Catholics around the world and witnesses in Paris watched in horror as the iconic and historical Notre Dame Cathedral burned during the evening of April 15, 2019. The towers were saved, along with priceless religious relics and artwork, but the spire collapsed and the majority of the roof caved in.
Pope Francis has now personally commented on the devastation, writing on April 16: “Today we unite in prayer with the people of France, as we wait for the sorrow inflicted by the serious damage to be transformed into hope with reconstruction. Holy Mary, Our Lady, pray for us. #NotreDame.”
But the Vatican issued a statement as the fire burned that read in part, “The Holy See has seen with shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame, symbol of Christianity in France and in the world.” Alessandro Gisotti, the director of the Holy See Press Office, said that the Vatican was praying for the firefighters and expressed “closeness with the French Catholics and with the Parisian population.”
The Vatican spokesman added on April 16, “Notre Dame will always remain, and we have seen this in these hours, a place where believers and non-believers can come together in the most dramatic moments of French history.”
It Was Not Immediately Clear What Caused the Fire, But Officials Speculated That Recent Renovation Work Could Have Been a Factor & Flames Sparked in the Attic
The fire at Notre Dame began April 15, 2019, around 6:30 p.m. local time, which is around the time the cathedral closes to the public for the day. It quickly engulfed the building and sent huge billows of smoke shooting into the sky. An estimated 400 firefighters struggled to contain the flames, which raged for several hours and long into the night.
The fire caused the nearly 300-foot tall spire at the top of the cathedral to topple over. The spire reportedly weighed about 750 tons and was added in the 19th century. Paris resident Thibaud Binétruy told CNN, “When the spire fell, the crowd reacted with ohhh and ahh, but I guess most of them were just shocked silently. It’s awful to see such a symbol disappearing in front of you. It’s been there for so many years and in a few minutes half of it disappeared.”
The Cathedral had been undergoing a nearly $7 million renovation project. Officials speculated the fire was linked to the renovation work or whether there was some other sort of accident. The Paris bureau chief for Reuters, Luke Baker, cited police in a Twitter post: “Fire at Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral was started by accident and is related to ongoing work, according to France 2, citing police. Either way, it is terrible and a hideous blow to the symbolic heart of the city.”
One firefighter and two police officers were injured, according to fire department officials.
Notre Dame Has Stood For More Than 800 Years & Attracts 13 Million Visitors Each Year
Notre Dame is one of the busiest tourist destinations on earth and the most popular monument in Paris. An estimated 30,000 people walked through those doors every single day. More than 13 million people visited each year. You can see photos before and after the fire here.
The cathedral has stood for more than 8 centuries. It was first commissioned in the early 1160s by the Bishop of France, Maurice de Sully. The first stone was placed in 1163. It would take nearly two centuries to complete. Notre Dame was consecrated in 1345.
André Finot, the cathedral’s spokesman, told the New York Times in 2017 that Notre Dame was badly in need of repair. “Everywhere the stone is eroded, and the more the wind blows, the more all of these little pieces keep falling. It’s spinning out of control everywhere.” The chief architect of the reconstruction project, Philippe Villeneuve, explained to the Times that any changes had to be handled delicately because every part of the structure is vital. “If you remove one of those elements, there is a disequilibrium somewhere. The whole building isn’t going to crumble just because you lose three pinnacles, but it will unbalance it.”
Priceless Religious Relics Inside Notre Dame, Such as the Crown of Thorns Worn By Jesus Christ, Were Saved
Notre Dame contains priceless relics sacred to followers of the Christian faith. The cathedral houses a fragment believed to be from the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified, along with one of the nails.
The crown of thorns that Jesus’excutioners placed on his head, to mock him as the King of the Jews, was kept at Notre Dame. The braided crown was transported from Constantinople, which is located in modern-day Istanbul, during the 1200s. King Louis IX of France purchased the relic from the Byzantine emperor, Baldwin II. The crown arrived in Paris in 1239, where it has remained ever since.
The Deputy Mayor of Paris Emmanuel Gregoire, told the Associated Press that emergency services were working to save as much artwork from Notre Dame as possible. We now know that the cathedral treasury, the crown of thorns and iconic pieces of artwork were saved. You can read more about the relics here.
The historic iconic organ also survived. The instrument, which has 8,000 pipes, dates back to the 1730s and was modified extensively in the 1860s. You can read more about the organ and hear its music by clicking on the link below.