UPDATE, April 16: French president Macron vows to rebuild Notre Dame
Update, April 16: The cathedral's significance in history and art: What was lost, what endures
PARIS (AP) -- A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches
of Paris' soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday,
threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as
tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below.
The blaze collapsed the cathedral's spire and spread to one
of its landmark rectangular towers, but Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet
said the church's structure had been saved after firefighters managed to stop
the fire spreading to the northern belfry. The 12th century cathedral is home
to incalculable works of art and is one of the world's most famous tourist
attractions, immortalized by Victor Hugo's 1831 novel "The Hunchback of
The exact cause of the blaze was not known, but French media
quoted the Paris fire brigade as saying the fire is "potentially linked"
to a 6 million euro ($6.8 million) renovation project on the church's spire and
its 250 tons of lead. The Paris prosecutors' office ruled out arson and
possible terror-related motives, and said it was treating it as an accident.
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Flames shot out of the roof behind the nave of the
cathedral, which is among the most visited landmarks in the world. Hundreds of
people lined up on bridges around the island where the church stands, watching
in shock as acrid smoke rose in plumes. Speaking alongside junior interior
minister Laurent Nunez late Monday, police chief Jean-Claude Gallet said "two
thirds of the roofing has been ravaged." Gallet said firefighters would
keep working overnight to cool down the building.
Late Monday, signs pointed to the fire nearing an end as
lights could be seen through the windows moving around the front of the
cathedral, apparently investigators inspecting the scene.
The fire came less than a week before Easter amid Holy Week
commemorations. As the cathedral burned, Parisians gathered to pray and sing
hymns outside the church of Saint Julien Les Pauvres across the river from
Notre Dame while the flames lit the sky behind them.
French President Emmanuel Macron was treating the fire as a
national emergency, rushing to the scene and straight into meetings at the
Paris police headquarters nearby. Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit invited
priests across France to ring church bells in a call for prayers for the
beloved Paris cathedral.
Deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said emergency services were
trying to salvage the famed art pieces stored in the cathedral.
Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre Dame is the most
famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages as well as one of the most
beloved structures in the world. Situated on the Ile de la Cite, an island in
the Seine River, its architecture is famous for, among other things, its many
gargoyles and its iconic flying buttresses.
Among the most celebrated artworks inside are its three
stained-glass rose windows, placed high up on the west, north and south faces
of the cathedral. Its priceless treasures also include a Catholic relic, the
crown of thorns, which is only occasionally displayed, including on Fridays
French historian Camille Pascal told BFM broadcast channel
the blaze marked "the destruction of invaluable heritage."
"It's been 800 years that the Cathedral watches over
Paris", Pascal said. "Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have
been marked by the bells of Notre Dame."
He added: "We can be only horrified by what we see."
Associated Press reporters at the scene saw massive plumes
of yellow-brown smoke filling the air above the Cathedral and ash falling on
the island that houses Notre Dame and marks the center of Paris. As the spire
fell, the sky lit up orange.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in a Twitter message that
Paris firefighters were still trying to limit the fire and urged Paris citizens
to respect the security perimeter that has been set around the cathedral.
Hidalgo said Paris authorities are in touch with the Paris
Associated Press writers Elaine Ganley and Sylvie Corbet
This report was updated at 6 p.m. Eastern time on Monday.