Notre-Dame fire: Cathedral 'was 15 minutes from destruction' say officials as Macron pledges to rebuild it in five years

David Chazan
Bells will toll at English churches tonight to mark the moment the fire started at Notre-Dame yesterday - AFP

Notre-Dame cathedral was just minutes away from being totally consumed by the huge fire that destroyed its roof and spire, the French government said on Monday night.

“Just 15 minutes or half an hour later and it would have been too late to save it,” Laurent Nunez, the junior interior minister, told reporters outside the cathedral as firefighters quenched the smouldering remains of the roof. 

The majority of the structure and many of its artefacts were saved, after firefighters risked their lives to salvage the belfry towers holding the cathedral's bells. 

But restoring the cathedral to its former glory could take up to 15 years and cost hundreds of millions of euros, French construction experts warned yesterday as the country's wealthiest families pledged nearly €1 billion to fund it.

President Emmanuel Macron, addressing the nation on television last night, was more optimistic: “I want it to be completed within five years. We can do it.”

He said France had always risen to the challenge of rebuilding “after wars and revolutions” and would do it again. Donations flooded in from around the world, but particularly from French benefactors.

The LVMH luxury goods group, owned by Bernard Arnault, Europe’s richest man, pledged €200 million.

A rival group owned by François-Henri Pinault, who is married to the film star Salma Hayek, offered €100 million.

The avalanche of donations sparked criticism of laws allowing corporate donors who fund the restoration of national treasures to write off as much as 90 per cent of donations against their tax.

French detectives investigating the Notre-Dame fire on Tuesday questioned workers, who had been restoring the magnificent Gothic cathedral and left the site minutes before the blaze broke out.

The inferno that consumed most of the roof was probably started accidentally, said Rémy Heitz, the Paris prosecutor, possibly as a result of restoration work on crumbling upper sections of the cathedral and the spire.

“Nothing indicates a deliberate act,” he said.

Some 50 investigators from the Paris police criminal division — half of its detectives — are assigned to the case.

Among those they have interviewed are 12 employees of the firm that was leading the €150 million (£130m) four-year restoration, Le Bras Brothers, based in Jarny, north-eastern France. 

The highly respected specialist company has restored cathedrals and churches in Strasbourg, Reims, Poitiers, Verdun, Amiens and other French cities.

It had recently started restoring the 300 ft wooden spire added to the 850-year-old cathedral in the 19th century, which collapsed in flames.

"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.

Another company, Europe Echafaudage, erected 250 tons of scaffolding and a lift.   “Detectives have been talking to some of the restoration staff to see if they can help with pinpointing the exact location where the fire started, probably in the roof,” a source close to the investigation said.

“They’re also looking at what equipment was being used, especially power sources and lighting that may have contributed to starting a fire.”

Mr Le Bras, the head of Bras Brothers, was brimming with pride when he gave an interview in 2017 about his firm being chosen to restore Notre Dame.

"No one has touched it in 150 years, it's really quite something to say we will be the ones getting involved. We won't be offering a guarantee of ten years, but 150 years," he said.

When a French reporter called Mr Le Bras on the night of the fire to ask what was happening, he simply repeated in a panicked voice "I don't know, I don't know," before hanging up.

On Tuesday he said none of his workers was present when the fire started.

Bernard Fonquerie, an architect who worked on Notre-Dame from 1978 to 1990, said: “The inquiry will show what happened.”

"A building like this has the makings of a disaster. You could never build a cathedral like this today - the rules have completely changed,” he said.

“In the years that I worked here, we never had an accident because we followed the rules so tightly. There are extinguishers everywhere, you may not use flammable liquids.”

Experts said bureaucracy and politics had delayed the much-needed restoration of Europe’s most visited monument, parts of which had been left in a state of disrepair.

Marie-Claude Gauvard, a historian and author of a book on Notre-Dame said: “The resources needed to maintain it were not provided. “When the renovation was finally started, it was high time, and perhaps a bit late.”

Until last year, no major restoration had been carried out since the mid-19th century, after Victor Hugo called attention to the need to repair damage inflicted during the French revolution.

