Friday 18 October 2019

Notre Dame fire: The 'most precious treasures' - including a centuries old crown of thorns - have been saved as Macron promises rebuild within five years

Smoke is seen around the altar inside the building (AP)
Smoke is seen around the altar inside the building (AP)

Jemma Crew and Tess de la Mare

Notre Dame's "most precious" treasures have been saved after a catastrophic fire, as more than 600 million euro was pledged to help rebuild the cathedral.

It comes as French President Manuel Macron addressed the nation tonight on television, committing to rebuilding the cathedral within five years.

Flames that began in the early evening burst rapidly through the roof of the centuries-old Notre-Dame cathedral and engulfed the spire, which collapsed, quickly followed by the entire roof.
Flames that began in the early evening burst rapidly through the roof of the centuries-old Notre-Dame cathedral and engulfed the spire, which collapsed, quickly followed by the entire roof.
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
A woman prays next to Notre Dame Cathedral after it suffered heavy damage from a fire. Photo: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Most Gothic of churches: Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris as it looked before renovation work started and a fire took hold. 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
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)

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

"It is up to us to change 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."

Firefighters fully extinguished the blaze, which tore through the French landmark on Monday evening, as the nation woke up to the devastation of its cultural and historic "epicentre".

Just under 400 firefighters worked for more than 12 hours through the night, battling to stop the complete destruction of the treasured facade after flames torched the roof, sending its spire crashing to the ground.

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.

Two police officers and one firefighter were injured during the blaze, which saw teams battle to save the structure of the 850-year-old Gothic masterpiece.

Tourists, include some from France, along with Londoners and journalists gathered outside Westminster Abbey at 5.43pm - 24 hours after the fire started - after Prime Minister Theresa May said the bells would toll with others across the country on Maundy Thursday in solidarity.

Visitor Mike Denis, 34, from Normandy, who was on holiday with his wife and two young children, said: "France has built herself around the Notre Dame de Paris, and that's why we're here tonight.

"It's a really kind thing, to do that. It's empathetic. We appreciate all these things coming from around the world."

Investigators believe the blaze was caused by accident, possibly as a result of restoration work taking place.

The tragedy has prompted an outpouring of support internationally, with the Queen of England saying she was "deeply saddened" and Pope Francis offering his prayers.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that all Irish people extend their sympathy to France and to Catholics across the world after Monday’s devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Mr Varadkar said the fire was particularly devastating because it came during Holy Week which is a prelude to Easter, the feast of hope and re-birth.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin extended sympathy to the people of France on the damage to the “iconic and historic” cathedral.

“Many of us experienced the joy of visiting it and we extend our sympathy to the French people,” Mr Martin told the Dáil.

Millions of euro have been pledged from French families and companies including Total and L'Oreal Group.

French culture minister Franck Riester said some of the most valuable treasures were stored overnight in the Paris town hall and would be moved to the Louvre museum "as soon as possible".

He said major paintings are not likely to be removed until Friday morning, adding: "They have not been damaged but there could be some damage from the smoke so we are going to take them safely and place them in the Louvre where they will be dehumidified and they will be protected, conserved and then restored."

The fire, which broke out as the last crowds of tourists ended visits just before 6pm BST (7pm local time), was finally declared to be "fully extinguished" on Tuesday morning.

Fifty people are working on a "long" and "complex" investigation into the cause, Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz told reporters.

Investigators will interview workers from five companies hired to work on renovations to the cathedral roof.

Speaking in front of the cathedral, junior interior minister Laurent Nunez said: "The task overnight was to bring the fire under control so it doesn't restart.

"The task is - now the risk of fire has been put aside - about the building, how the structure will resist."

Gabriel Plus, a spokesman for Paris firefighters, said emergency services were currently "surveying the movement of the structures and extinguishing smouldering residues".

Scores of Parisians gathered on the banks of the Seine throughout Tuesday to survey the damage to their beloved landmark.

Ashes from the cathedral's roof and spire blew across the banks of the river, along with blossom from Notre Dame's gardens.

Daniel Etieve, 70, said: "It's a very sad picture. For over 800 years this cathedral has been passed from generation to generation.

"Now I question what state we will pass it on to the generations after us.

A 55-year-old art historian, who gave his name as Fabrice, said it was "hard to believe that this is happening in Paris - part of ourselves has been destroyed".

"I always go for a walk in this area every day and come to see Notre Dame. It's like coming to visit an elderly parent."

Hundreds of millions of euro have been pledged to rebuild the national monument, while Mr Macron said a national subscription would be launched when he visited the scene on Monday night.

French tycoon Bernard Arnault and his luxury goods group LVMH have pledged €200 million towards the reconstruction of Notre Dame, following a reported €100 million donation from another French billionaire, Francois Pinault.

Later on Tuesday, L'Oreal Group, the Bettencourt Meyers family and the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation jointly announced €200 million while oil and gas company Total said it was giving €100 million towards reconstructing the "architectural jewel".

The UK ambassador to France, Ed Llewellyn, said the country stands ready to help with efforts to restore the building.

Meanwhile, European Council president Donald Tusk called on the EU's member countries to help, saying the site in Paris is a symbol of what binds Europe together.

Mr Tusk told representatives that the blaze reminds Europeans of "how much we can lose".

Read more here: French tycoons show competitive streak over Notre Dame aid

Notre Dame fire prompts Taoiseach to consider review of fire precautions at historic sites in Ireland

Notre Dame fire shows power of monuments to the French

How Notre Dame’s age and design fuelled flames and foiled firefighters

French billionaires pledge €300m to help rebuild iconic Cathedral

Art world hails Notre Dame as monument to ‘the best of civilisation’

More than just a church: How Notre Dame has featured in film and fiction

Notre Dame fire: 'now fully extinguished' blaze was probably accidental, French prosecutors say 

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