Fire Engulfs Notre Dame Cathedral

The cathedral of Notre Dame aflame, Paris, France, April 15, 2019

A devastating fire destroyed much of Notre Dame Cathedral, viewed by many as the symbol of the French nation. The roof and iconic spire went up in flames, as some 400 firefighters battled the blaze on April 15 and through the night. The cathedral in the heart of Paris, a “majestic and sublime edifice” in the words of Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), was undergoing renovations, and was largely surrounded by scaffolding. The sheer height of the building’s vaulted ceiling and its huge wooden roof beams made fighting the fire especially complicated. The Parisian fire department is investigating the cause of the fire; at this time, authorities do not suspect foul play, and consider the catastrophe an accident.

Damage to the church’s nave, or central part, is extensive. But the basic structure of the stone-walled church, including its two bell towers, appears to be intact—though parts remain unstable and extremely vulnerable. Amazingly, no one died in the fire. The stained-glass “rose” windows survived, and other priceless treasures and relics contained within the church were spared from the flames, rescued by brave firefighters.

Construction of the historic medieval church began in 1163 and took generations to complete. Part of the cathedral roof that burned up, known as “the forest,” consisted of massive support beams that were each carved from an entire tree. Considered one of the greatest examples of Gothic architecture, Notre Dame draws over 13 million visitors each year. The building is located on a natural island in the middle of the River Seine. An earlier restoration occurred in the mid-1800s, to repair the destruction the church suffered as a result of the French Revolution’s antireligious terror. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, vowed to rebuild the structure, as monetary donations from people around the world flowed in.

Image credit: © Thibault Camus/AP Images

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