A massive fire causes catastrophic damage to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

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Bertrand Guay / AFP / Getty Images

Paris’s iconic Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire on Monday, causing catastrophic damage to the structure. The iconic 295-foot spire of the 850-year-old medieval building collapsed during the Notre Dame fire, and much of its roof was reduced to ash.

Located on the on Île de la Cité, a small island in the middle of the Seine, Notre Dame was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and is considered a jewel of medieval Gothic architecture. However, many parts of the cathedral were facing major deterioration, with eroding stone, broken gargoyles and falling balustrades. Renovations had recently just begun, with 16 copper statues from the church so that the spire could be restored.

The fire broke out at around 6:30 pm on Monday, and the cathedral’s rector, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, said the fire seemed to have started in the interior network of wooden beams (nicknamed “the forest”), many of which date back to the Middle Ages. According to witnesses, the doors were abruptly shut to the last rush of tourists, before wisps of smoke, and then fire, could be seen rising from the spire.

Notre Dame fire caused catastrophic damage

notre dame fire spire collapses
Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFP / Getty Images

The flames quickly spread to the roof of the cathedral, destroying its stained-glass windows and the wooden interiors before toppling the spire, as can be seen in videos filmed by onlookers. Church spokesperson André Finot told French media that “Everything is burning; nothing will remain from the frame.” The Cathedral, which survived the French Revolution, Napoleon, and two World Wars, is visited by about 30,000 people every day; and around 13 million people each year.

Thousands of tourists and Parisians alike stood on the banks of the Seine River and watched in shock as the fire tore through the iconic landmark. Some could be seen weeping, while others raised their voices in a chorus of hymns and prayers as they mourned the cathedral.

The fire occurred during Holy Week, six days before Easter Sunday. Many churches across the city rang their bells in solidarity on late Monday night, as flames engulfed one of France’s most iconic monuments. French President Emmanuel Macron cancelled a planned speech on the recent “Yellow Vest” demonstrations that had rocked the city after news of the fire. “Notre-Dame is aflame. Great emotion for the whole nation. Our thoughts go out to all Catholics and to the French people. Like all of my fellow citizens, I am sad to see this part of us burn tonight,” he tweeted.

Firefighters battled to control Notre Dame fire

Over 400 firefighters were on the ground and battled for nearly five hours to control the blaze. They also managed to save a significant proportion of the cathedral. Paris fire chief, Jean-Claude Gallet said that the structure, including its two frontal towers, had been “saved and preserved as a whole,” but that two-thirds of the roof had been destroyed. The firefighters also worked with various teams to save as much as they could of the cathedral’s priceless artworks and cultural treasures.

In the early hours of Tuesday, around nine hours after it broke out, the fire was said to be under control. The Ministry of Culture confirmed that priceless relics had been saved and are now safe at the Paris City Hall; and that the church’s organ was intact. Also saved were the linen tunic associated with Saint Louis, the crown of thorns (said to have been worn by Jesus Christ) and the cathedral’s treasury.

Amidst incredulity and horror at the collapse of a building that has become a symbol of France over the last millennium, President Macron vowed to rebuild the cathedral and said that he would seek international help to do so. “We will rebuild,” Macron told reporters. “We will rebuild Notre Dame because this is what the French expect because this is what our history deserves, because it is our destiny.” The Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, echoes this statement, saying “the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris is a tragedy for all French people. But we will rebuild it together. The state is fully mobilized”.

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Inside the burnt shell of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, with the cross and altar having survived the blaze
Philippe Wojazer / Reuters

There were no casualties of the fire, though a firefighter and two policemen were seriously injured. The cause of the fire remains unknown, but the prosecutor’s office said it believes the fire was started accidentally. But do be wary of hoaxes spreading misinformation about the Notre Dame fire

Notre-Dame de Paris (or “Our Lady of Paris”) is a symbol of France, and of its heritage. Having stood since the 1200s, it has seen decades of neglect and damage. During the French Revolution, it suffered major damage and was restored by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century.

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Flames burn through the roof of the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral on April 15, 2019, in Paris, France.
Fabien Barrau /AFP/ Getty Images

The cathedral even gave its name Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (known in French simply as Notre-Dame de Paris), where the author said that “Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of centuries […] one cannot but regret, cannot but feel indignant at the innumerable degradations and mutilations inflicted on the venerable pile, both by the action of time and the hand of man.”

Donations for the reconstruction are currently pouring in from French philanthropists, including pledges for €100 million from retail mogul François-Henri Pinault, and €200 million from luxury goods magnate Bernard Arnault. You can donate to the restoration of the Notre Dame cathedral at the Friends of Notre Dame website.

UPDATE: The famous Rose Window has survived the fire.

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