The construction boss whose firm was renovating Notre Dame before the fire broke out has previously boasted about his firm’s ability to protect historic sites, MailOnline can reveal.
Julien Le Bras declared last year: ‘Our first thought is to protect the values of historical buildings, it’s in our DNA.’
His company, Le Bras Freres, a small company known as the ‘Cathedral Restorers’, had won the £5million contract to repair the spire of the Paris landmark.
Today craftsmen from the company were being questioned by investigators after the spire came crashing down in Monday night’s horrific blaze.
Julien Le Bras (pictured), whose firm was renovating Notre Dame’s spire, declared last year that ‘our first thought is to protect the values of historical buildings’
The wreckage of Notre Dame is seen today with charred debris scattered across the floor but a statue of Christ descending from the cross apparently still intact at the altar
Investigators believe the devastating blaze started in the roof cavity below the spire where the work, which included the use of electric tools, was being carried out.
The blaze began at around 6.50pm but workers would reportedly have downed tools between 5pm and 5.30pm.
Mr le Bras told reporters at the scene: ‘We want more than anyone for light to be shed on the origin of this drama.’
He said his company has 12 workers involved in the refurbishment, though none were on site at the time of the fire.
He insisted that ‘all the security measures were respected’ and that ‘workers are participating in the investigation with no hesitation.’
Various officials have suggested the fire could have been linked to the renovation work. Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said the investigation was in its early stages.
The 32-year-old construction boss had previously heralded his firm’s ‘technical ability and competence’ and ‘pride’ in restoring historic buildings.
In a film posted online, Mr Le Bras said: ‘We are proud of our work on historic buildings. We have the technical ability and the competence for his work.
Julien Le Bras (pictured with his partner Charlotte Sartelet) today insisted tha this firm ‘wants more than anyone for light to be shed on the origin’ of the fire at Notre Dame
Paris firefighters douse the flames of the burning Notre Dame cathedral – one of the landmarks of the city – as night falls on Monday
A diagram showing which parts of the cathedral were damaged or destroyed by the fire and which are still intact
‘Our first thought is to protect the values of historical buildings, it’s in our DNA.’
In the video posted on the Le Bras Freres Facebook page on New Year’s Eve 2018 the CEO says his firm is proud to have been chosen to work on buildings across France, including the ‘Congress Palace’ in Metz and Notre Dame in Paris.
Filmed at the staff end-of-year party Le Bras said: ‘We are completely ready to start work in 2019 and we are very well motivated. The team is ready and we have the know-how.’
And on winning the Notre Dame contact he said: ‘The goal is to keep as many old items as possible and not to put the building at risk.’
Le Bras said he would ensure that Notre Dame’s famous spire – known in French as la fleche – would not be damaged during the renovation work.
He said: ‘The spire is 105m tall and there is no question that we will put any pressure on it with the scaffolding.’
The Notre Dame renovation work was estimated to cost a total of £130 million (€150 million, in an audit by the French Ministry of Culture in 2014. Restoring the famous La Fleche spire to its former beauty was estimated to cost £5 million (€6 million) alone.
The moment Notre Dame’s spire began to collapse as distraught Parisians watching the catastrophe let out a collective cry of disbelief at seeing it fall on Monday evening
Exposed to the elements: the vaulted ceiling of the cathedral is open to the sky today after Notre Dame’s wooden roof was destroyed by Monday night’s blaze
Firefighters are hoisted to the upper levels of Notre Dame cathedral to inspect the damage after yesterday’s horrific blaze. One of the Paris landmark’s stained-glass windows is seen still intact in the background
Established in 1954 by Louis Le Bras, the current CEO’s grandfather, Le Bras Freres, which is based in Jarny, Lorraine, in the east of France and employs 200 craftsmen, has been trusted to renovate some of France’s most historic buildings.
The firm won the contract to restore Notre Dame last year after successfully renovating nine other historic sites including cathedrals in Reims, Poitiers, Verdun, Strasbourg, Amiens and the Pantheon in Paris.
Restoration work on Notre Dame, which began in July 2018, was set to be carried out in several phases over 20 years.
The series of repairs and restorations included attention being paid to the 100m meter high spire and the 12 apostles that crown it, which were said to have a large number of cracks and fissures .
Experts found that the aging stonework of all of the flying buttresses were causing problems for the stability of the whole building and many pinnacles and gargoyles were in disrepair or had fallen.
