Paris’s stately Notre Dame cathedral went up in flames on Monday, and it took firefighters about 12 hours to snuff out the inferno. The fire claimed the roof of the transept and the massive spire, but it appears the priceless artifacts have been saved.
Late Monday night, images of the cross above the altar, still standing after the blaze, circulated around the internet. Despite the ravages of the inferno, the cross still stood, a symbol of the cathedral’s resilience.
While the fire had reached one of the iconic bell towers, both of the towers remained intact. The 18th-century organ with 8,000 pipes also seems to have survived, along with other treasures, officials told USA Today.
“You can still see that the statue of the Virgin Mary is still standing,” Catherine Oudot, a 63-year-old Parisian, told USA Today. “It’s a relief to know that it survived. Notre Dame isn’t just a Christian landmark or a cultural landmark. It’s an absolute symbol for us, for France.”
A Notre Dame priest reported that the relics and works of art were saved. “Good news: all the works of art were saved. The treasure of the Cathedral is intact, the Crown of thorns, the Holy sacraments,” French journalist Nicolas Delesalle tweeted, citing Father Frederick, a priest who served in the cathedral for two years.
The magnificent stained-glass rose windows, which date back to the 13th century, survived, the Archbishop of Paris told CNN. The original great organ — which contains pipes dating back to the Middle Ages — also survived, the archbishop said.
The status of many treasures remains unclear, however. Purported relics such as the fragment of the true cross and one of the holy nails may have perished in the blaze. The status of numerous sculptures, statues, and paintings also remains unclear. The damage to the cathedral’s exterior, home to impressive gargoyles and chimeras and a system of flying buttresses, is also unclear.
The inferno destroyed a “forest” of wooden latticework dating back to the 13th century, leading part of the vault to collapse in the central nave. Architects are checking to see whether the structure is stable. The Paris Fire Brigade tweeted that Notre Dame’s stone construction has been “saved,” along with the “main works of art.”
No one died in the fire, although two policemen and one firefighter had been slightly injured, the fire service reported.
Remy Heitz, a Paris prosecutor, told USA Today there was no evidence of arson in the blaze, which they believe to be an accident. A $6.8 million renovation project may have started the fire. My father, a volunteer fireman with more than 20 years of experience, said the renovation efforts certainly could have begun the blaze, and that the inferno would become virtually unstoppable, considering the amount of wood holding up the vault.
Heitz added that workers from five companies had been hired to work on renovations, and they will be interviewed about the blaze.
By Tuesday, at least $339 million has already been pledged in a massive fundraising campaign. French billionaire Francois Henri Pinault pledged $113 million, while billionaire Bernard Arnault and his LVMH group pledged $226 million.
“The Arnault family and the LVMH group would like to show their solidarity at this time of national tragedy, and are joining up to help rebuild this extraordinary cathedral, which is a symbol of France, of its heritage and of French unity,” Arnault and LVMH said in a statement.
The survival of so many artifacts and the quick pledging of so much money may seem nothing less than a miracle, but many see Notre Dame cathedral more as a symbol of France and less as a symbol of the Christianity that inspired the Western heritage.
“It’s not about the faith. Notre Dame is a symbol of France,” Emmanuel Guary, a 31-year-old actor, told The New York Times.
Indeed, Notre Dame is a symbol of France. Paris, the historic capital, grew up in its shadow. Medieval Paris centered on the cathedral, which stands on Ile de la Cite, the island of the city.
Yet the cathedral delivers one central message: the transcendence of God and the majesty of Jesus Christ. The vaulted ceiling, flying buttresses, majestic statues and friezes, stained-glass windows, and the magnificent organ were all constructed to bring glory to God. The art portrays Bible stories. The organ plays hymns. The spire that fell on Monday had a massive cross atop it.
Christianity is central to the values of the Western heritage: the dignity of each individual as made in the image of God, the value of truth, thinking God’s thoughts after Him, and the creativity of inventions to make life better for everyone.
People all over the world rightly lament the Notre Dame fire, but it should not just unite millions in mourning. This event should remind the world that Christianity has done so much for good, and it should draw people back to the heritage that inspired the modern world.
The fact that so many artifacts of that rich heritage have been saved, despite this devastating inferno, should inspire Frenchmen, Americans, and people around the world to consider what inspired Notre Dame in the first place. This miracle could draw people back to the God who inspired this majestic cathedral in the first place.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.