As corporate donors and individuals rushed to pledge some nearly €1 billion to help rebuild the cathedral, there was criticism that taxpayers would end up paying much of the money as the companies would write off up to 90 per cent against tax. 

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7:19PM

Macron pledges Notre-Dame will be rebuilt in five years 

Mr Macron told France that Notre-Dame will take five years to reconstruct as he addressed the nation from the Elysee Palace. 

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

"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."

Experts earlier on Tuesday said the restoration would take 10-15 years. 

6:47PM

Tricolore to adorn One World Trade Center 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has directed that One World Trade Center's spire be lit in the colors of the French flag in solidarity with the people of France and the Catholic community worldwide.

Mr Cuomo says the lighting on Tuesday night will be a tribute to the fire-ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral, "one of the world's most sacred and celebrated religious monuments."

6:08PM

Why Notre-Dame is so important 

 

6:06PM

French president to address the nation

French President Emmanuel Macron was to address the nation on Tuesday evening, the presidency said, a day after a fire ripped through the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.

The presidency gave no further details over the nature of the address at 8:00 pm local time. Mr Macron on Monday night cancelled a speech expected to outline key measures in response to months of anti-governments protests, after the blaze erupted.

5:38PM

Hunchback of Notre-Dame shoots up French book charts

Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame has rocketed to the top of the bestseller list of Amazon in France in its original version.

Meanwhile, the English translation of the 1831 novel is also number one in sales in the category of historical fiction.

Telling the story of Quasimodo, a bell-ringer of the cathedral in the 15th century, the book helped rally support for Notre-Dame's massive renovation later in the 19th century.

Campaigning for the preservation of the cathedral, Hugo described it as crumbling and marked by "countless defacements and mutilations," contributing to alert the public about the issue.

5:11PM

The 12 apostles were removed from Notre-Dame a week ago 

 

4:45PM

Notre-Dame rebuild to take over a decade

It will take 10-15 years and hundreds of millions of euros to restore Notre Dame, suggested Frederic Letoffe, president of the Federation for Restoration of Historical Monuments, at a press conference on Tuesday. 

4:02PM

Westminster Abbey bells to toll to mark 24 hours after fire began at Notre-Dame

The bells at Westminster Abbey will toll at 5.43pm this evening to mark the moment the fire began at Notre-Dame yesterday, Theresa May has announced.

The Prime Minister said bells will be rung at churches and cathedrals across Britain in a show of solidarity with France.

She said: "Notre-Dame is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world - a symbol of France and the French people, and cherished across the globe.

"The images of destruction we saw last night were truly heart-rending.

"To underline our solidarity with France and her people, the bells at Westminster Abbey will toll at 5:43pm this evening to mark the moment the fire began yesterday.

"And later this week, on Maundy Thursday, bells will ring at cathedrals and churches across England."

Mrs May said experts from Historic England are coordinating with colleagues across the UK heritage sector to make an offer of support to their French counterparts once the damage has been assessed.

Bells will toll at English churches tonight to mark the moment the fire started at Notre-Dame yesterday Credit: FABIEN BARRAU/AFP

3:43PM

Greece reveals offer of support

Greece's government has offered France assistance in restoring fire damage to Notre Dame cathedral.

The culture ministry says Greece is willing to provide academic experts and skilled technicians from its own restoration projects if help is needed.

The ministry said in a statement it has extensive experience with major conservation and restoration works on Greece's ancient and medieval monuments.

These include a decades-long program on the Acropolis of Athens, whose 2,500-year-old marble temples and other monumental buildings were badly damaged over the centuries by fire, explosions and warfare.

Greece says it has experience in restoring medieval buildings, which could help Notre-Dame Credit: Pyotr Larionov/TASS

3:15PM

Financial pledges to rebuild Notre-Dame top €600 million

According to AFP, promises made by France's corporations along with the country's richest families have poured in after a devastating fire ravaged the 850-year-old building, as pledges top €600 million (£518 million).

