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Bloodied but unbowed, Our Lady of Paris saved by divine intervention writes ROBERT HARDMAN

Beneath the light rain that greeted a sleepless Parisian dawn yesterday, there was one over-riding emotion: That some sort of miracle had occurred in the early hours as it transpired one of the world’s greatest medieval buildings had survived wholesale destruction.

The near-cataclysmic fire which had raged through the Cathedral of Notre Dame for eight hours during the night had finally been brought under control and smothered by first light.

Notre Dame has, without doubt, been horribly damaged. France, along with much of the world, has been deeply shocked at the near-demise of ‘Our Lady of Paris’. Yesterday evening, fresh images of the wreckage were released showing the aisle piled high with charred and twisted timbers. 

Near disaster: An aerial view shows the vast extent of the damage to the Gothic cathedral’s roof, where the fire took hold and raged throughout Monday night

A birds-eye view using a drone over the top of Notre Dame Cathedral shows extensive damage to the roof of the church after Monday night's inferno

A birds-eye view using a drone over the top of Notre Dame Cathedral shows extensive damage to the roof of the church after Monday night’s inferno

The scaffolding still stands around where the he spire stood before it collapsed in breathtaking scenes on Monday night

The scaffolding still stands around where the he spire stood before it collapsed in breathtaking scenes on Monday night

Scorched stones at the top of the central tower of the cathedral which had housed the spire before it collapsed dramatically on Monday

Scorched stones at the top of the central tower of the cathedral which had housed the spire before it collapsed dramatically on Monday

Yet it could have been so very much worse. The 850-year-old towers which stand guard over the entrance and the immortal bells hanging within are in one piece. So, too, is some of the stained glass. ‘Our Lady’ lives on, bloodied but unbowed.

At the same time, the fire had produced another miracle of sorts. This avowedly secular country suddenly seemed to have rediscovered its sense of the spiritual yesterday, if only for a few hours.‘I have never known so many people talking openly about God, about religion and saying prayers in public,’ said caterer Marie-Astrid d’Arras. ‘So many people have become Catholic once again.’

Underpinning all this talk of divine intervention was a single image which first appeared in the Daily Mail yesterday.

I was one of the first people inside the smouldering cathedral as the worst of the fire subsided. I accompanied the French prime minister, Edouard Philippe, and a handful of aides on a preliminary inspection of the charred shell.

How did it escape the flames? The golden crucifix standing above a pile of charred debris and twisted timbers

How did it escape the flames? The golden crucifix standing above a pile of charred debris and twisted timbers

We found flames still flickering in some of the upper reaches and a lake at our feet. Then, through the foul-smelling miasma of smoke and hose water which filled this roofless void, we suddenly spotted an image that has come to define this near-disaster: The golden cross above the altar. How on earth had it managed to avoid the fate of everything else in the seat of the blaze, let alone remain upright?

Even avowed atheists took to social media yesterday to profess how moved they had been by this poignant symbol of defiance. Several Anglophile Parisians told me it reminded them of that famous wartime image of St Paul’s Cathedral standing tall during the Blitz.

For the authorities, there were more earthly considerations, notably finding out how the hell this had all happened in the first place. France might be praying a little louder than usual. But it is also pretty angry, too.

An interior view of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in the aftermath of a fire that devastated the cathedral on Monday

An interior view of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in the aftermath of a fire that devastated the cathedral on Monday

People attend a vigil on Tuesday. Firefighters declared success Tuesday in a more than 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris' iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof

People attend a vigil on Tuesday. Firefighters declared success Tuesday in a more than 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof

President Emmanuel Macron knows he needs to show a firm grip on every aspect of this episode and his interior minister Christophe Castaner vowed to identify the culprits yesterday. 

Attention was firmly focused on the contractors responsible for repair work on the roof in the area where the fire broke out. The fact that it started just moments after the end of the working day could provide a link.

Mr Macron cleared yesterday’s Cabinet meetings of all other business to focus exclusively on Notre Dame. Such is the mystical hold this 12th Century Gothic masterpiece has on the national psyche.

A key issue will be the cost. Under French law, the ownership of the cathedral rests with the State but the French taxpayer received a handsome head start yesterday when two of the country’s richest families pledged 300million euros before breakfast. By last night, the fighting fund had hit an astonishing 600million euros.

