With the Notre Dame Fire Extinguished, Paris Turns to Assessing Damage and Repairs

Parisian firefighters talk near the rose window of Notre Dame Cathedral on April 16, 2019, in Paris. Experts assessed the blackened shell of Paris’ iconic Notre Dame Tuesday morning to establish next steps to save what remains after a devastating fire destroyed much of the cathedral that had survived almost 900 years of history. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

The last flames have been extinguished and the first sighs of relative relief have been breathed. It’s now up to the experts to assess how much the shell of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has been damaged and how many years, maybe decades, it will take to repair it.

Paris, all of France and people watching live television around the world held their breath on Monday evening (April 15) as a sudden fire in the 850-year-old edifice devoured the roof, felled the elegant spire that stood atop its transept and spread down into the nave to threaten priceless relics and artworks.

About 400 firefighters battled the blaze, pumping water into the nave and trying to keep flames away from the giant stained glass rose windows and the endangered northern bell tower of the most visited monument in Europe.

President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo took a quick look inside the building on Monday evening as firefighters still fought the blaze. Macron emerged to announce that France would rebuild the state-owned cathedral “because that’s what the French expect, because that’s what our history deserves, because it’s our profound destiny.”

Hidalgo described a hole in the roof where the spire crashed through but added a hopeful note.

“The altar and its cross were preserved,” she said.  “It’s less terrible than I feared.”

Holes are seen in the Notre Cathedral ceiling in Paris on April 16, 2019. Firefighters declared success Tuesday in a more than 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris’ iconic Notre Dame Cathedral that claimed its spire and roof, but spared its bell towers and the purported crown of Christ. (Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool via AP)

Standing outside the monument on Tuesday, Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz contradicted speculation that the fire was an attack on Notre Dame.

“There is nothing that indicates a voluntary act,” he said. His office announced it had opened an inquiry into a case of “involuntary destruction by fire.”

Reconstruction will probably take decades and cost hundreds of millions of euros.

Stéphane Bern, 55, a well-known filmmaker and specialist in French history, lamented: “My generation will not see Notre Dame back on its feet again.”

The investigation will be “long and complex,” Heitz warned, adding that his staff had begun quizzing several dozen workers who had been doing renovation work on the roof. All had already called it a day on Monday before the fire broke out about 6:20 p.m. Paris time.

The spire that fell amid the flames was due to be repaired and 16 statues that surrounded it had already been removed last week. Scaffolding over that part of the roof was still standing on Tuesday as Parisians and tourists flocked to the streets around Notre Dame to catch a glimpse of the damage.

Large crowds of Parisians and tourists gather near Notre Dame Cathedral to view the fire damage on April 16, 2019, in central Paris. RNS photo by Tom Heneghan

The cathedral roof was entirely gone after the “charpente,” the thick network of wooden supports between the vaulted stone ceiling of the cathedral and the peaked roof of lead tiles above it, burst into flames. Burned timber and tiles crashed into the cathedral, mixing into sludge with the water pumped in to put out the fire.

Embers from the spire and roof were still smoldering on Tuesday morning around the modern altar, at the intersection of the nave and transept, and parts of the wood-paneled choir stalls leading to the old altar at the back of the cathedral appeared burned in photographs published from inside.

But a wreath said to be the crown of thorns that Jesus wore was saved, as was a tunic of St. Louis, the 13th-century French king and saint who bought this and other relics and brought them to his capital.

The Treasury, a museum of chalices, vestments and artwork down the centuries not far from the choir area, was also untouched.

Some but not all of the centuries-old paintings from the side chapels were rushed out to the nearby Paris City Hall, officials said, and firefighters kept sprinkling the rose windows to avoid them overheating and falling apart.

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Source: Religion News Service