Business tycoon Bernard Arnault, and his luxury goods group LVMH, pledged €200 million (£173 million) towards the reconstruction of Notre Dame, while a billionaire fashion mogul,  Francois Pinault, said he would give €100 million (£86 million) to the cause.

French companies Total and L'Oreal are pledging to each donate 100 million euro to support the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Total said it would contribute €100 million "to help the reconstruction of this architectural jewel".

Cosmetics maker L'Oreal promised the same amount to rebuild "a symbol of French heritage and of our common history".

To read more click here.

2:43PM

Before and after pictures: Scale of damage revealed at Notre-Dame

2:40PM

Easter services to be rearranged due to Notre-Dame blaze

Easter services are to be rearranged, a senior bishop has said as he confirmed none will take place at Notre-Dame.

Denis Jachiet, deputy bishop of the cathedral, said: "It's impossible to enter into the cathedral so these religious celebrations will take place in other churches."

"For the religious I think there is really an invitation to prayer and the internalisation of this situation."

He continued: "I feel a the greatest sadness for this disaster.

"In around one hour, the fire destroyed something that had spanned almost nine centuries."

A bishop has confirmed no Easter services will be held at Notre-Dame after severe fire damage Credit: Bertrand Guay/AFP

2:02PM

Hero priest insisted on joining firefighters to rescue cathedral relics, mayor claims

A brave priest, who has been hailed a hero after he recovered the Crown of Thorns from Notre-Dame as a devastating fire engulfed the cathedral, insisted on joining firefighters to save the artefacts, a mayor has revealed.

Jean-Marc Fournier, the chaplain of Paris Fire Brigade, stepped into Notre-Dame last night to retrieve relics from the building.

Speaking to reporters at the cathedral, Paris' 15th district mayor Philippe Goujon said Father Fournier insisted on being allowed to enter the edifice with fire fighters and played a role in the relic's rescue.

Father Fournier's bravery had been noted already after the November 2016 Bataclan attack, when he tended to the injured and prayed over the dead.

According to an interview he gave to Christian Family magazine after that attack, Father Fournier was based in Germany and in the western Sarthe region, before joining the Paris Fire Brigade.

He also served in the Diocese of the French Armed Forces and was based for a time in Afghanistan.

Read more here.

Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade

1:02PM

Forensic investigators face 49-hour wait to work inside Notre-Dame

Forensic investigators face a wait of up to 49 hours to start work inside the Notre-Dame, France's junior interior minister said.

Speaking at a press conference outside the cathedral, Laurent Nunez said it will take 49 hours to make the structure secure. 

Earlier there had been concern that charred and waterlogged timbers could cause further sections to collapse.

Politicians earlier warned that repairs to the Notre-Dame could last for up to 20 years, as other experts predicted rebuilding efforts could take a decade.

Forensic investigators face a 49-hour wait to work inside the Notre-Dame Credit: Ian Langsdon/REX

12:50PM

Video: Devastation inside the Notre-Dame

New footage has emerged which reveals the scale of devastation inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Video of firefighters inspecting the damage shows smoke-damaged walls and burned out windows inside the Gothic building. 

Watch footage here.

12:39PM

Notre-Dame artworks to be transferred to Louvre Museum

Artworks rescued from the Notre-Dame Cathedral are to be transferred to Paris's Louvre Museum.

France's culture minister, Franck Riester, earlier said some artefacts were being held under lock and key at city hall, but it has since emerged relics will be sent to the Louvre.

There, they will be dehumidified, protected and eventually restored.

He said that the cathedral's greatest paintings will be removed starting on Friday, adding: "We assume they have not been damaged by the fire but there will eventually be damage from the smoke."

12:07PM

Gallery: The iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral throughout history

As Parisians and the wider world mourn the damage caused to the Notre-Dame Cathedral, we take a look back at the treasured French landmark throughout history.

See our picture gallery here

Notre-Dame and St Michael Bridge pictured in 1900 Credit: Universal History Archive

12:02PM

Cathedral restorers 'to be interviewed by investigators'

Investigators are reportedly interviewing staff of the specialist restoration firm, Le Bras Frères (Bras Brothers) about their suspicion that the blaze may have started accidentally as a result of work on the cathedral.