Wreckage: The first pictures inside the cathedral on Tuesday morning appear to show at least one of the rose stained-glass windows still intact (left), but debris is covering the floor. Pictured right: the window before the blaze
The catastrophic fire at Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral (shown this morning) has left a nation mourning the devastation of its cultural and historic ‘epicentre’ this morning as French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild the treasured landmark
Lead framework of the stained glass windows had also become weakened.
Work using electric tools had been going on in the roof, but the fire caused the iconic spire to collapse. It comprised 250 tonnes of lead and stood 315ft tall.
After winning the contract Le Bras said: ‘No one has touched it [Notre Dame] for 150 years, it’s a great honour to be doing the work.
‘We are not expecting our work to last ten years but we are aiming it to last for another 150 years!’ he joked.
The CEO explained to staff that the tender for the restoration work had been split into three – the scaffolding, the frame and the cover.
And he was ecstatic when the ‘small company from Jarny, eastern France, won against large international groups!’
He added: ‘This will be our tenth cathedral. This family business has worked on another high-profile buildings in Paris, the Pantheon.’
The firm boasts that it is proud to employ French workers and has refused to take on ‘low-cost’ staff from abroad.
Le Bras recently invested €5million in new machinery and work space at his headquarters in Jarny, in the department of Meurthe-et-Moselle, in the Lorraine region of eastern France.
All three of Notre Dame’s Rose Windows SURVIVED blaze, Archbishop of Paris says, as first daylight images show inferno aftermath and criminal probe focuses on renovation experts
Notre Dame’s three medieval stained-glass windows all survived last night’s devastating fire, the Archbishop of Paris has said, as detectives probe the renovation work which may have led to the blaze.
The first daylight pictures inside the wreckage of the Paris landmark today showed the roof destroyed, the 850-year-old church exposed to the elements and the floor covered in charred debris.
However the three ‘irreplaceable’ Rose Windows, which date to the 13th century and were last night feared to have melted or exploded, are all still believed to be intact.
Attention has now turned to what may have caused Notre Dame, part of which was being restored in a €150million refurbishment, to fall victim to such a disaster.
Detectives investigating the catastrophic blaze are today interviewing specialist restorers from Julien Le Bras’ company.
The Paris prosecutor’s office is probing ‘involuntary destruction caused by fire’, indicating authorities are treating the blaze as a tragic accident and not arson or terrorism.
‘Nothing suggests that it was a voluntary act,’ Remy Heitz told reporters outside the Gothic cathedral, adding that the workers employed at the site were being questioned over Monday’s blaze.
The wooden roof at Notre Dame (left) was completely burned away – as experts said it could not be replaced in the way it was built in the Middle Ages – while charred debris covered the floor (right) but the bell towers remained intact
Firefighters work at the facade of Notre Dame cathedral on Tuesday following the fire which destroyed the roof and spire
One of the upper windows appeared to have been burned out although a statue on top survived (left), as rescue workers were hoisted to the top of the cathedral today (right) as they investigate Monday’s devastating fire
A source close to the inquiry said that many of the restorers had been interviewed overnight, with prosecutors focusing on the equipment used at the 850-year-old cathedral, where light and power sources were limited.
In such circumstances, hordes of cables and wires would have to be attached to dozens of generators, which would then be hoisted high up on to medieval building.
France’s richest man Bernard Arnault pledges €200MILLION to repair Notre Dame – doubling the €100million donated by Salma Hayek’s billionaire husband
France’s richest man has pledged €200m (£170m) towards the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, doubling the donation of Salma Hayek’s husband.
Multi-billionaire Bernard Arnault, head of the LVMH luxury goods group, instantly became the biggest benefactor of an appeal launched by President Emmanuel Macron.
On Monday – the day of the blaze – French tycoon Francois-Henri Pinault, who is married to Hollywood actress Salma Hayek, pledged 100 million euros (£86.2 million) towards the rebuilding of the Cathedral.
But, in a statement, the LVMH group said their donation would be double that.
It said: ‘The Arnault family and the LVMH group, in solidarity with this national tragedy, are associated with the reconstruction of this extraordinary cathedral, symbol of France, its heritage and its unity.
A statement from Francois-Henri Pinault said: ‘This tragedy impacts all French people’ and ‘everyone wants to restore life as quickly as possible to this jewel of our heritage.’
‘The fear is that a small fire began in the rood where they were working,’ the source added. ‘The irony is that the restorers had just begun working on the spire which collapsed along with much of the roof.’
The firm had won the €5.7million contract to restore the Notre Dame spire, which was designed by the architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc and erected in 1859.
They were due to be on site for up to four years along with Europe Scaffolding, another company which had just put 250 tons of scaffolding around Notre Dame, along with a lift that could move up and down the 300ft spire.
