Loading articles...

Massive fire engulfs beloved Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris

Last Updated Apr 15, 2019 at 5:17 pm PDT

PARIS — A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris’ soaring Notre-Dame cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below.

The blaze collapsed the cathedral’s spire and spread to one of its landmark rectangular towers, but the city’s mayor later said firefighters were optimistic they could salvage the main towers from the flames. The 12th-century cathedral is home to incalculable works of art and is one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions, immortalized by Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

WATCH: Spire atop the Notre-Dame cathedral collapses


The cause of the blaze was not known, but French media quoted the Paris fire brigade as saying the fire is “potentially linked” to a 6 million-euro ($6.8 million) renovation project on the church’s spire and its 250 tons of lead. Prosecutors opened an investigation as Paris police said there were no reported deaths. Some 400 firefighters were battling the blaze well into the night.

WATCH: Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris erupts in flames

Flames shot out of the roof behind the nave of the cathedral, among the most visited landmarks in the world. Hundreds of people lined up bridges around the island that houses the church, watching in shock as acrid smoke rose in plumes.

The fire came less than a week before Easter amid Holy Week commemorations. As the cathedral continued to burn, Parisians gathered to pray and sing hymns outside the church of Saint Julien Les Pauvres across the river from Notre Dame, as the flames lit the sky behind them.

French President Emmanuel Macron was treating the fire as a national emergency, rushing to the scene and straight into meetings at the Paris police headquarters nearby. Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit invited priests across France to ring church bells in a call for prayers for the beloved Paris cathedral.


“Emotion of a whole nation … I am sad tonight to see this part of us burn,” Macron said in a tweet.

Deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said emergency services were trying to salvage the famed art pieces stored in the cathedral.

Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre Dame is the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages as well as one of the most beloved structures in the world. Situated on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the Seine river, the cathedral’s architecture is famous for, among other things, its many gargoyles and its iconic flying buttresses.

Among the most celebrated artworks inside are its three stained-glass rose windows, placed high up on the west, north and south faces of the cathedral. Its priceless treasures also include a Catholic relic, the crown of thorns, which is only occasionally displayed, including on Fridays during Lent.

The Vatican has issued a statement, saying “The Holy See has seen with shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame, symbol of Christianity in France and in the world.”

The statement says the Vatican is praying for firefighters “and those who are doing everything possible to confront this dramatic situation.”

It also expressed “our closeness to French Catholics and the population of Paris.”

French historian Camille Pascal told BFM broadcast channel the blaze marked “the destruction of invaluable heritage.”

“It’s been 800 years that the Cathedral watches over Paris”, Pascal said. “Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre Dame.”

He added: “We can be only horrified by what we see.”

Associated Press reporters at the scene saw massive plumes of yellow brown smoke filling the air above the Cathedral and ash falling on the island that houses Notre Dame and marks the center of Paris. As the spire fell, the sky lit up orange.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is in despair at the “terrible fire.” Hidalgo said in a Twitter message that Paris firefighters are still trying to limit the fire and urged Paris citizens to respect the security perimeter that has been set around the cathedral.

Hidalgo said Paris authorities are in touch with Paris diocese.

Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo)

Reactions from around the world came swiftly.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter, calling the fire “absolutely heartbreaking.” Trudeau added that people across Canada were “thinking of our friends in France.”

In Washington, Trump tweeted: “So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris” and suggested first responders use “flying water tankers” to put it out.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said he was praying “to ask the intercession of Notre Dame, our Lady, for the Cathedral at the heart of Paris, and of civilization, now in flames! God preserve this splendid house of prayer, and protect those battling the blaze.”

There will always be Notre Dame in Paris

John Paul Sonnen, a faith-based tour operator from Vancouver, is bracing himself to see nothing but a pile of rubble when he visits Notre Dame again in June.

“It’s a real travesty for the world,” he adds. “This is the same building where Joan of Arc was beatified, where Napoleon was crowned emperor, where Mary Queen of Scots was married, a building of living stones, it tells the story of France and stands almost a millennia.”

He says, in comparison, the oldest building in B.C. is Fort Langley’s Storm House, which was built in the 1840’s.

“Things like this happen, it’s just part of life, and the people will come together stronger and they will emerge from this stronger and they will re-build and although it will never be the same, they’ll always be Notre Dame in Paris.”

Sonnen fears the cathedral’s most precious treasures have been destroyed by the fire.

-With files from Marcella Bernardo. Associated Press writers Elaine Ganley and Sylvie Corbet contributed.