“A symbol of defiance in the gloom” is how CNN’s anchor described the illuminated cross above the altar in Notre Dame cathedral. Both survived, as did the cathedral itself after what looked like a total loss yesterday. Almost 400 Parisian firefighters rescued one of the great Catholic churches of the world and one of the most powerful icons of French national pride.
The first images of what was rescued came from Reuters’ Philippe Wojazer:
Crazy photo of the altar inside Notre Dame, by Reuters' Philippe Wojazer pic.twitter.com/KjRPSVKJRA
— Stefan Becket (@becket) April 15, 2019
USA Today reports that many of the cathedral’s irreplaceable cultural icons were rescued as well:
Some of the Notre Dame Cathedral’s most priceless treasures, including a relic known as the Crown of Thorns many believe was worn by Jesus Christ, have been saved from the massive fire that ripped through the world-famous church, French authorities said early Tuesday.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in a tweet that historically significant artifacts and sacred items have been recovered, apparently without damage. French police also confirmed the items are safe.
“Thanks to the @PompiersParis, the police and the municipal agents, the Crown of Thorns, the Tunic of Saint Louis and several other major works are now in a safe place,” Hidalgo tweeted, along with a photo showing many of the artifacts carefully preserved in storage.
Thankfully, no one was killed in the inferno, although at least two firefighters and a police officer were injured. Notre Dame still suffered a tremendous amount of damage from the fire, and it will take an enormous effort to restore the cathedral. Two French billionaires have already come forward with donations totaling nearly $340 million dollars, while French president Emmanuel Macron pledged to commence the rebuilding project as soon as it was safe to do so. One major question will be how weakened the stone structure may be after the intense fire, and whether that will require additional support before any interior work can be accomplished.
What caused the blaze? It may have been the renovation effort currently underway at Notre Dame. The fire started in the attic, where centuries-old timber for the roof would have been like kindling. At least for now, Parisian investigators are discounting arson and terrorism as causes, France 24 reports today:
The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had launched an inquiry into the devastating blaze, with investigators working on the assumption for now that the fire was accidental.
“We are favouring the theory of an accident,” prosecutor Remy Heitz told reporters, adding that fifty people were working on a “long” and “complex” investigation. …
Investigators are focusing on whether the fire spread from the site of ongoing reconstruction work on the roof of the cathedral, which was covered in scaffolding, a source close to the investigation said.
Construction workers were questioned on Monday night, even as firefighters battled to contain the fire that was threatening the entire structure, some perched on cranes tens of metres off the ground.
Fire is a risk of renovation and restoration, even in more modern buildings. It’s a more likely cause than deliberate arson under any motive, especially given that it appears to have started where the work was being done. It’s best to avoid jumping to conclusions on breaking-news stories in general, and perhaps more so in this particular case.
What has been lost in the fire — especially the beautiful Gothic spire — is a tragedy for Paris and the world. We should be grateful for what has been saved, and what can once again be restored to its former glory. It may never be the same as it was a couple of days ago, but it has hope of restoration to something just as remarkable. Yesterday afternoon, it looked certain that the world had lost one of its great religious and cultural treasures for good. Today, it looks very much like a miracle that Notre Dame still lives.
Update: The fire didn’t destroy the famed Rose Windows, three stained-glass masterpieces that go back nearly 800 years, at least according to the archbishop. Those are among the list of what survived the fire:
• The cathedral’s main bell, Emanuelle, lives in the South tower. It has marked significant moments in French history, such as the end of World War II, as well as holidays and special occasions.
• The Rose windows are a trio of immense round stained-glass windows over the cathedral’s three main portals that date back to the 13th century. The Archbishop of Paris said all three have been saved, reports CNN affiliate BFM TV.
• The original Great Organ, one of the world’s most famous musical instruments, dates back to medieval times. Over the years, organ makers renovated the instrument and added onto it, but it still contained pipes from the Middle Ages before Monday’s fire.
There are a number of paintings and other works of art whose fate is still unknown. Be prepared for bitterly sad news when it comes to other irreplaceable works.