ROME – A massive fire engulfed Notre Dame, Paris’s famed cathedral, Monday evening Paris time, with firefighters struggling to control the flames and the mayor of the city going to Twitter to ask people to stay away from the area.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced close to mid-night Paris that the cathedral will be rebuilt. Over four hours after the fire began, firefighters said they believed they would be able to save the structure.
He also sent a message of support for Catholics from around the world, noting that the fire is taking place at the beginning of Holy Week.
Mayor Ann Hidalgo also said that the city was working on the spot “in close connection” with the archdiocese of Paris. A dramatic video, live-streamed on social media, showed the cathedral’s main spire collapse from the blaze.
The blaze collapsed the cathedral’s famous spire and spread to one of its landmark rectangular towers. A spokesman said the entire wooden frame of the cathedral would likely come down, and that the vault of the edifice could be threatened too.
“Everything is burning, nothing will remain from the frame,” Notre Dame spokesman Andre Finot told French media.
It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, but local media are citing police sources calling it an accident, “potentially linked” to the renovation works.
The cathedral, known among many things for being the stage for Victor Hugo’s famous novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, was undergoing a nearly $7 million renovation project, with some sections under scaffolding, while bronze statues were removed last week for work. The last time the building had gone through a major overhaul was between 1844 and 1864, partially thanks to Hugo’s novel that had depicted its decay.
Dozens of statues were removed last week ahead of the restoration. However, invaluable relics and pieces of art remain inside the building, reason why firefighters were trying to control the fire while trying to save as much as possible of the structure, defined by many as a “forest of columns.”
Among other things, Notre Dame houses what is believed to be the Crown of Thorns and a piece of the Cross on which Jesus was crucified. Both had been acquired by King Louis IX in the middle ages, and kept in the cathedral treasury.
Traditionally, on the first Friday of every month the Holy Relics were exposed for veneration and adoration by the faithful before the cathedral’s high altar. Every Good Friday, this adoration lasted all day, punctuated by the liturgical offices. According to Le Figaro and Le Monde, the firefighters believe there’s a risk of the entire building collapsing due to the flames.
Journalist Nicolas Delesalle of Paris Match reported that the relics and all the “movable” art of the cathedral had been saved.
The Vatican released a statement saying that it had received “with shock and sadness” the news of the “terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame, a symbol of Christianity in France and the world.”
“We express our closeness to Catholics in France and the population of Paris, and we assure them of our prayers for the firefighters and those who’re doing everything possible to confront this dramatic situation,” says the statement, signed by interim spokesman Alessandro Gisotti.
Videos on Twitter show hundreds around the area of the burning building singing religious songs and praying, as flames and huge clouds of smoke rose above the roof of the gothic cathedral, Europe’s most visited historic monument.
Some 400 firefighters were mobilized to control the fire, that forced Macron to suspend a major speech he was set to give at 8PM on Monday. Instead, he rushed to the scene, together with other French politicians
Archbishop Michel Aupetit issued his first words on the tragedy with an invitation to prayer.
“To all priests in Paris: firefighters are still fighting to save the towers of Notre-Dame de Paris. The frame, the roof and the boom are consumed. Pray.,” he said on Twitter. “If you wish, you can ring the bells of your churches to invite prayer.”
Paris archbishop weighs in on #NotreDameCathedral: “To all priests in Paris: firefighters are still fighting to save the towers of Notre-Dame de Paris. The frame, the roof and the boom are consumed. Pray. If you wish, you can ring the bells of your churches to invite to prayer.” https://t.co/TCAHlG5xEX
— Christopher White (@cwwhite212) April 15, 2019
President Donald Trump tweeted about the fire, saying it was “horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.”
President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, issued a statement expressing solidarity with the people of Paris.
“The horrific fire that is engulfing the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris is shocking and saddens us all, for this particular cathedral is not only a majestic Church, it is also a world treasure. Noble in architecture and art, it has long been a symbol of the transcendent human spirit as well as our longing for God,” he said.
“Our hearts go out to the Archbishop and the people of Paris, and we pray for all the people of France, entrusting all to the prayers and intercession of the Mother of God, especially the firefighters battling the fire. We are a people of hope and of the resurrection, and as devastating as this fire is, I know that the faith and love embodied by this magnificent Cathedral will grow stronger in the hearts of all Christians,” DiNardo continued.
New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, took to Twitter to lament the devastation.
“I just went next door to our own beloved Cathedral, Saint Patrick’s, to ask the intercession of Notre Dame, our Lady, for the Cathedral at the heart of Paris, and of civilization, now in flames! God preserve this splendid house of prayer, and protect those battling the blaze,” he wrote.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster also took to Twitter to express shock and calling the Cathedral “a symbol of faith which is at the heart of Europe.”
“We pray the fire is extinguished quickly and with a shared effort the building made good,” Nichols wrote.
For many centuries, the archbishop of Paris lived at the Cathedral, however, over a century ago a wealthy French Catholic widow left her residence – a hôtel particulier – to the archdiocese under two conditions: First, she asked that in exchange for the property, the Church would pray for the soul of her late husband, whom she believed to be less than devout. Secondly, she wanted the home to serve as permanent residence to the city’s archbishop.
Since that time, all archbishops of Paris have abided by her expectations and live at the residence less than 3 miles away from the famed Cathedral.
Notre Dame is a working parish church, in addition to being one of the most iconic sights on the city’s skyline. An estimated 12 million people visit the cathedral every year, making it the most-visited monument in the city of Paris.
This is story is being updated.