The blaze, which broke out as the last crowds of tourists ended visits at around 7pm, was finally declared to be ‘fully extinguished’ at about 9.45am this morning.
As the fire raged, brave rescue teams raced to recover what treasures they could from the Gothic masterpiece, which housed priceless artefacts and relics of huge religious and international significance.
Among them was the reputed Crown of Thorns, supposedly worn by Jesus during his crucifixion, which was carried to safety by a human chain of emergency service workers.
Today the Archbishop of Paris told BFM-TV that the three beautiful rose windows on the north, west and south sides of the church had all survived intact.
Fears had grown for the ‘really irreplaceable’ stained-glass windows, dating back to the 13th century, amid the heat of the fire last night.
The status of other relics, including a purported piece of the Cross on which Jesus was crucified, remained unclear today.
French priest Jean-Marc Fournier led the efforts to save the Crown of Thorns.
Etienne Loraillere, an editor for France’s KTO Catholic television network, said Father Fournier ‘went with the firefighters into Notre Dame Cathedral to save the Crown of Thorns and the Blessed Sacrament’.
This was confirmed by an emergency services source who said: ‘Father Fournier is an absolute hero.
Rescued treasures: Rescued artefacts are pictured in storage in Paris after being saved by the blaze in Notre Dame
Collapse: A sequence image shows the spire of Notre Dame cathedral collapsing during the blaze last night
Photographs released by the Paris fire brigade show a close up view of crews battling the fire yesterday
Hundreds of firefighters battled to stop the fire wreaking complete destruction of the treasured facade (pictured) after flames torched the roof, sending its spire crashing to the ground before crowds of Parisians
The hero who saved the Crown of Thorns: Fire brigade chaplain entered flaming Notre Dame to recover holy relic – three years after he bravely helped Bataclan terror victims
Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, saved the Blessed Sacrament and the Crown of Thorns from the blazing Notre Dame cathedral
A French priest who helped comfort the wounded after the Bataclan terror attack today also emerged as a hero of the Notre Dame fire.
Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, saved the Blessed Sacrament and the Crown of Thorns from the blazing cathedral on Monday night.
It was feared that both religious artefacts would be lost as flames engulfed the medieval building, but Father Fournier made sure they were taken to safety.
Etienne Loraillere, an editor for France’s KTO Catholic television network, said Father Fournier ‘went with the firefighters into Notre Dame Cathedral to save the Crown of Thorns and the Blessed Sacrament’.
‘He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the Cathedral, and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day, and shows no fear.’
French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild the cathedral, whatever the cost.
He said in a speech outside the church: ‘We will appeal to the greatest talents and we will rebuild Notre Dame because that’s what the French are waiting for, because that’s what our history deserves, because it’s our deepest destiny.’
Pope Francis said Tuesday he hoped everyone would pull together to rebuild the devastated cathedral following the massive fire.
‘I hope the Notre Dame cathedral may once again become, thanks to reconstruction work and the mobilization of all, a jewel in the heart of the city,’ Francis said in a statement issued by the Vatican.
Leaders from around the world offered their condolences to France. Among them was Queen Elizabeth II, who 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.’
Notre Dame had previously the site of a terror scare in 2016 when a car carrying seven gas cylinders was found near the cathedral.
Three women were arrested over the alleged terror plot, although they were thought to have been targeting a Paris railway station rather than the cathedral itself.
Police have made clear today that they believe Monday night’s fire was an accident.
In Washington, Donald Trump tweeted: ‘So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.’
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby sent the best wishes of the Anglican church to people at the scene. ‘Tonight we pray for the firefighters tackling the tragic Notre Dame fire – and for everyone in France and beyond who watches and weeps for this beautiful, sacred place where millions have met with Jesus Christ,’ he said.
And British Prime Minister Theresa May added: ‘My thoughts are with the people of France tonight and with the emergency services who are fighting the terrible blaze.’
Firefighters at the scene of the fire this morning. The fire was officially declared as extinguished at about 9.45am local time
French police are understood to have launched a criminal enquiry after a ‘stray flame’ caused the landmark to become engulfed in fire last night, with heroic firefighters battling for eight hours to bring the blaze under control
The focus of prosecutors is currently on contractors Le Bras Freres (Le Bras Brothers), a company based in Jarny, north-eastern France, which had been working from scaffolding (pictured today) erected as part of the restoration project
Fears for the treasures of Notre Dame: Christ’s ‘crown of thorns’ is saved, but fragment of the Cross and nails ‘used to crucify Jesus’ are among countless ancient artefacts still unaccounted for
The fate of many of the Notre Dame’s treasures is still unknown after the huge fire which ripped through the 850-year-old cathedral on Monday.
