Built as early as the year 1160 the medieval gothic cathedral in Paris known throughout the world as Notre Dame is one of the most famous landmarks in France and an easily-recalled example of an internationally famous church. Its popularity is helped by the 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by French author Victor Hugo. Younger generations may perhaps recall the 1997 Disney animated film instead. But for all the reverence for Notre Dame de Paris and the tourists it draws in, maintenance on the old structure was largely neglected except for a recent ongoing renovation. Unfortunately, disaster struck.
CNN reports that the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris caught fire on the early evening of Monday, April 15 (local time). The flames started from the building’s old roof, consuming most of it and the iconic wooden spire which was added during the middle 19th Century. Tourists and attendees of the mass that should have been held at the time were among the first to notice the telltale smoke on the roof. As the fire worsened, emergency responders began an evacuation of the Ile de la Cite, the small natural island in the River Seine where Notre Dame stands.
While Parisians and tourists watched from the banks of the Seine in horror, no less than 400 firefighters were deployed to the island to prevent the blaze from razing Notre Dame to the ground. Efforts to contain and extinguish the flames ran around nine hours. In this, the building’s design itself proved a useful ally. While the cathedral’s roof had a lot of wooden combustible parts, it was built over a ceiling vault made of stonework. This slowed the fire down, preventing it from reaching the main church interior below. Nevertheless, much of the furnishings that remained there were lost.
By the time the crisis was ended, the majority of the damage was confined to the roof and upper levels, with the façade and bell towers spared from structural weakening. It is currently theorized that the fire started from whatever construction materials were left upstairs for the renovation of Notre Dame. Fortunately, said renovation also necessitated the removal of several priceless artifacts from the cathedral before the calamity took place. The Parisian Fire Brigade announced that one of their firemen was injured in the scramble to save Notre Dame. Citizens of Paris were disheartened due to the damaged symbolism of Notre Dame for their city.
French President Emmanuel Macron issued a statement before midnight, pledging to spearhead a donation drive in France and the international community to fund a restoration of Notre Dame. “I’m telling you all tonight — we will rebuild this cathedral together,’ declared Macron. “This is probably part of the French destiny.
Image courtesy of USA Today