Employees of the company, based in Jarny, in north-eastern France, were working on the timber structure and spire, before the fire broke out. 

The blaze caused the spire to collapse, but firefighters who battled the inferno for nine hours succeeded in saving the main structure and the two bell towers. 

“Detectives have been talking to some of the restoration staff to determine whether the fire began in the roof and then spread through the structure,” a source close to the investigation said. “They’re going to be focussing on the equipment that was used, especially power sources and lighting that may have contributed to starting a fire.” 

With limited electricity outlets and lighting in the medieval cathedral, generators are believed to have been used, with cables stretching up the structure for power tools. 

Le Bras Freres is one of the most respected restoration companies in France and has worked on cathedrals in Strasbourg, Reims, Poitiers, Verdun, Amiens and other French cities.

It recently started work on the spire of Notre-Dame, erected in 1859. Some parts of the cathedral are much older. 

Construction of the original structure began in the 12th century and was largely completed in the 13th, with other parts added over succeeding centuries. 

Le Bras were planning to work on Notre-Dame for up to four years, using scaffolding erected by another firm, Europe Echafaudage, which erected 250 tons of scaffolding around the cathedral, with a lift beside the 300ft spire.

Julien Le Bras, head of Bras Frères, declined to comment on the inquiry on Tuesday.

Authorities are reportedly speaking to engineers who recently started work on the Notre-Dame spire Credit: Thibault Camus/AP

11:39AM

Prince Charles "heartbroken" by fire as he hails Notre-Dame a "treasure for all mankind"

Prince Charles became the latest royal to offer his condolences as he revealed he and the Duchess of Cornwall were left "utterly heartbroken" by the blaze.

The Prince of Wales went on to declare the 850-year-old Paris cathedral as one of the "greatest architectural achievements of Western Civilisation", adding it remained a "treasure for all mankind".

In a statement addressed to President Emmanuel Macron, Prince Charles said: "My wife and I were utterly heartbroken to learn of the terrible fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral this evening and wanted to let you know immediately how much we are thinking of yourself and the French people at this most agonizing of times, and of the emergency services who are so bravely tackling the blaze.  

"I realize only too well what a truly special significance the Cathedral holds at the heart of your nation; but also for us all outside France it represents one of the greatest architectural achievements of Western Civilization.  It is a treasure for all mankind and, as such, to witness its destruction in this most dreadful conflagration is a shattering tragedy, the unbearable pain of which we all share. 

"Cher Monsieur le Président, our hearts go out to you and the people of France more than you can ever know, especially in view of our experience with the devastating fire at Windsor Castle twenty-seven years ago.  

"We send you our most profound sympathy, however inadequate that may be. 

"Très cordialement à vous."

11:24AM

Queen praises emergency workers who risked lives to save Notre-Dame

The Queen has commended emergency service workers who risked their lives in attempts to save the Notre-Dame from being completely destroyed.

In a statement, she said: "Prince Philip and I have been deeply saddened to see the images of the fire which has engulfed Notre-Dame Cathedral. 

"I extend my sincere admiration to the emergency services who have risked their lives to try to save this important national monument. 

"My thoughts and prayers are with those who worship at the Cathedral and all of France at this difficult time."

11:16AM

Prosecutor: "Nothing indicates a deliberate act"

Paris prosecutors have launched an inquiry to determine the cause of last night's devastating fire.

Speaking at the Notre-Dame on Tuesday, Rémy Heitz confirmed the investigation was under way. 

He said there was no suspicion of arson and stressed that “the working hypothesis is that it was accidental. Nothing indicates a deliberate act.” Mr Heitz said five investigators are working on the probe.

He said they will be interviewing workers from five companies that had been hired to work on renovations to the cathedral's roof, which was where the flames started.

Earlier officials said they suspected that the fire may have been started as a result of restoration work in progress on crumbling upper parts of the cathedral since last year.

Cabinet ministers are meeting today to start preparing a reconstruction plan. Rebuilding may take up to 10 years, according to experts. 

