PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron of France has vowed that Notre Dame cathedral will be rebuilt, as prosecutors begin investigating what caused a fire that badly damaged the 850-year-old symbol of Paris and caused its thin spire to collapse in smoke and flames.
Macron said an international effort to raise funds for reconstruction would begin Tuesday.
“We will rebuild Notre Dame,” he said as he visited the site Monday night. “Because that is what the French expect.”
The billionaire Pinault family of France has already pledged 100 million euros, or $113 million, to the effort, Agence-France Presse reported.
Notre Dame, which was built in the 12th and 13th centuries on the foundations of an earlier church and Roman ramparts on an island in the Seine, is a globally recognized symbol of France, visited by about 13 million people a year.
Stunned Paris residents and visitors watched as the cathedral, with its famous flying buttresses built to support the relatively thin and tall walls of its era, burned six days before Easter Sunday services were to be held.
Officials released new details of the fire late Monday, with the Paris fire chief, Jean-Claude Gallet, saying it started in the attic at 6:30 p.m. More than nine hours later, the authorities said the fire was “under control,” but that a hole in the timber roof left by the cathedral’s fallen spire continued burning into Tuesday morning.
The cathedral’s rector, Msgr. Patrick Chauvet, said the fire appeared to have started in an interior network of wooden beams, many dating to the Middle Ages and nicknamed “the forest.”
In addition to damaging the building itself, the fire tore through the cathedral’s roof, and put at risk its relics and stained-glass windows, with panes held together by lead that melts at high temperatures. While one treasure, a relic of the crown of thorns said to have been worn by Jesus Christ during his crucifixion, was saved, the status of other historic items is unclear.
The architect who oversaw work on the cathedral in the 1980s and 1990s said he believed much of the building and its furnishings could be saved. “The stone vaulting acted like a firewall and it kept the worst heat away,” said the architect, Bernard Fonquernie.
But the roof, a vast wooden framework covered with sheets of lead, appeared to be largely gone, he said. Earlier tests on the roof showed that the wooden frame was for the most part the same oak and chestnut structure constructed by the very first builders, Fonquernie said.
It lasted so long because the roof was regularly repaired and watertight. But that meant the wood beneath was very dry and could burn easily, he said.
Officials said they did not yet know what had caused the fire, which is now under investigation. One firefighter was seriously injured, but no one was killed, officials said.
Two years ago, a spokesman for the cathedral said it was badly in need of an extensive makeover estimated to cost nearly $180 million. Much of the limestone exterior was eroded, with pieces dislodged by the wind, said the spokesman, André Finot.
The cathedral is covered in scaffolding while undergoing restoration work, which fire experts said can expose aging houses of worship to risky open flames or sparks from equipment.
“And now it’s gone, perhaps due to carelessness,” Fonquernie said. “Working with heat, as they did, next to so much old dry wood requires extreme care.”
© 2019 The New York Times