An aerial view of the Notre-Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames on Monday evening in the French capital Paris

An aerial view of the Notre-Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames on Monday evening in the French capital Paris

People pray on their knees by the Seine riverside in front of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. The inferno that raged through Notre Dame Cathedral for more than 12 hours destroyed its spire and its roof but spared its twin medieval bell towers

People pray on their knees by the Seine riverside in front of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. The inferno that raged through Notre Dame Cathedral for more than 12 hours destroyed its spire and its roof but spared its twin medieval bell towers

As stories began to emerge of the gallantry of the firefighters – and of a particularly heroic priest seen running into the inferno to retrieve some of Notre Dame’s treasures – messages arrived from world leaders, including one from the Queen. 

‘Prince Philip and I have been deeply saddened to see the images of the fire which has engulfed Notre-Dame Cathedral,’ she told President Macron. ‘My thoughts and prayers are with those who worship at the cathedral and all of France at this difficult time.’

Tomorrow, she will attend her beloved Royal Maundy service at St George’s Windsor, the traditional prelude to Easter Sunday.

There will be no Easter at Notre Dame, for the first time in nearly nine centuries. There was also a message yesterday from the Prince of Wales. ‘I realise only too well what a truly special significance the cathedral holds at the heart of your nation,’ he told Mr Macron.

‘But also for us outside France it represents one of the greatest architectural achievements of Western civilisation. It is a treasure for all mankind.’

People gather at the Place Saint-Michel the day after Notre-Dame Cathedral suffered heavy damage from a massive fire

People gather at the Place Saint-Michel the day after Notre-Dame Cathedral suffered heavy damage from a massive fire

By way of consolation, he alluded to the Royal Family’s own experience of the 1992 fire which ravaged much of Windsor Castle. ‘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 27 years ago,’ the Prince went on.

It was the Prince, together with the Duke of Edinburgh, who led the five-year, £40million rebuilding programme. It more than restored Windsor to its former glory.

Mr Macron would be well advised to pick up the phone to the Queen or her eldest son for a few useful tips on how best to resurrect a medieval treasure.

Other world leaders expressing their solidarity yesterday included Pope Francis, who announced he was placing the Vatican’s heritage experts at France’s disposal. 

After all, one of his predecessors, Pope Alexander III, was here to see the foundation stone laid in 1163.

The outpouring of international goodwill only added to the emotions I encountered in Paris yesterday. I found young men playing mournful recitals on the cello. 

Here and there, nuns broke into song or prayer. Gawping crowds encircling the cathedral’s island site on either side of the Seine filled miles of pavement and brought traffic to an escargot-style crawl.

In front of Notre Dame itself, a succession of sombre politicians talked of a need for national unity. After months of civil disobedience by the anti-Macron ‘gilets jaunes’ movement, there is a sense that the appetite for organised dissent has waned in the last 24 hours.

‘There is a spirit which lives inside and above this building, one you don’t find in, say, the Eiffel Tower,’ said Ambrose Laurent, secretary of France’s Conference of Bishops Then the bishops issued a joint statement saying every cathedral in France would ring its bells today at the precise time when Monday’s fire broke out.

Sitting with his drawing pad next to the Seine, I found retired steel executive Robert Gest, 72, sketching the cathedral. 

He said he wants to leave it to his grandchildren as a reminder of what happened. ‘There has been so much bashing of the church and religion in this country that perhaps this experience will make people think about it a little more,’ he said. ‘After all, the great cross is still there.’   

‘It is a sign of hope’: Parisians and tourists gather outside Notre Dame for candlelight vigil as they share their relief that beloved cathedral is still standing despite blaze gutting much of the iconic landmark

by Dianne Apen-Sadler  

Parisians and tourists gathered outside the Notre Dame in Paris this evening for another candlelit vigil after a fire tore through the structure’s iconic spire and much of the roof last night.

Locals met at the Saint-Sulpice church in the 6th arrondissement before walking to the iconic cathedral where they sang hymns outside.

The Saint-Suplice church, built in the 17th century and important to French Catholicism, caught on fire last month but had nowhere near as much damage as the older cathedral. 