However, a Right-wing nationalist politician suggested that reconstruction might take decades. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who was briefly allied with Marine Le Pen’s far-Right party during the 2017 election campaign, told reporters outside Notre-Dame: “All the Parisians who have gathered on the banks [of the Seine] want answers to understand how this happened.”

Prosecutors confirmed an inquiry has been launched to determine the cause of the fire Credit: Benoit Moser/Paris Fire Brigade

11:10AM

The aftermath: Notre-Dame cathedral damage likened to "vision of hell"

The damage to Paris's Notre-Dame Cathedral is laid bare in new pictures captured from inside the 850-year-old building.

The partial destruction of the French landmark is evident following a devastating fire last night which raged for nine hours until it was fully extinguished.

Jean Francois Legaret, the mayor of the first arrondissement  of Paris said: “I felt great emotion in seeing the damage.

"The most stupefying thing is that from the outside it looks Like nothing has happened but from the inside it is a vision of hell, the structure stripped bare, without a roof or spire... it is unbelievable."

Politicians warn repair work could take "decades" following the devastating fire last night Credit: WENN
Damage to Notre-Dame captured this morning Credit: WENN

10:38AM

Repairs to Notre-Dame "will take decades", politician warns

Efforts to restore Notre-Dame Cathedral could last "decades", a French politician has warned, as he added Parisians need to know the truth behind what caused the devastating fire.

Speaking to journalists in front of Notre-Dame, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan said: "All the Parisians who have gathered on the banks have demanded an inquiry to understand what happened - is it an accident and why such an accident?

"How can all of this burn? It's terrible - or, is it more serious? 

"I think the French are asking themselves this question."

He added: "The French want to know what happened and we have to give them the truth."

Mr Dupont-Aignan, who founded the political party Debout la France in 1999, added: "The state will need to devote millions, and it will take decades [to repair] and when we look at the damage, it is a tragedy.

"What can we do to understand how that happened and what can we do to prevent it happening to other monuments in our country?"

He said it would be a "good thing" if the process of rebuilding Notre-Dame became a means of uniting France and reserved praise for businessmen Bernard Arnault and Francois-Henri Pinault for "setting an example" by pledging millions of pounds to repair the building.

Politicians warn the repair work could last for decades Credit: Stoyan Vassev/TASS

10:01AM

Campaigning suspended for European elections

Party politics in France may be put on hold for at least the next few days.

Mr Macron’s party, La République En Marche, announced that it was suspending its campaign for the European election in May because of the fire.

The heads of the main opposition parties said they were also suspending their campaigns.

9:57AM

"It's unbearable to look at like this"

The banks of the Seine are filled this morning with Parisians and tourists making a slow, steady journey around the perimeter of the fire site. Many are in tears looking up at the ravaged cathedral, writes Eleanor Steafel.

Felix and Marion Sibaud, who have lived nearby for over 40 years, say the fire has “cut a hole in the heart of Paris and the country”. 

Fighting back tears and clutching her husband’s arm, Mme Sibaud explains that Notre Dame is “a symbol of patriotism” for French people.

“It has survived so many things throughout history and played so many different roles. It’s unbearable to look at it like this. We are not practising Catholics, but that doesn’t matter. It makes me so sad to look at it.” 

Marianne Quaubel, 28, has been to mass at the cathedral many times. “It’s a very beautiful place and the mass is always so beautiful. I’m so sad today. It’s a disaster, that’s all I can say.”

Jean Pierre Cartier has been a “cérémoniaire”, somewhat of a Master of Ceremonies, at Notre Dame for 40 years.

Today he is standing looking at the cathedral which has been his spiritual home for much of his life in disbelief. “This is a very very hard day. It’s emotional. There are so many memories. I wasn’t here yesterday. It’s hard to see it today.” 

Parisians are continuing to express shock following last night's inferno Credit: Christophe Ena/AP

9:53AM

Vicar of Notre-Dame: "It's as if our mother has been wounded"

Shards of stained glass from priceless medieval windows, and a gaping hole above the choir area where the spire crashed down: daylight reveals the extent of damage at Notre-Dame cathedral on Tuesday morning as firefighters put out the last smouldering remains of the fire.

