A huge fire tore through the medieval cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris last night. The French landmark was saved from total destruction but the blaze devastated the spire and roof of the 850-year-old Gothic building.
An investigation has been opened by the prosecutor’s office after police said the fire began accidentally. A police spokesman has speculated that the blaze may be connected to restoration work at the cathedral, which is home to priceless works of art, attracting about 13m visitors a year.
Declaring a national emergency, French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “so sad tonight to see this part of all of us burn”. The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, tweeted: “Tonight, all Parisians and French people weep for this emblem of our communal history.”
Theresa May tweeted that her thoughts were “with the people of France tonight,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the cathedral “a symbol of France and our European culture” while Donald Trump said it was “so horrible to watch the massive fire”.
Firefighters were still working to contain the blaze in the early hours of the morning as teams endeavoured to salvage the artwork stored inside. The famed Crown of Thorns, tunic of Saint Louis and other major works have been saved. One firefighter was seriously injured while tackling the flames.
The flames broke out at around 6:30pm local time. It swiftly reached the roof of the cathedral, destroying its stained-glass windows and the wooden interior before toppling the spire.
Thousands of Parisians watched from behind police cordons. According to an eye witness some were “howling and gasping” as they watched. Some sang Catholic liturgies while others sank to their knees.
Camille, a student from Normandy told The Guardian: “There’s a feeling of total sadness and also anger,” while Ruud van der Leij, a teacher from Rotterdam, said: “You can’t look away. It’s awful and fascinating at the same time. A terrible, awful, sad affair.” Paul Rechter, who lives just 100 metres from the cathedral, asked: “How on Earth could it have happened? Why were there no precautions?”
After Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild the cathedral, billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault, the chair and CEO of the group that owns the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent brands, pledged €100m (£86m) towards rebuilding Notre-Dame.
The Archbishop of Paris called on all priests in the French capital to ring their church's bells as a gesture to Notre-Dame. The cathedral, rivalled only by the Eiffel Tower as a Parisian landmark, is famous for featuring in Victor Hugo's classic novel the Hunchback of Notre-Dame.