Macron vows to rebuild Notre-Dame within five years

Macron vows to rebuild Notre-Dame within five years

A view of the cross and sculpture of Pieta by Nicolas Coustou in the background of debris inside Notre-Dame in the aftermath of a fire that devastated the cathedral. (Reuters photo) Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via REUTERS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A view of the cross and sculpture of Pieta by Nicolas Coustou in the background of debris inside Notre-Dame in the aftermath of a fire that devastated the cathedral. (Reuters photo) Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via REUTERS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron vowed Tuesday to rebuild Notre-Dame cathedral "within five years", after a fire that toppled the steeple of the 850-year-old landmark and caused major damage to the roof.

"We will rebuild the cathedral even more beautifully and I want it to be finished within five years," Macron said in a televised address to the nation a day after the blaze. "And we can do it."

But he also warned: "Let us not fall into the trap of haste."

Macron said that the dramatic fire had brought out the best in a country that has been riven with divisions.

"What we saw last night in Paris was our capacity to mobilise and to unite," the 41-year-old leader said in the solemn address from his office in the presidential palace.

France had over the course of its history seen many towns, ports and churches go up in flames, he said.

"Each time we rebuilt them," he said, adding that the cathedral inferno had shown that "our history never stops and that we will always have trials to overcome."

As the city and the country grieved for a potent national symbol, billionaires, companies and local authorities were quick to offer donations.

Some 24 hours after the fire started, more than €750 million had been pledged, including 500 million from the three billionaire families that own France's giant luxury goods empires: Kering, LVMH and L'Oreal.

Paris public prosecutor Remy Heitz said there was no obvious indication the fire was arson. Fifty people were working on what would be a long and complex investigation, officials said.

The fire swiftly ripped through the cathedral's oak roof supports, where workmen had been carrying out extensive renovations to the spire's timber-framed supports. Police began questioning the workers involved, the prosecutor's office said.

One firefighter was injured but no one else was hurt, with the fire starting at around 6:30pm after the building was closed to the public for the evening.

Firefighters examined the facade, with its spectacular 10-metre filigreed stained-glass rose window still intact. They could be seen walking atop the belfries as police kept the area in lockdown.

Investigators will not be able to enter the cathedral's blackened nave until experts are satisfied its walls withstood the heat and the building is structurally sound.

"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.

'Cathedral of the people'

Messages of condolence flooded in from around the world.

Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, was praying for those affected, the Vatican said, adding: "Notre-Dame will always remain - and we have seen this in these hours - a place where believers and non-believers can come together in the most dramatic moments of French history."

Britain's Queen Elizabeth expressed deep sadness while her son and heir Prince Charles said he was "utterly heartbroken". Chancellor Angela Merkel offered German help to rebuild a part of "our common European heritage".

Considered among the finest examples of European Gothic architecture, Notre-Dame is visited by more than 13 million people a year. It sits on an island in the Seine, overlooking the Left Bank hangouts of Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso.

"Notre-Dame de Paris is the cathedral of the people, of the people of Paris, of the French people, of the people of the world. It is part of those references of our history, of what we have in common, of what we share," said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.

It was at Notre-Dame that Henry VI of England was crowned "King of France" in 1431, that Napoleon was made emperor in 1804, and Pope Pius X beatified Joan of Arc in 1909. Presidents Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand were mourned there.

Human chain

The cathedral is owned by the state and has been at the centre of a dispute between the nation and the Paris archdiocese over who should finance restoration work to collapsed balustrades, crumbling gargoyles and cracked facades.

It was too early to estimate the cost of the damage, said the heritage charity Fondation du Patrimoine.

Paolo Violini, a restoration specialist for Vatican museums, said the pace of the fire's spread had been stunning.

"We are used to thinking about them as eternal simply because they have been there for centuries, or a thousand years, but the reality is they are very fragile," Violini said.

The company carrying out the renovation works when the blaze broke out said it would cooperate fully with the investigation.

"All I can tell you is that at the moment the fire began none of my employees were on the site. We respected all procedures," Julien Le Bras, a representative of family firm Le Bras Freres.

Many relics and artworks were saved. At one point, firefighters, policemen and municipal workers formed a human chain to remove the treasures, including a centuries-old crown of thorns made from reeds and gold, and the tunic believed to have been worn by Saint Louis, a 13th century king of France.

Gold, silver and gem-inlaid chalices, candelabras and many other artefacts survived the blaze. 


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