Philippe Marsset, the vicar general of Notre-Dame, was among the first to enter the storied Gothic cathedral whose sculpted arches have been blackened by smoke and pews destroyed.

"It felt like I was looking at a bombing," Marsset said of the church where he was ordained a priest 31 years ago.

"It was hell," he said, describing the moment when the blaze was discovered on the soaring roof shortly after evening mass ended shortly before 7:00 pm (1700 GMT) on Monday.

Church officials raced to remove as many artefacts, paintings and other cultural treasures they could before being evacuated by firefighters as they tried to stop the flames from spreading.

But the blaze kept springing up as globs of molten lead fell from the soaring heights of the church.

"All night long I saw men going past with tears in their eyes. I described it this way: It was total chaos, but we can't let it knock us down," Marsset said.

"This church was built 850 years ago. It withstood the wars, it withstood the bombings, it resisted everything," he said.

Yet not all was lost: the crucifix standing over the main altar was one of several objects which escaped destruction.

"I'm devastated, even if I haven't been a Catholic for a long time," 88-year-old Claire told AFP at the scene on Tuesday morning. "I was baptised here."

"This isn't some little church that was damaged - it's the symbol of the history of France and of Paris," Marsset said, noting that all distances from Paris are calculated from the square in front of Notre-Dame.

But in the end there was relief that much was able to be saved, with much of stonework as well as the two massive square bell towers largely unscathed.

Most of the emblematic rose windows of medieval stained glass were also spared, including the huge round window dominating the church's intricately carved western facade.

"We're all just dumbfounded. It's more than miraculous, it's heroic," Marsset said, calling the firefighters who toiled throughout the night "heroes."

But he appeared lost for words when asked about what would happen now, as Christians worldwide prepared to celebrate Easter next Sunday.

"We had things planned for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday - We don't yet know where to do these. It's as if our mother has been wounded," he said.

"My bed was right there," he adds, pointing towards the cathedral, where smoke continued to rise into the skyTuesday morning.

"It's not the Notre-Dame (Our Lady) of Catholics. It's Notre-Dame of France, Notre-Dame of the world," he adds.

"The church is burning, and the entire world is crying."

National mourning over the damage done to Notre-Dame Cathedral has continued into the second day Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

9:44AM

How the tragedy unfolded

9:17AM

Notre-Dame fire completely extinguished, fire chiefs confirm

The Paris fire brigade has declared the fire that raged through the Notre-Dame Cathedral has now been completely extinguished.

Hundreds of firefighters tackled the historic blaze through the night, battling to stop it wreaking complete destruction of the treasured facade after flames torched the roof, sending its spire crashing to the ground before crowds of horrified Parisians.

Fire chiefs said it took nine hours to put out the blaze.

Around 100 firemen will remain at the site today to monitor the structure and put out remaining hot spots.

Firefighters tackled the blaze for nine hours Credit: Universal News And Sport

9:09AM

UK Government looking at how to help rebuild Notre-Dame

The UK Government is looking into how it can help efforts to rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral, according to the country's ambassador to France.

Ed Llewellyn said he has been in touch with culture secretary Jeremy Wright about what assistance Britain can offer, revealing discussions touched on whether there may be a role for Historic England to aid any restoration.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said his "heart goes out to the people of France" after the huge blaze ripped through the 850-year-old cathedral in the centre of Paris.

Mr Llewellyn, who has been at the scene, said the famous building was "wounded" but "still standing defiant and very, very beautiful".

He paid tribute to the "genuinely heroic efforts" of firefighters and said some of the structure has been saved and the "damage is less than feared".

Mr Llewellyn said Notre Dame is a "building that Britain has a close association with" and the dramatic scenes from the fire will be something "people across Britain will be feeling very deeply about".

He pointed to the restoration of York Minster, which was hit by fire in 1984, as proof "these structures can be rebuilt".

