The Fire at Notre Dame
Last night the world was gripped as flames ripped through Notre Dame Cathedral. Devasted onlookers were dumbstruck as this iconic building, known as Our Lady of Paris – that has seen so much in its 850 years – appeared unable to withstand the onslaught of heat that burned through her roof and demolished her spire. The shocking impact was felt by all those watching – see video below.
The firefighters, having worked through the night, relentlessly fought the flames and were eventually able to tame the inferno by the early hours. Their effort to bring the fire under control, in the most challenging of circumstances was nothing short of heroic. With the Cathederal positioned on an island in the heart of Paris, firetrucks raced at high speeds in rush hour traffic over the 9 bridges, surrounding the Île de Cité. The height of the flames given the design of the Cathedral was also set to be an arduous task for them, with the tip of the spire estimated to be at least a football field above the ground!
“It is like a bad dream, a nightmare, I am speechless” said an onlooker.
The fire seems to have started at the base of the spire and from there it appears to have spread across the roof. Although Notre Dame Cathedral is a stone building, much of the internal materials supporting the structure were made of wood as were many of the carvings that adorned the interior of its main passage; and this helped to feed the spread of the fire.
People standing nearby watched as the billows of smoke loomed over the cathedral, doubling in size and creating thick clouds. But as firefighters tackled the blaze the dept heads were dealing with an unlikely advisor.
To the surprise of many, Donald Trump waded into the firefighters’ handling of the blaze by suggesting this unhelpful advice via Twitter! “Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!” Two hours later, writing in English for the first time on the micro-blogging site, the French Civil Security Agency dirctly responded, letting President Trump know exactly why he was wrong:
Hundreds of firemen of the Paris Fire Brigade are doing everything they can to bring the terrible #NotreDame fire under control. All means are being used, except for water-bombing aircrafts which, if used, could lead to the collapse of the entire structure of the cathedral.
— Sécurité Civile Fr (@SecCivileFrance) 15 April 2019
This morning, however, thanks to them, we are grateful that the structure of the cathedral is, at least, still standing and her iconic towers, still intact. Although, it is too early to determine the extent of the devastation internally or the full scale of the damage externally.
What was inside the building and what can be salvaged, are questions being asked by the French authorities now. Fortunately, due to the renovation work that was being carried out at the time of the fire, many of the precious historical pieces had been removed and placed in a safe haven. However, questions still remain over other notable relics, such as the Cathedral’s organ, one of the most famous instruments in the world which was last renovated in 1730 although it’s older than that. It has 8000 pipes and 5 keyboards but its fate has yet to be established. Also, the stained glass rose windows which draws the 13 million people that visit Notre Dame each year.
“We will rebuild Notre Dame, It’s part of the fate, the destiny of France, and our common project over the coming years. And I am committed to it.”
Well wishes, prayers, support and financial donations flooded into the capital last night from around the world, reminding us of the significant role Notre Dame has played in the history of France. Let’s just take a minute to remind ourselves why.
- Notre Dame is the most famous Gothic cathedral of the Middles Ages.
- It took 200 years to build, almost as long as the entire Gothic period.
- It is seen as the most beautiful example of French Gothic architecture
- One of the first building to utilise flying buttresses in its design
- It is the location of the famous book by Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- The coronation of Napoleon as Emperor of France took place
- The stained glass rose windows is said to be the biggest of its kind in the world
- Joan of Arc was beatified by Pope Pius X inside Notre Dame in 1909
- King Henry VI of England was crowned in the cathedral in 1431.
- Relics in the cathedral include a crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Christ before his crucifixion and a piece of wood believed to be part of the cross on which Christ was crucified – early reports suggest they have been preserved
This Medieval church has battled tragedy before. Once during the French Revolution when much of its religious imagery was desecrated in 1804, however, this fire in 2019 has caught the worlds attention. President Macron has made clear that it will be rebuilt, stating “It’s part of the fate, the destiny of France, and our common project over the coming years. And I am committed to it.”
The response to his commitment has been jaw-dropping. With Francois Pinault pledging €100 million towards the restoration and the Arnault family offering €200 million.
The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, also announced that a rapid damage assessment would be carried out as soon as possible. “UNESCO stands by France in safeguarding and rehabilitating this invaluable heritage,” she said. “We are already in contact with experts and ready to send an emergency mission to assess the damage, preserve what can be preserved and plan short and medium-term measures,”.
Paris has had much to contend with over the past few years. The city has been plagued by devastation, that has struck the very heart of France and its people. This is yet another blow but one that we hope can at least be repaired. It is clear however that it will take many years for this iconic monument and World Heritage Site to eventually become whole again.