that Notre Dame’s structure and artworks had been saved.

Their tweet said: “The structure of the cathedral is saved, and the main works of art have been safeguarded, thanks to the combined action of the various state services committed to our side.”

Experts are assessing the blackened shell of Notre Dame to establish the next steps to save what remains of the structure.

Junior interior minister Laurent Nunez announced that architects and other experts would meet at the cathedral early on Tuesday “to determine if the structure is stable, and if the firefighters can go inside to continue their work”.

Politician Nicolas Dupont-Aignan praised businessmen Bernard Arnault and Francois-Henri Pinault for “setting an example” by pledging millions of euro to repair the building.

Speaking to media in front of Notre Dame, he said: “All the Parisians who have gathered on the banks have demanded an inquiry to understand what happened — is it an accident, and why such an accident?

“How can all of this burn? It’s terrible — or, is it more serious? I think the French are asking themselves this question.

“The French want to know what happened and we have to give them the truth.

“The state will need to devote millions, and it will take decades [to repair] and when we look at the damage, it is a tragedy.

What can we do to understand how that happened and what can we do to prevent it happening to other monuments in our country?

The director of Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, says expert work must be carried out immediately to protect the cathedral’s remaining structure.

Audrey Azoulay said it is too early to say whether the treasured rose windows of Notre Dame are unscathed because art experts have not been able to study the site yet.

She said the first 24 to 48 hours are crucial to protecting the stone and wood structure from water damage, and assessing next steps.

She warned that parts of the cathedral remain “extremely fragile”, notably hundreds of tonnes of scaffolding set up around the cathedral spire that collapsed. She said Notre Dame has “a particular place in the world’s collective imagination”.

Notre Dame is part of a Unesco heritage site that includes the surrounding quays and islands, and the UN body has offered its expertise to help rebuild.

President Emmanuel Macron will hold a cabinet meeting today dedicated to the aftermath of the fire, focusing on the national fundraising campaign and the reconstruction work.

Support for France after devastation in Notre Dame

Words of comfort and solidarity — and pledges of financial aid — have been offered to France in the hours after the fire at Notre Dame.

French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault pledged €100m to rebuild Notre Dame as the cathedral is a “symbol of spirituality and our common humanity”.

The businessman and fashion mogul, who is married to Hollywood star Salma Hayek, said the money, is from his family’s personal wealth and comes with no strings attached or “ownership” as to how it is used to repair Notre Dame.

Fashion billionaire Bernard Arnault, chief executive of LVMH, which owns fashion houses Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, and Marc Jacobs, said his family and the LVMH Group will donate €200m to the reconstruction fund.

French fuel company Total and cosmetics maker L’Oreal are pledging to each donate €100m to support the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral. World leaders have continued to share their messages of support following the Notre Dame fire.

European Council president Donald Tusk tweeted:

I’d like to say words of comfort and solidarity with the French nation, also as citizen of Gdansk, 90% destroyed and burnt, later rebuilt.

"You will also rebuild your cathedral! From Strasbourg, French capital of the EU, I call on all 28 States to take part in this task.#NotreDame.”

British ambassador to France Ed Llewellyn said his country stands ready to help with restoration efforts.

“At stake here is something more than just material help,” he said. “The burning of the Notre Dame cathedral has again made us aware that we are bound by something more important and more profound than treaties.”

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani invited MEPs to contribute their day’s salary to help finance the cathedral’s reconstruction.

The Vatican’s culture minister has said Notre Dame is a “living creature” that has been reborn before and will continue to be the “beating heart” of France. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi suggested that the Vatican, particularly its art experts at the Vatican museums, could play a role in the rebuilding.

Francois-Henri Pinault and Salma Hayek(AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)
Francois-Henri Pinault and Salma Hayek(AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

Britain’s Prince Charles said he and his family are “utterly heartbroken” at the fire and said their hearts go out to the people of France, particularly because of their own experience of the “devastating” fire at Windsor Castle in 1992.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt, the Sunni Muslim world’s seat of learning, has expressed sadness, describing Notre Dame as a “historic architectural masterpiece”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby tweeted an image of the fire-damaged cathedral with the Bible passage: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:5) #NotreDame.”

