Easter Sunday for the year 2019 was on APR-21. Six days earlier, on Monday evening of Holy Week, 2019-APR-15 at about 6:20 PM local time, a fire alarm sounded at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. A Roman Catholic Mass was underway at the time. It was interrupted and the cathedral was evacuated. A fire had broken out in the wooden attic that is referred to as "The forest." It was made of 1,300 interlocked wooden beams, each of which came from an individual tree. 1
Two security guards checked the location of the fire detectors but could not see any problems. A second alarm sounded at 6:43 PM. Guards went to another location on the roof and found flames reaching almost 3 meters (10 feet) high. There is some suspicion that the fire detection sensors or their wiring may have been defective. The fire department was called at 6:51 PM. 2 A full half-hour head start on fighting the blaze could have occurred if the fire department had been called when the first fire alarm sounded.
It happened at a time when 16 statues -- one for each of the 12 apostles and four evangelists -- had been removed by contractors from the outside of the roof. This was the first time in over 10 years that they had been removed for cleaning. 3
The main structure of the Cathedral was fabricated from stone. It survived with minimal damage. The South and North towers at the main entrance were not damaged. Although parts of two stained glass windows had melted, most appear to be relatively undamaged. One window is "unstable and at risk" and may have to be dismantled. However, the tall wooden spire near the center of the roof, which was visible throughout Paris, was engulfed in flames, and fell about 7:50 or 8:12 PM (sources differ):
Video frame grab shows the spire falling. 4
The cause of the fire is believed to be an electrical short circuit near the center of the cathedral's roof, close to the base of the spire.
More than 400 firefighters battled the flames for nine hours before the fire was brought under control. Two police officers and one firefighter were injured. Meanwhile, other workers were inside the cathedral transferrred sacred objects to secure locations for protection. One of the items rescued was the Cathedral's most precious relic: the Crown of Thorns which some Christians believed was placed on Jesus' head when he was executed by crucifixion by Roman Army soldiers in Jerusalem. The Cathedral's mid-18th Century "Great Organ" was not damaged by the blaze. The altar and its golden cross remained intact, surrounded by scorched debris from the fire. Many of the pews and statues were still standing.
Surprisingly, the outside of the Cathedral's roof was populated -- by about 180,000 bees in three beehives. All of the latter survived, along with most of the bees. Nicolas Geant, the cathedral’s beekeeper, commented:
"The 3 beehives are still in place and seem to be intact. ... Wax melts at 63 degrees [Celsius, or 145.4 degrees Fahrenheit]. [I]f the hive had reached that temperature the wax would have melted and glued the bees together, they would have all perished." 5
As the fire raged in Paris, by coincidence, another unrelated fire broke out at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. It is the third holiest site in Islam. The Palestine News Agency, cited a guard as saying Monday that this smaller fire:
"... broke out in the guard's room outside the roof of the Marwani Prayer Room, and the fire brigade of the Islamic Waqf handled the matter successfully." 6
No personal injuries or damage to the Mosque were reported.
The Cathedral's past:
Notre Dame is located on the Île de la Cité, which is a small island in the Seine River in the center of Paris, France. It has survived rioting Huguenots, the French Revolution, World War 1, World War II, air pollution, acid rain, and now a fire.
A CBS News article discussed some of the Cathedral's history:
"Construction of Notre Dame began in 1163 [CE] during the reign of King Louis VII and was completed in 1345. The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a worldwide Parisian icon, and the location of some of the most important moments in the history of France.
Henry VI of England was crowned [King of France (as Henry II)] in the cathedral in 1431 CE, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned emperor of France there in 1804.
The cathedral receives nearly 13 million visitors a year and is home to exquisite religious artifacts, paintings, sculptures and other priceless works of art." 7
Notre-Dame is considered to be among the finest examples of French Gothic cathedral architecture. 8
Back in 1905, a law was passed in France stating that the Cathedral was the property of the French state, but that its use was "dedicated exclusively to the Roman Catholic rite." The French Ministry of Culture is responsible for its maintenance and upkeep. 9
Former and current U.S. Presidents react:
Barack Obama tweeted on APR-15:
"Notre Dame is one of the world’s great treasures, and we’re thinking of the people of France in your time of grief. It’s in our nature to mourn when we see history lost – but it’s also in our nature to rebuild for tomorrow, as strong as we can." 10
President Trump phoned French President Emmanuel Macron during the morning of APR-16. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement, saying:
"The United States stands with French citizens, the city of Paris, and the millions of visitors from around the world who have sought solace in that iconic structure.