Earlier on the same programme, French ambassador to the UK Jean-Pierre Jouyet said he wanted to "pay many thanks to British authorities, to British people and all the European and people of the world" who have offered condolences and pledged their support.

He said it will take many years and will be "very, very hard" to rebuild, calling it an "enormous" moment for Paris.

Britain stands ready to help efforts to rebuild Notre-Dame Credit: BERTRAND GUAY/AFP

8:58AM

Conspiracy theorists take aim at President Macron

Conspiracy theorists took to social media suggesting that the blame for the fire may somehow lie with President Macron.

Some posts echoed accusations last year that Mr Macron had orchestrated the Strasbourg terror attack in December to distract attention from the “yellow vest” protests.

After the blaze broke out, President Macron cancelled a televised address he had been due to make last night in an attempt to quell nearly six months of weekend protests.

The tax cuts and aid for low-income families he had been expected to announce seemed certain to disappoint the protesters and the unrest in French cities seems set to continue.

Some of the more extreme posts have been delated. tony_revsoc99 tweeted: “#Macron is to blame. God’s punishment for months of brutality against the #GiletsJaunes.”

Freddy Bop tweeted: “Oh, #EmmanuelMacron got to cancel a speech making concessions to #GiletsJaunes? I guarantee you there was some capitalist “efficiency” b******* hubris involved with Notre Dame getting torched… perhaps even something Reichstag-esque”.

Emmanuel Macron was targeted by conspiracy theorists following the blaze Credit: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

 

8:47AM

Paris needs another Hugo to champion its gothic survivor

Every year some 12 million visitors, watched silently by a menagerie of Gothic gargoyles, chimeras and grotesques, teem through the portals of Notre-Dame de Paris, writes architecture critic Jonathan Glancy. 

Some, of course, come to pray. Most come to take photographs, bathe in the plays of kaleidoscopic light through great rose windows, stare into the high pointed vaults, listen for bells and, perhaps, sense something of the mysterious, miraculous and even diabolical.

In the popular imagination, Notre-Dame has long been the most gothic of Gothic churches. 

And, yet we owe much of its theatricality to Victor Hugo, whose 1831 novel was set in the magnificent cathedral. English speakers know it as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

To read more click here

Notre-Dame has long been the most gothic of Gothic churches Credit: Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images

8:34AM

Donald Tusk: EU should help rebuild Notre-Dame

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, has called on all EU member states to help rebuild Notre-Dame as he offered his "comfort and solidarity" with France.

Mr Tusk vowed, "you will rebuild your cathedral," pointing to his home city of Gdansk in Poland as inspiration for the restoration after the city was "90% destroyed".

He tweeted: "I'd like to say words of  comfort and solidarity with the French nation, also as citizen of Gdansk, 90%  destroyed and burnt, later rebuilt. You will also rebuild your cathedral!  "From Strasbourg, French capital of the EU, I call on all 28 States to take part in this task. #NotreDame."

8:19AM

Archbishop of Paris: Majestic cathedral 'almost collapsed'

Battered but still standing, Notre-Dame still towers over Paris this morning despite the loss of its spire and most of its roof, writes David Chazan for The Telegraph.

Most of the treasured artefacts and works of art have been saved from the interior of the cathedral and the organ, with its 7,800 pipes, is intact.

But concern remains for the iconic building. Franck Riester, the culture minister, said” “Three sections have collapsed and the teams at the scene are worried because above there is charred and waterlogged timber, which is weighing on the structure.”  

Michel Aupetit, the Archbishop of Paris, said the majestic 850-year-old cathedral in the heart of Paris “almost collapsed”.

Donations towards its restoration have been flooding in after an appeal launched by President Emmanuel Macron last night.

Bernard Arnault, the owner of France’s LVMH luxury goods group and the country’s richest man, announced a donation of €200 million (£172m), following a reported 100 million euro (£86 million) donation from another French billionaire, Francois Pinault.

The Paris regional authority said it would provide €10 million in emergency aid.

Investigators suspect that the blaze began as a result of renovation work that was going on to save crumbling upper parts of the iconic building, parts of which have been in danger for several years.