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said his country is prepared to help with the rebuilding of Notre Dame cathedral.

He wrote on Twitter: “Germany stands ready to do that in close friendship.”

Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, has offered Poland’s experience and world-class experts in the reconstruction of historic buildings as Warsaw and many other places were rebuilt from Second World War rubble.

‘Most precious’ treasures saved by heroic Parisians

By Jemma Crew and Tess de la Mare

Notre Dame’s “most precious” treasures have been saved after a catastrophic fire which left Parisians reeling.

Firefighters fully extinguished the blaze, which tore through the French landmark on Monday evening, as the nation woke up to the devastation of its cultural and historic “epicentre”.

Just under 400 firefighters worked for more than 12 hours through the night, battling to stop the complete destruction of the treasured facade after flames torched the roof, sending its spire crashing to the ground.

Two police officers and one firefighter were injured during the blaze, which saw teams battle to save the structure of the 850-year-old Gothic masterpiece and successfully recover some of the “most precious” artefacts it housed.

Jean-Marc Fournier, the chaplain of Paris Fire Brigade, is being hailed as a hero after taking part in the recovery of the Crown of Thorns at Notre Dame.

(Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP)
(Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP)

Speaking to reporters at the cathedral, Paris’ 15th district mayor Philippe Goujon said Father Fournier insisted on being allowed to enter the edifice with firefighters and played a role in the relic’s rescue.

Fr Fournier’s bravery had been noted already after the November 2016 Bataclan attack, when he tended to the injured and prayed over the dead.

Investigators believe this fire was caused by accident, possibly as a result of restoration work taking place.

French culture minister Franck Riester said some of the most valuable treasures were stored overnight in the Paris town hall and will be moved to the Louvre museum “as soon as possible”.

He said major paintings are not likely to be removed until Friday, adding:

They have not been damaged but there could be some damage from the smoke so we are going to take them safely and place them in the Louvre where they will be dehumidified and they will be protected, conserved and then restored.

Paris’ deputy mayor said Notre Dame’s organ, one of the biggest and most famous in the world, remains intact after the fire. Emmanuel Gregoire told BFMTV that a plan to protect the cathedral’s treasures was rapidly and successfully activated.

The organ dates to the 1730s and was constructed by Francois Thierry. It boasts an estimated 8,000 pipes.

The fire, which broke out as the last crowds of tourists ended visits at around 7pm local time, was finally declared to be “fully extinguished” on Tuesday morning.

Fifty people are working on a “long” and “complex” investigation into the cause, Paris prosecutor, Remy Heitz, told reporters.

Investigators will interview workers from five companies hired to work on renovations to the cathedral roof.

Speaking in front of the cathedral, junior interior minister Laurent Nunez said:

The task overnight was to bring the fire under control so it doesn’t re-start. The task is — now the risk of fire has been put aside — about the building, how the structure will resist.

Gabriel Plus, a spokesman for Paris firefighters, said emergency services are currently “surveying the movement of the structures and extinguishing smouldering residues”.

Scores of Parisians gathered on the banks of the Seine as the sun rose on Tuesday morning to survey the damage to their beloved landmark.

Ashes from the cathedral’s roof and spire blew across the banks of the river, along with blossom from Notre Dame’s gardens.

A 55-year-old art historian, who gave his name as Fabrice, said it is “hard to believe that this is happening in Paris - part of ourselves has been destroyed”.

"I always go for a walk in this area every day and come to see Notre Dame. It’s like coming to visit an elderly parent."

Pope Francis said he is praying for Parisians “under the shock of the terrible fire”.

President Michael D Higgins said: “As President of Ireland, I would like to express the feelings of solidarity of the Irish people with the people of France at the catastrophic damage to one of the most iconic buildings in Europe — a building which the people of Paris have shared with millions from all over the world, as part of a shared global cultural heritage.

“The Notre Dame Cathedral has suffered many instances of catastrophic damage over the centuries, and it is my hope that it will survive this latest terrible catastrophe.”

And in a message to President Emmanuel Macron, the Queen of England said: “I extend my sincere admiration to the emergency services who have risked their lives to try to save this important national monument.”

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