Experts are today entering the wreckage of the Paris landmark to find which of the precious artworks and religious relics have been saved.
The mayor of Paris said that one of the most irreplaceable items – the crown of thorns reputed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion – was safe last night.
Firefighters, police, and churchmen risked their lives last night to carry priceless historical artefacts and religious relics away from the flames which engulfed Notre Dame.
Rescued: Some of the treasures and artworks of Notre Dame cathedral are sheltered in the Hotel de Ville in Paris after they were saved from Monday night’s devastating fire
One of the items is kept in a case after it was rescued from the burning Paris cathedral last night, amid a fire which destroyed the roof and spire of the medieval landmark
Safe: Crown of Thorns
One of the cathedral’s most precious objects, a relic purported to be the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ on the cross, was whisked away to a secure facility.
The chaplain of the Paris fire brigade had gone inside with the firefighters to save the crown.
Experts said the irreplaceable item had been kept in a ‘very safe place’.
Records of the Crown of Thorns existence begin in the sixth century AD, when it is believed to have been kept in Jerusalem by Christians.
During the Crusades in 1238, the Latin Emperor of Constantinople gave it to King Louis IX to win his support and try and preserve his crumbling empire.
Louis IX brought the crown back to France and was later made a saint.
Although the crown itself was saved, a small fragment of the crown had been kept in the spire and is therefore believed to have burned to ashes.
The ‘Crown of Thorns’ said to have been worn by Jesus Christ at his crucifixion, pictured in Notre Dame cathedral, has been saved from Monday night’s blaze
Safe: North, West and South Rose Windows
The magnificent stained-glass artworks in the cathedral date back to the 13th century.
There were fears last night that they would melt or explode but the Archbishop of Paris told BFM-TV today that they were safe.
A French journalist at the scene last night said the north window appeared to be safe with no sign of broken glass although firefighters remained concerned.
Architecture professor Julio Bermudez said the stained glass windows were ‘really irreplaceable’.
This picture appeared to show the North Rose Window intact on Tuesday morning but the fate of the other stained-glass masterpieces was still unclear
Safe: Tunic of St Louis
A 13th-century linen tunic which is thought to have belonged to King Louis IX – canonised as St Louis – was also made safe, the mayor of Paris said.
In his 44-year reign Louis took part in the Crusades and established early principles of justice such as the presumption of innocence.
He was proclaimed a saint in 1297 – the only French monarch to receive the honour – and was responsible for acquiring the Crown of Thorns.
The tunic worn by Louis King Louis IX who took part in the crusades and ‘acquired’ the corwn of thorns for France in the 13th-century
Safe: Statues airlifted from the roof
Renovation was already taking place at the cathedral – which may have been linked to the fire.
As part of that work, 16 copper statues were airlifted from near the now-destroyed spire just days before the blaze.
The green-grey statues, representing the 12 apostles and four evangelists, were apparently lowered by cranes from the site and taken away.
Some copper statues, including these sixteen statues which sat around the spire of the cathedral, 12 apostles and the four evangelists commissioned in the 1860s during the great restoration of the cathedral by Viollet-le-Duc, were removed in April for restoration
Unknown: True Cross and Holy Nails
Another of the cathedral’s relics is a purported piece of the True Cross – the very instrument on which Jesus was crucified in the first century AD.
The collection also includes a nail which is said to be from the cross.
It was unclear on Tuesday morning whether these had been saved along with the Crown of Thorns.
A reputed piece of the True Cross – the very instrument on which Jesus was crucified – is one of the relics in Notre Dame’s collection
Apparently safe: Descent from the Cross
This 1723 statue by Nicolas Coustou sits on the cathedral’s high altar. It shows Jesus being taken down from the cross after his crucifixion.
Initial pictures showed the cross still standing with part of the sculpture visible, although it was surrounded by smoke and debris.
The cross and statue on Notre Dame’s altar – sculpted by Nicolas Coustou in 1723 – were apparently intact after the blaze but surrounded by smoke and debris
Unknown: Thomas Aquinas, Fountain of Wisdom
A painting titled Saint Thomas Aquinas – Fountain of Wisdom – is believed to date from 1648.
It shows the Italian theologian, who heavily influenced Western philosophy, and was painted by Antoine Nicolas.
