Casey McShea, Staff Writer |
The iconic Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire the evening of Monday, April 15, to the shock and horror of people worldwide. The massive blaze burned for several hours, firefighters struggling to contain the flames. The fire became so strong and large that it caused the collapse of the building’s iconic spire.
The cathedral, which was built in the thirteenth century and is now 850 years old, was under construction and surrounded by scaffolding when it caught fire. The exact cause of the fire is still unknown, but some are speculating that it may have involved some of the renovation work that was being carried out on the historic site. The fire started in the attic, according to Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet, and the cathedral’s rector, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet said it appeared to have started in “the forest,” which is an interior network of wooden beams in the cathedral’s ceiling, many dating back to the Middle Ages. Until Monday night, Notre Dame had withstood many historical events throughout French history, including the French Revolution, the Paris Commune, and two world wars.
The cathedral has been a symbol of Catholicism and French identity for over 800 years. The foundation stone was laid in 1163 by Pope Alexander III and completed in the thirteenth century, aside from the central spire, which was built in the nineteenth century. The spire’s construction was sparked by the success of Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in 1831. Approximately 13 million people visit the cathedral each year, making it the French capital’s most-visited monument.
Mourners and witnesses to the fire gathered around the scene hours after the fire had started and began to sing hymns and pray. At one point, the group broke out into a melancholy rendition of “Ave Maria.” The singing lasted for at least two hours.
French president Emmanuel Macron announced that, starting Tuesday, April 16, an international fundraising campaign to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral would be launched. The French president spoke at the scene of the fire, describing it as a “terrible tragedy” but added that “the worst had been avoided,” referring to the fact the cathedral’s face and two main towers did not collapse during the fire.
Leaders around the world reacted to the fire as well. Former U.S. president Barack Obama tweeted, “Notre Dame is one of the world’s greatest treasures, and we’re thinking of the people of France in your time of grief. It’s in our nature to mourn when we see history lost – but it’s also in our nature to rebuild for tomorrow, as strong as we can.” UK Prime Minister Theresa May shared, “My thoughts are with the people of France tonight and with the emergency services who are fighting the terrible blaze at Notre-Dame cathedral.” The Vatican also released a statement saying “The Holy See has learned with shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, symbol of Christianity, in France and in the world. We express our closeness to the French Catholic and to the people of Paris. We pray for the fire fighters and for those who are doing everything possible to face this dramatic situation.”
This past Sunday was the beginning of Holy Week, the week leading up to Good Friday and Easter. Under normal circumstances, Notre Dame would have been preparing to unveil and display some of its holy relics on Good Friday, including the Holy Crown, which many believe to be the crown of thorns that was placed on the head of Jesus when he was crucified on the cross.
Some of the relics inside the cathedral were reported saved. Due to the renovations the cathedral was already under, 16 copper statues representing the Twelve Apostles and four evangelists had been removed from the area. The Holy Crown and the tunic worn by Saint Louis, a thirteenth-century king of France, were also saved, but firefighters struggled to retrieve some of the cathedral’s large paintings in time. The conditions of some of the stain-glass windows are still unknown.
Despite the tragedy and mourning throughout the country and world, President Macron promised to rebuild. “I’m telling you all tonight—we will rebuild this cathedral together,” Macron said. “This is probably part of the French destiny. And we will do it in the next years. Starting tomorrow, a national donation scheme will be started that will extend beyond our borders.”