"The Cathedral has served as a spiritual home for almost a millennium, and we are saddened to witness the damage to this architectural masterpiece. Notre Dame will continue to serve as a symbol of France, including its freedom of religion and democracy. France is the oldest ally of the United States, and we remember with grateful hearts the tolling of Notre Dame’s bells on September 12, 2001, in solemn recognition of the tragic September 11th attacks on American soil. Those bells will sound again. We stand with France today and offer our assistance in the rehabilitation of this irreplaceable symbol of Western civilization. Vive la France!" 11
He called it:
“... one of the greatest treasures of the world. … It’s a part of our growing up, it’s a part of our culture, it’s a part of our lives."
Other reactions to the fire:
Jim Bullock, the former deputy chief of the New York Fire Department said that cathedrals are especially suceptible to fires. Referring to Notre-Dame Cathedral, he said:
"It’s old wood that is dry and burns fast, and there’s a lot of wood in that building. Churches have their own problem, especially large cathedrals. There's a large open-air space, so there's lots of air to feed the fire (along with) a lot of combustible stuff in the ceiling. And once (the fire's) in the ceiling it's hard to get up there -- it could be 300 feet in the air. 12
Author Chris Carter posted a personal reaction to the fire, saying:
"I was gobsmacked at the degree to which people appeared to be shaken by the fire, especially compared to responses to other contemporaneous news stories.
[In Canada] the day before, northern Ontario’s Kashechewan First Nation declared a state of emergency due to flooding. Canada’s collective response to this was rather muted. The flooding is a recurring problem because of government inaction, so perhaps it was simply too ordinary to qualify as a tragedy and didn’t therefore evoke compassion. ... "
"... why was there no similar outpouring of grief or disbelief when three black churches in Louisiana were purposefully set on fire by someone who was very likely motivated by hate and racism? I observed little in the way of collective concern or disbelief over this violence." 13
Paul Cohen, an associate professor of history at the University of Toronto, who is half French, said that the:
"...sense of loss among Parisians and French people is enormous. ... But we should also emphasize: I don’t think this necessarily means French people are feeling this as a religious loss. … the reason people are so distressed is because it’s a cultural monument that is really tied up with the development of the idea of a French nation. … [Notre-Dame] was designed to inspire awe and to pull your gaze upwards, to think about things transcendent, whether it was God, or the Catholic version of Christianity, or the transcendent power of human engineering and ingenuity."
Joe Nickell, writing for the Free Inquiry magazine in 2019-OCT/NOV, said:
"... the horrific event may have seemed to supernaturalists to represent the wrath of God unleased, or to others God's willingness to allow a profound test of faith. ... Some atheists gloated over the tragedy, insisting to believers that it was 'more poof that their god is a fake'. " 13
More about the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral is in Part 2:
Book: Richard Winston, "Notre-Dame: A History:
(Available only in Kindle format.)
"The 'aged queen of French cathedrals,' Victor Hugo called Notre-Dame. And ancient it was - nearly 700 years had passed since the Bishop Maurice de Sully decided that Paris needed a cathedral worthy of France's capital. "Every face, every stone of the venerable monument," Hugo continued, 'is a page not only of the history of the country but also of the history of science and art.' Here, National Book Award Winner Richard Winston tells the dramatic story of the building of the great cathedral and the history that was made there - from the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to the crowning of Napoleon to Charles de Gaulle's celebration of the liberation of Paris from the Nazis."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Nathan Hoad, et al., "From above and within, how fire hit Notre Dame — the heart of Paris,: ABC News (Australia) 2019-APR-19, at: https://mobile.abc.net.au/
Katrin Bennhold & James Glanz. "Notre-Dame’s Safety Planners Underestimated the Risk, With Devastating Results," New York Times, 2019-APR-19, at: https://www.nytimes.com/
Margot Haddad and Tara John, "Notre Dame fire started at the center of the cathedral's roof, says police source," CNN, 2019-APR-29, at: https://www.cnn.com/