This 1648 painting of Thomas Aquinas is among the treasures in the Notre Dame cathedral
Apparently safe: Cathedral bells
Despite fire racing through Notre Dame’s roof, firefighters were able to prevent the blaze consuming the cathedral’s main structure, including its two bell towers.
The bells that have rung out at key moments in France’s history were thought to be safe.
Emmanuel, the largest bell, was lifted into the south tower in 1685 and weighs over 23 tonnes. Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo, was the cathedral’s bell-ringer.
The ten bells of Notre Dame are renowned across Europe and the first nine are named Marie, Gabriel, Anne-Genevieve, Denis, Marcel, Etienne, Benoit-Joseph, Maurice, and Jean-Marie.
The two cathedral bell towers were still standing this morning with the fire extinguished, offering some hope to Parisians who feared the entire building would collapse
Apparently safe: Grand Organ
Paris’ deputy mayor said Notre Dame’s organ, one of the biggest and most famous in the world, remains intact after the fire.
The organ, which has its beginnings in 1401, was refurbished in 2013 when the cathedral celebrated its 850th birthday.
Each of the nearly 8,000 pipes, some of which date back to the 18th century, was individually cleaned and returned to its place while nine new, gargantuan bells replaced the 19th century ones.
The archbishop of Paris said on Tuesday that it may have been damaged but did not appear to have been destroyed.
The pipes of the cathedral’s Grand Organ – which were cleaned in 2013 – stand under one of the stained glass windows. It is unclear whether the organ was damaged in the fire
Unknown: The Visitation painting
Jean Jouvenet’s 1716 painting shows the Virgin Mary raising her head and arms towards Heaven, with her relative Elizabeth nearby.
It is on the western wall of the Saint-Guillaume chapel within the cathedral but its current status is unclear.
Jean Jouvenet’s 1716 painting shows the Virgin Mary raising her head and arms towards Heavan, with her relative Elizabeth nearby.
Unknown: Choir screen
An ornate division separates the congregation from where the clergy would be seated.
It features 14th-century sculptures by Pierre de Chelle, Jean Ravy and Jean Le Bouteiller.
Unknown: Madonna and Child statue
The 14th-century, life-sized statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus is also known, like the cathedral itself, as Notre Dame or Our Lady.
It stands near the Descent from the Cross sculpture which apparently escaped destruction but its own fate is still unclear.
The statue is one of 37 images of the mother of Jesus in the Catholic cathedral.
A statue of the Virgin Mary holding an infant Jesus Christ, sculpted in the 14th century, is one of the treasures still not accounted for in Notre Dame
Unknown: The Mays paintings
A series of paintings made in the 17th and early 18th century, these artworks were offered to the cathedral in May every year.
They include images of the conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus and of the crucifixion of St Peter.
The Mays paintings includes this work by Saint Peter Curing the Sick By His Shadow (pictured) a scene from the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible
Apparently safe: Statue of St Denis
This sculpture begun in 1853 depicts St Denis, the patron saint of the city of Paris and a Christian martyr from the 3rd century AD.
The statue in Notre Dame shows him holding his severed head after he was executed, but its fate today is not yet known.
The Statue of St. Denis holding his head (center) and two angels (left and right) on the left door jamb of the Portal of the Virgin on the western facade of Notre-Dame Cathedral
Destroyed: Irreplaceable wooden roof
The cathedral’s wooden roof – built with beams made more than 800 years ago from ancient forests – was burned to ashes in the fire.
A French cultural heritage expert has said that France no longer has trees big enough to replace them.
He said the restoration work will have to use new technologies to rebuild the roof.
The wooden roof was destroyed in the smoke and flames of the 12th-century cathedral. Experts said France no longer had the trees to replace it in the same way
Destroyed: 19th-century spire
Parisians watched in horror last night as the spire burned and then collapsed in the intense heat of the blaze.
The 13th-century spire was dismantled during the French Revolution and later rebuilt in the 1860s.
The spire of the Notre Dame collapses last night. This one was created in the 19th century after the original medieval spire was destroyed during the French Revolution
Destroyed: Relics of St Denis and St Genevieve
Relics of St Denis – the patron saint of Paris – and the fifth-century St Genevieve were also in the spire which burned and collapsed yesterday.
They were reportedly placed there by an archbishop in 1935.
Unknown: Statue of St Therese
The southern transept of Notre Dame contains a statue, made in 1934, of St Therese of the Child Jesus.
The French nun – also known as the Little Flower of Jesus – lived in the 19th century and was described by Pope Pius X as ‘the greatest saint of modern times’.
French policemen and church officials battle to save the treasure of Notre Dame last night