Saturday 21 September 2019

Notre Dame fire: French President Macron hopes to rebuild cathedral in five years

  • Macron says he wants a more beautiful Notre-Dame
  • President says he wants the work done in five years
  • Public prosecutor says there is no sign of arson
  • Billionaires, companies pledge donations for rebuild

Richard Lough and Elizabeth Pineau

President Emmanuel Macron pledged on Tuesday that France would rebuild the fire-devastated Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, saying he hoped the work would be done in five years and the French people would pull together to repair their national symbol.

Macron devoted a brief prime-time televised address to Monday's catastrophic blaze in the heart of the capital, again postponing planned remarks on his response to months of anti-government protests.

"We will rebuild Notre-Dame even more beautifully and I want it to be completed in five years, we can do it," Macron said.

"It is up to us to convert this disaster into an opportunity to come together, having deeply reflected on what we have been and what we have to be and become better than we are. It is up to us to find the thread of our national project."

"This is not a time for politics," added Macron, who had cancelled a speech planned on Monday evening on the response to the "yellow vest" protests.

He visited the site of the fire late on Monday and promised then to rebuild the cathedral, parts of which date to the 12th century.

Notre Dame Cathedral appears in several films and novels (Francois Mori/AP)
Notre Dame Cathedral appears in several films and novels (Francois Mori/AP)
Smoke is seen around the alter inside Notre Dame (Philippe Wojazer/Pool via AP)
The spire and parts of Notre Dame cathedral on fire (AP Photo/Dominique Bichon)
The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris following a fire which destroyed much of the building on Monday Photo credit: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris following a fire which destroyed much of the building on Monday evening Photo credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Devastated: Faithful pray as they watch Notre-Dame Cathedral destroyed by fire. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Horror: A woman reacts as she watches flames engulf the roof of the Notre-Dame cathedral. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Smoke ascends as flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Bystanders look on as flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The cathedral is on an island in the Seine. Photo: REUTERS
Devastated: Flames engulf the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Parisians kneel and pray as flames engulf Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
People pray as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
People pray as Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. 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. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
A still image taken from a video shows flames at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS TV/via REUTERS
Paris Fire brigade members are seen at an entrance that shows a cross inside the Notre Dame Cathedral as a fire continues to burn in Paris, France, April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
People watch as fire fighters douse flames of the burning Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Fire fighters douse flames of the burning Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Firefighters use hoses as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. 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. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Firefighters tackle the blaze as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Firefighters use hoses as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. 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. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
A fire fighter uses a hose as Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. 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. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

The cathedral spire was destroyed and its roof gutted but the bell towers were still standing and many valuable art works were saved after more than 400 firemen worked to contain the blaze, finally quelling it 14 hours after it began.

As the city and the country grieved for a potent national symbol, billionaires, companies and local authorities were quick to offer donations.

Some 24 hours after the fire started, more than 750 million euros ($845 million) had been pledged, including 500 million from the three billionaire families that own France's giant luxury goods empires: Kering, LVMH and L'Oreal.

Paris public prosecutor Remy Heitz said there was no obvious indication the fire was arson. Fifty people were working on what would be a long and complex investigation, officials said.

The fire swiftly ripped through the cathedral's oak roof supports, where workmen had been carrying out extensive renovations to the spire's timber-framed supports. Police began questioning the workers involved, the prosecutor's office said.

One firefighter was injured but no one else was hurt, with the fire starting at around 6:30 p.m. after the building was closed to the public for the evening.

Firefighters examined the facade, with its spectacular 10-metre filigreed stained-glass rose window still intact. They could be seen walking atop the belfries as police kept the area in lockdown.

Investigators will not be able to enter the cathedral's blackened nave until experts are satisfied its walls withstood the heat and the building is structurally sound.

"Yesterday we thought the whole cathedral would collapse. Yet this morning she is still standing, valiant, despite everything," said Sister Marie Aimee, a nun who had hurried to a nearby church to pray as the flames spread.

"CATHEDRAL OF THE PEOPLE"

Messages of condolence flooded in from around the world.

Pope Francis was praying for those affected, the Vatican said, adding: "Notre-Dame will always remain - and we have seen this in these hours - a place where believers and non-believers can come together in the most dramatic moments of French history."

Britain's Queen Elizabeth expressed deep sadness while her son and heir Prince Charles said he was "utterly heartbroken". Chancellor Angela Merkel offered German help to rebuild a part of "our common European heritage".

Considered among the finest examples of European Gothic architecture, Notre-Dame is visited by more than 13 million people a year. It sits on an island in the Seine, overlooking the Left Bank hangouts of Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso.

"Notre-Dame de Paris is the cathedral of the people, of the people of Paris, of the French people, of the people of the world. It is part of those references of our history, of what we have in common, of what we share," said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.

It was at Notre-Dame that Henry VI of England was crowned "King of France" in 1431, that Napoleon was made emperor in 1804, and Pope Pius X beatified Joan of Arc in 1909. Presidents Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand were mourned there.

HUMAN CHAIN

The cathedral is owned by the state and has been at the centre of a dispute between the nation and the Paris archdiocese over who should finance restoration work to collapsed balustrades, crumbling gargoyles and cracked facades.

It was too early to estimate the cost of the damage, said the heritage charity Fondation du Patrimoine.

Paolo Violini, a restoration specialist for Vatican museums, said the pace of the fire's spread had been stunning.

"We are used to thinking about them as eternal simply because they have been there for centuries, or a thousand years, but the reality is they are very fragile," Violini said.

The company carrying out the renovation works when the blaze broke out said it would cooperate fully with the investigation.

"All I can tell you is that at the moment the fire began none of my employees were on the site. We respected all procedures," Julien Le Bras, a representative of family firm Le Bras Freres.

Many relics and artworks were saved. At one point, firefighters, policemen and municipal workers formed a human chain to remove the treasures, including a centuries-old crown of thorns made from reeds and gold, and the tunic believed to have been worn by Saint Louis, a 13th century king of France.

Gold, silver and gem-inlaid chalices, candelabras and many other artefacts survived the blaze.

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