Parisians and tourists gathered outside the Notre Dame in Paris this evening for another candlelit vigil after a fire tore through the structure's iconic spire and much of the roof last night

Parisians and tourists gathered outside the Notre Dame in Paris this evening for another candlelit vigil after a fire tore through the structure’s iconic spire and much of the roof last night

Pictured: a woman closes her eyes as she sings outside of Notre Dame while another holds rosary beads this evening

Pictured: a woman closes her eyes as she sings outside of Notre Dame while another holds rosary beads this evening

Locals met at the Saint Sulpice church in the 6th arrondissement before walking to the iconic cathedral where they sang hymns outside

Locals met at the Saint Sulpice church in the 6th arrondissement before walking to the iconic cathedral where they sang hymns outside

Earlier today, Parisians were relieved to see the bell towers and great stained-glass rose window were still standing this morning despite fears the whole building would collapse

Earlier today, Parisians were relieved to see the bell towers and great stained-glass rose window were still standing this morning despite fears the whole building would collapse

'Notre Dame has survived the revolutionary history of France, and this happened during building works,' said influential former Culture Minister Jack Lang

‘Notre Dame has survived the revolutionary history of France, and this happened during building works,’ said influential former Culture Minister Jack Lang

Pictured: the blaze at Notre Dame yesterday. Much of the roof was destroyed, as was the cathedral's spire

Pictured: the blaze at Notre Dame yesterday. Much of the roof was destroyed, as was the cathedral’s spire

The vigil comes as footage of people softly singing the classic hymn ‘Ave Maria’ and kneeling outside the 856-year-old building during the 12-hour blaze last night went viral, racking up nearly 15million views.

Earlier today, Parisians were relieved to see the bell towers and great stained-glass rose window were still standing this morning despite fears the whole building would collapse.  

‘Yesterday we thought the whole cathedral would collapse. Yet this morning she is still standing, valiant, despite everything,’ said Sister Marie Aimee, a nun who had hurried to a nearby church to pray as the flames spread.

‘It is a sign of hope.’

Organizers of tonight’s vigil said in a statement they want to show their attachment to Notre Dame. 

French President Emmanuel Macron today pledged to rebuild the beloved Roman Catholic architectural landmark, and wanted to see it completed within five years.

Authorities consider the fire an accident, possibly as a result of restoration work at the global architectural treasure that survived almost 900 years of tumultuous French history

Authorities consider the fire an accident, possibly as a result of restoration work at the global architectural treasure that survived almost 900 years of tumultuous French history

'Yesterday we thought the whole cathedral would collapse. Yet this morning she is still standing, valiant, despite everything,' said Sister Marie Aimee

‘Yesterday we thought the whole cathedral would collapse. Yet this morning she is still standing, valiant, despite everything,’ said Sister Marie Aimee

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said the inquiry into the fire would be 'long and complex.' Fifty investigators were working on it and would interview workers from five companies hired for the renovations

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said the inquiry into the fire would be ‘long and complex.’ Fifty investigators were working on it and would interview workers from five companies hired for the renovations

French President Emmanuel Macron today pledged to rebuild the beloved Roman Catholic architectural landmark, and wanted to see it completed within five years

French President Emmanuel Macron today pledged to rebuild the beloved Roman Catholic architectural landmark, and wanted to see it completed within five years

Pictured: one Parisian waves a French flag as others sing near the Notre Dame at tonight's emotional vigil

Pictured: one Parisian waves a French flag as others sing near the Notre Dame at tonight’s emotional vigil

Pictured: one Parisian gathered at the vigil waved a gigantic French flag as a large group gathered at the iconic landmark

Pictured: one Parisian gathered at the vigil waved a gigantic French flag as a large group gathered at the iconic landmark 

News that the fire was probably accidental has done nothing to ease the national mourning for the symbol of national pride immortalized in Victor Hugo's 1831 novel 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'

News that the fire was probably accidental has done nothing to ease the national mourning for the symbol of national pride immortalized in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’

 ‘We have so much to rebuild,’ Macron said in a televised address to the nation. ‘We will rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral even more beautifully. We can do it, and once again, we will mobilize (to do so).’

Authorities consider the fire an accident, possibly as a result of restoration work at the global architectural treasure that survived almost 900 years of tumultuous French history but was devastated in the blaze on the second day of Holy Week.

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said the inquiry into the fire would be ‘long and complex.’ Fifty investigators were working on it and would interview workers from five companies hired for the renovations to the cathedral’s roof, where the flames first broke out.

Heitz said an initial fire alert was sounded at 6.20pm on Monday but no fire was found. The second alert was sounded at 6.43 pm, and the blaze was discovered on the roof.

Investigators have already questioned nearly 30 people, said a Paris judicial police official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to comment on an ongoing probe.

News that the fire was probably accidental has done nothing to ease the national mourning for the symbol of national pride immortalized in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’.

‘Notre Dame has survived the revolutionary history of France, and this happened during building works,’ said influential former Culture Minister Jack Lang. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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