Few Parisians appeared angry or willing to ascribe blame, but many say they will back the restoration effort wholeheartedly, even if it takes 10 years to restore one of the jewels of Paris to its former glory. There is a sense of relief that there were no deaths in the colossal blaze and only one firefighter was injured. François Ruffin, who was among those who kept vigil through the night, said: “We’ve got to spend whatever it takes. This is such a vital part of our history. We can’t put up with cut-price restoration work on our historic monuments any longer. It has to stop.”

Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, proposed to hold an international donors’ conference to raise the money that will be needed. “Notre-Dame is a place where the soul of Paris resonates,” she tweeted. “The history of our city is linked with that of the cathedral.”

Pope Francis said he felt “close to France” and Michelle Obama, in France to promote her recently published book, tweeted: “My heart aches with the people of France. Yet I know that Notre-Dame will soon awe us again.”

The Notre-Dame still towers over Paris following last night's devastation Credit: Victoria Jones/ PA

 

8:08AM

Pope Francis offers solidarity in wake of cathedral blaze

Pope Francis stands with France and is praying for Roman Catholics and Parisians alike, the Vatican said in a statement.

The head of the Catholic Church has offered his solidarity after the devastating fire raged through Notre-Dame Cathedral last night.

"The pope is close to France, he is praying for French Catholics and for the people of Paris in face of the terrible fire which has ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral," the head of the Vatican press office Alessandro Gisotti wrote on Twitter.

"He offers his prayers to those trying to face up to this dramatic situation," he added.

Pope Francis has offered his support following the blaze at Notre-Dame Credit: Pacific Press / Barcroft Images

 

8:02AM

Sacred artefacts saved from blaze 

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has confirmed some of Notre-Dame's most sacred relics have been saved after flames engulfed the cathedral.

Ms Hidalgo said the Crown of Thorns had been taken into safekeeping.

Purported to be a relic of the wreath of thorns placed on the head of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion, the object was stored in the cathedral's treasury.

French King Louis IX brought the relic, which is contained in an elaborate gold case, to Paris in 1238.

Ms Hidalgo said the Tunic of Saint Louis had been saved, while Paris' deputy mayor,  Emmanuel Gregoire, said Notre Dame's organ, one of the biggest and most famous in the world, remains intact after the fire.

Mr Gregoire told BFMTV that a plan to protect the cathedral's treasures had been rapidly and successfully activated.

The organ dates to the 1730s and was constructed by Francois Thierry. It boasts an estimated 8,000 pipes.

Mr Gregoire also described "enormous relief" at the salvaging of pieces such as the purported Crown of Christ.

France's culture minister Franck Riester said other artefatcs were being held under lock and key at the city hall.

 

7:24AM

Telegraph View: Notre-Dame can and must rise again

There are few more iconic buildings in the world than the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. The fire that has ripped through the great building is not just a tragedy for France but for the whole of Europe. The church, with its familiar double towers and spire, now sadly destroyed, is a masterpiece of European medieval Gothic architecture, though modified on many occasions down the centuries. It is also a centre for worship for the Catholic faith filled with priceless artefacts, paintings and holy relics, including a piece of the true cross.

These past few years have been difficult for France. The spate of terror attacks two years ago in Paris, Nice and other cities left scores dead and plunged the country into a state of emergency. In recent weeks, the centre of the French capital has been ravaged by street protests staged by the so-called gilets jaunes movement. Each weekend they have smashed up the centre of the city around the Champs Elysee, wrecking cars and shops.

President Emmanuel Macron was due last night to address the French people on the outcome of the national debate he launched to address voters’ concerns. Instead, he was on his way to witness his country’s most cherished building engulfed in flames.

Here in the UK we have seen Windsor Castle gutted by fire and parts of Hampton Court and York Minster badly damaged. As with Notre-Dame they happened while repair work was under way. Mercifully, those buildings were rebuilt though the damage to Notre-Dame may be more extensive.

This is a dreadful moment for France and its people. We share their pain. Notre-Dame can and must rise again

6:38AM

Christians sing prayers for burning Notre-Dame