PARIS (Agencies): A major blaze engulfed the iconic Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, sending pillars of flame and billowing smoke over the centre of the French capital on April 15.
The daily newspaper, Le Monde, reported that the fire erupted in the attic of the cathedral and televised images showed the church’s iconic steeple ablaze.
BBC News reported that the blaze erupted at around 6.30pm, Paris time, but that the cause was uncertain, but might be linked to renovation work that the cathedral was undergoing.
CNS reported that in 2018, the Archdiocese of Paris opened an urgent fundraising appeal to save the cathedral, which was starting to crumble.
As the sun set over Paris, the fire had consumed the upper portion of the cathedral and the main steeple was filled with flames. It eventually collapsed into the church.
“Everything is burning. The framing, which dates from the 19th century on one side and the 13th on the other, there will be nothing left,” Andre Finot, a spokesperson for the cathedral, told Agence France-Presse.
The blaze elicited emotional responses from throughout France as Christians began the observance of Holy Week.
Videos posted on the consequenceofsound.net and on the BBC News website showed shocked, somber crowds gathered together and singing hymns as they watched the smouldering 850-year-old structure from behind a safety cordon established by the city authorities.
“I had a scream of horror. I was ordained in this cathedral,” Bishop Eric Moulin-Beaufort of Reims, president of the French Bishops’ Conference, said in reaction to the disaster.
French president, Emmanuel Macron, tweeted, “Our Lady of Paris in flames. It is emotional for a whole nation. Thoughts for all Catholics and for all French. Like all our countrymen, I’m sad tonight to see this part of us burn.”
Macron went to the scene and later gave a speech vowing that the cathedral would be rebuilt, as fire crews said the landmark’s rectangular bell towers and structure of the building had been saved, The Guardian reported.
“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,” Macron said.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said that most artworks and religious relics had been removed as firefighters worked to control the blaze, The Guardian reported.
CNS reported that the Vatican issued a statement later that evening saying that it learned “with shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, symbol of Christianity, in France and in the world.”
It said, “We express our closeness to the French Catholics and to the people of Paris. We pray for the firefighters and for all those who are doing everything possible to face this dramatic situation.”
The Diocese of Rome tweeted: “We are close to our brothers and sisters of the Church of #France, to the ecclesial community and to all Parisians. United, let us pray to the Virgin Mary, revered to #NotreDame, as mother of hope and all consolations.”
“For a Parisian, our lady is a kind of obvious,” Bishop Moulin-Beaufort said, adding, “This tragedy reminds us that nothing on this earth is made to last forever. I think a lot about the Diocese of Paris. The chrism mass will not be celebrated. It is a part of our flesh that is damaged. But I hope this will create a new momentum, a universal movement.”
In the early hours of April 16, Paris time, Le Monde reported a spokesperson for the Paris Fire Brigade as saying the fire had been brought under control. Several hundred firefighters had been involved in fighting the blaze.