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2019-APR-15/16:

Notre-Dame Cathedral
Fire in Paris, France.

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The fire:

Early Monday evening of Holy Week that leads up to Easter, on 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, which was underway at the time, 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. 15

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. 12 A full half-hour head start on fighting the blaze could have occurred if the fire department had been called at the first fire alarm.

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. 1

The main structure of the Cathedral is fabricated from stone and has survived with minimal damage. The South and North towers at the main entrance were not damaged. Although parts of the three stained glass windows had melted, most appear to be undamaged. However, the wooden tall spire near the center of the building, which was visible throughout Paris, was engulfed in flames, and fell about 8:12 PM:

Notre-Dame spire falling

Video frame grab shows the spire falling. 2

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 transferring 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." 11

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:

"... the 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." 10

No injuries or damage were reported.

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The Cathedral's past:

Notre Dame is located on the Île de la Cité, 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 inside the cathedral 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." 3

Notre-Dame is considered to be among the finest examples of French Gothic cathedral architecture. 13

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. 6

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U.S. Presidents react:

Former president 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." 9

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!" 7

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Other reactions to the fire:

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."

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."

President Trump 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."

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Rebuilding the Cathedral:

Dr. Emily Guerry, Senior Lecturer in Medieval European History at Britain's University of Kent, said:

"It's going to be a case of assessing the damage, strengthening everything that's there, do a full inventory of what we've lost, and then find the building materials. In the modern world, we don't build like we used to."

She explained that the underside of the roof had been built out of ancient oak over which the roof made of lead was laid. The spire was also of wood. There were 13,000 beams in the ceiling, which would require harvesting about 3,000 trees to replace them.

Estimates on the time to complete restoration range from French President Emmanuel Macron's 5 years to Dr. Guerry's 40 years. Very quickly, donations totaling hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars were pledged for the restoration. They reached almost a billion dollars by the end of the week.

As the fire raged, President Macron said:

"Notre Dame is our history, it's our literature, it's our imagery. It's the place where we live our greatest moments, from wars to pandemics to liberations. It's an epicenter of our lives and the point where all distances start from."

"It's the cathedral of all French people, including those who never visited it. This history is ours. And it burns. It burns and I know the sadness so many of our fellow French feel." 8

On APR-16, President Macron said that Notre-Dame will be built:

"... even more beautifully" [than it was before.]..."

"The fire at Notre Dame reminds us that our history never stops. Everything that makes France material and spiritual is alive and for this reason it is fragile and we must not forget that. Yes we will build the cathedral of Notre Dame even more beautiful than it was. But this must be done in five years. We can do that. ... I share your pain, but I also share your hope. We now have to act, and we will act, and we will succeed." 4

Two days after the fire, France's Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced an international competition for the design of a new spire for the Cathedral that will be:

"... adapted to technologies and challenges of our times." 14

An article on the Washington Post 14 contain images of five designs for rebuilding the roof and spire. 14

It is normal for fake news to materialize after major disasters of this type occur. So, of course, this happened with Notre Dame. Among the rumors were:

  • The fire was deliberately set.

  • The Cathedral will be rebuilt, but not as a Roman Catholic Cathedral.

  • The fire was started by anti-Catholic immigrants.

  • A fake Twitter posting which was made to look like CNN's account said that terrorists were responsible for starting the fire.

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A possible copy-cat arson attempted in New York City:

Marc Lamparello, 37, is a graduate student, a lecturer on philosophy, and a doctoral candidate at the City University of New York. On Wednesday, APR-17, two days after the Notre-Dame fire, he carried two full gasoline cans, two bottles of Kingsford lighter fluid, and a pair of lighters into St. Patrick's Cathedral in midtown Manhattan. When stopped by ushers, he explained that he was just trying to take a shortcut through the Cathedral in order to return to his van which he said had run out of gas. He sloshed gasoline on the church floor as he left. Lamparello, was arrested and charged with attempted arson and reckless endangerment. 5

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. 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/
  2. "Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on file," The Daily Caller, You Tube video, 2019-APR-15, at: https://www.youtube.com/
  3. "Computer glitch" may be behind Notre Dame Cathedral fire, rector says," CBS News, 2019-APR-19, at: https://www.cbsnews.com/
  4. "Notre Dame fire: Cause of devastating blaze revealed by French police," Express (UK), 2019-APR-19, at: https://www.express.co.uk/
  5. Ali Watkins & Ali Winston, "Man arrested with gas cans and lighters at St. Patrick's Cathedral is a philosophy teacher," The New York Times. 2019-APR-18, at: https://www.nytimes.com/
  6. Kat Hopps, "Notre Dame fire: Is Notre Dame owned by Catholic Church? Calls for Vatican to help rebuild," Express (UK), 2019-APR-18, at: https://www.express.co.uk/
  7. Brian Ries, et al., "Trump calls Macron after the fire," CNN, 2019-APR-16, at: https://www.cnn.com/
  8. Eliza Mackintosh, "Paris mourns its 'Lady' after Notre Dame inferno," CNN, 2019-APR-16, at: https://edition.cnn.com/
  9. Emma Mason, "Notre-Dame fire “not the worst chapter in its 850-year history," Historyextra, 2019-APR-16, at: https://www.historyextra.com/
  10. , "Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque Fire Burns at the Same Time As Flames Engulf Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris," Newsweek, 2019-APR-15, at: https://www.newsweek.com/
  11. Brigit Katz, "Honey Bees on Notre-Dame’s Roof Survived the Fire," The Smithsonian, 2019-APR-22, at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/
  12. 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/
  13. Thomson Reuters, "Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral on fire ...," AOL, 2019-APR-15, at: https://www.aol.com/
  14. "Panoramic views and a glass roof. How architects are reimagining Notre Dame," Washington Post, 2019-MAY-13, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/
  15. 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/

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Copyright © 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2019-APR-18
Latest update: 2019-MAY-15
Author: B.A. Robinson
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